Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Mr. Brecher, (and Ms. Gaiter), Open That Bottle!"

John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter of the Wall Street Journal are my favorite "old media" wine journalists. They write in an open and engaging manner, aren't preachy, and often relate their long journey through the world of wine. On top of it, they're married to each other, and it's heartwarming to see family anecdotes and informative to see where their palates differ.

One of their creations is something called "Open That Bottle" Night, on which they encourage us to open a bottle of wine that we've been hoarding or saving for a special occasion. They are of the opinion (and it's true at least for me!) that people typically hold onto "special bottles" for too long, because there are too many special bottles and not enough special occasions. So, now there's one more, one guaranteed to come every year.

Why am I PoSting about this? Well, they also posted their 4 candidate bottles, along with why it's a potential. The one that's WAY in last place (we should be used to getting no respect!) is of interest to us -- 1994 Royal Escort Petite Sirah Port, from Prager Winery and Port Works! So go vote for it -- all 12 or so of you who read this. Here's why they picked it:
During one of our first visits to Napa and Sonoma, we stopped by Prager in St. Helena. We thought we'd dropped into Santa's workshop because standing before us, in a room chock-full of interesting memorabilia and doodads, was a white-haired man who seemed to be straight from central casting. That's how we met Jim Prager and, man, did he like to talk. We spent what seemed like the whole afternoon with him and left with way too many bottles. On another visit years later, we again purchased too much and asked Mr. Prager to sign a few bottles, which he merrily did. This is the last bottle from that lot -- and it's signed in gold ink by Mr. Prager. Yep, we know real Port comes from Portugal, but every time we see this bottle, we smile at the memory of our introduction to Jim. His children run the place now. Peter Prager, one of Jim's sons, says his dad retired when they changed the tasting room cash register to a computer -- he took one look at it and said, "I retire." Still, Prager remains a marvelous quirky stop in Napa and we know that many people have the same warm memories of it that we do.
Even beyond PS, I'm interested in their imPreSsions of this bottle, because I have 2 375 ml bottles of the 2004, 3 750s of the 1998, and 2 750s of the 1984, mostly thanks to my winebid addiction. I've also had their NV PS Port, and 2 bottles of their 1991 LBV Royal Escort PS Port.

Prager isn't limited to port, though -- their only dry wine is a PS (current vintage is 2004, from Imogene's Vineyard in the town of Calistoga, but bears the St. Helena appellation on the label). They also make, depending on the year, three different ports (fortified dessert wines) from PS -- the constant being their non-vintage PS Port (currently from Lodi fruit). They also make, from time-to-time in selected vintages, a true Vintage port and an LBV port, (though somewhat confusingly, both are currently called "Royal Escort") out of the "Paladini" Vineyard that they own in the Napa Valley AVA.

1 comment:

g8keeper said...

I made my first trip to the wine country and to St. Helena in 1984 in November. We had dinner at a restaurant, the name escapes me, that had the barrister chambers from the San Francisco court house built into the walls. Before we ate the bartender asked if I liked port wine. I told him that I had a neighbor who had a bottle of port from his relative in Portugal and that it was 100 years old. I also told him that I did not believe it was that old but that it was too sweet and thick for my liking. He grabbed a glass and poured some of your early port and told me to take a drink. I told him it was great. We talked and I explained that we were there for two weeks and that I had every day planned out for different wineries. He told me to hold on and picked up the phone, it must have been about 7-8 PM and started talking. I listened as he said something like, "Jim, I have this nice young couple here from Southern California. Can you take them on a tour in the morning?" I tried to get his attention to say we had our day planned to no avail. He hung up and told us we were expected at 8:30 AM and gave us directions. I couldn't believe it. We talked over dinner, which we then ate at the bar and decided that it would be an experience. We came back every year for the next eight years and I still have a collection of bottles he signed for me.
We showed up bright and early and were greeted by Jim and Imogene. He invited us into the "lab", where we saw the early spider window, and we sat down for what was to become my absolute favorite time ever in the wine country. He became our teacher. He told us how the wine was made, explained in detail, he brought out vials for us to smell and placed a taste wheel in front of us. He proceeded to let us taste a number of wines, including taking us to the back and tasting from the cask. He quizzed us on smells and flavors with each sip. I eventually asked him if I was saying I could smell or taste something he suggested simply because he asked. He then brought out a young bottle of Cabernet and asked if I could taste the sauerkraut flavor and said that it was often present in a young cab. I told him I could not and my wife immediately said how much I dislike sauerkraut and that if it was there I'd taste it. Jim laughed an on we went. I had no idea how much time had elapsed. Eventually he graciously asked if we were still planning to go elsewhere that day and I told him we were going to go to Grgich, Cakebread, Trefethen and Mayacamas. I looked at my watch and it was almost noon. We bought two cases of wine that day mixed between the 1981 Noble Companion Lot 2 at $11.50, the 1982 Royal Escort at $15.00, the 1983 Summer Port at $7.25 and the 1981 Cabernet at $10.50.