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Leah Mojer with Dennis Toner

The Sporting Life

Wine 101 continues

Adults in black pants and white aprons, lanyards with badges.  Carts full of food and equipment hurling down the hallways, the smell of cigarettes by the loading dock and the privilege of using the “authorized use only” door.

The massive hall aglow with low lighting, banquet tables heavy with ice sculptures and platters of Hors d’Oeuvres.  My sister and I, our pre adolescent eyes wide with excitement and anticipation of the deliciousness to come.  Taste of the Nation was our first introduction to the mature sport of Eating and Drinking, and what for both of us has been a lifelong love affair.

As time went on there were more, and we attended as employees of the family restaurant, but really as secret spies with razor sharp awareness, scrutinizing each table as if we had them locked in an interrogation chamber. We would strike out on our own, always reconvening with the latest details. Who had the best chowder, which steak was best, who’s dessert was worth attempting a third sample.

The significance of these experiences never occurred to me until fairly recently, a few years back at the Nantucket Wine Festival.  While in between shifts behind the Bartlett’s Farm table, my Rabbit Rillettes getting great reviews, I ducked out into the crowd to do some tasting.  While I should have just been happy to be out and taking it all in, I instead reverted back to black ops serious-as-a-heart-attack spy for the “industry”.
All fun became business. It was my job to show respect for the food, duty to meet the chefs, and take in all of the seriousness and dedication each great “Amuse” takes to create.  It was why I was here. 

The wine remained in the background, me not taking it as seriously, perhaps out of fear, to get a name wrong, or heaven forbid not knowing enough if I was brave enough to talk to a winemaker.

By the end of that day, my body and mind were high with endorphins. All that food, all of that wine…all those volunteers and workers moving in tandem to make the magic happen…not very unlike the beating heart of a fine tuned restaurant during service, something I deeply admire.

I was given a ticket to this year's Nantucket Wine Festival Gala last Thursday unexpectedly. I was undoubtedly excited, but nervous. With all of my wine knowledge so fresh, and not quite all cemented in the folds of my brain, I was afraid to steer my own ship.  What if I say I love that Champagne when it’s actually Cremant? What if I forget which of Bernard Ambroise’s wines we carry? I showed up anyway, and with one sweeping glance at the low lights, the party dresses, the intoxicating aromas, the clinking of glassware, all of my anxiety melted away. I feel home among it all.

My first pairing of the night was the best, although there were others. Crisp white Burgundy, smelling of preserved lemon and seashells, with a tiny griddled roll, bejeweled with glistening buttery clusters of lobster.  The Barolo, round in the mouth, dry with powerful tannins, paired with a 24 month Prosciutto, cheesy with aromas of hazelnuts. Together they filled the mouth with memories of earthy mushrooms and wood fireplaces. Chocolate dipped cherries, only an apparition, thanks to Larkin’s sultry Cabernet Sauvignon. These pairings were rare, and over the top. Not what one would most likely come across on Monday night’s table. That doesn’t mean they can’t inspire a drive to make pairings a worthwhile pursuit. I will, however, be recreating that lobster roll avec white burgundy much sooner than later.

How about you?  Tell me about your favorite pairings, or your worst mistakes.  Your unexpected successes?

Leah Mojer works full time as the cheese and beer buyer at currentVintage