When I was 12, I was allowed to have a glass of wine at Sunday lunch (tamed by a strong dose of water). This privilege took on an importance akin to buying my first bra. With a glass of wine in my hand, I felt one step away from Hollywood stardom. Despite my intense desire to join the world of grown-ups (a habit I gave up long ago), I spent most of lunch worrying about the countless mistakes I might make: spilling red wine all over my mother's crisp white linen table cloth, gulping instead of sipping, breaking one of the crystal glasses. I saw wine as a mark of sophistication. It never occurred to me that it was a world unto itself--meant to enhance food and bring pleasure.
Like anyone else, I learned about wine through trial and error, suffering countless Gallo and Mateus hangovers along the way. I never had an epiphany, or a wine guru, but when the food revolution of the early Eighties came to town, I was there--ready and willing to swirl, sip and learn.The truth of the matter is that wine is not a symbol of who you are. It's only wine. Looking back, I see that the wine of those Sunday lunches was the pits--not worth the angst after all!
The Royal Treatment
Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia (no last name necessary) believes "if you've got it, use it"--even when the "it" is her Baccarat crystal, circa 1860. Elizabeth is a direct descendant of Catherine the Great, and her wine goblets and decanters, bear the crest of her Russian relatives, the Demidoffs. When Elizabeth has friends for dinner, out comes the crystal; writers, artists, politicians, even Prince Charles and the Queen Mother have sipped from these goblets. Elizabeth loves serving French Bordeaux, especially Château Latour, and a full-bodied Yugoslavian red wine, Vranac, that she can only get in Montenegro. Accidents happen--mostly as a result of drunken toasts. I asked Elizabeth how she mends her broken soldiers. "Easy" she said. "I send them to Center Art Studio." Like many other first-rate crystal repairers, Manhattan's Center Art Studio (800-242-3535) can grind out chips, plane weblike cracks and reattach broken bits with colorless adhesives. If the bowl of a goblet breaks off the stem cleanly, they can fix it. The only lost cause, I guess, is when a goblet falls to the floor and shatters completely!
Le Coze Knows
The co-owner of Manhattan's four-star Le Bernardin, Maguy Le Coze, is a living testament to French chic. Add to that her encyclopedic knowledge of food and wine, and you have Julia Child in Coco Chanel's body! Maguy has seen her share of clients undone by the prospect of ordering wine. She advises the "point-and-nod" method: ask for the sommelier, Michel Couvreux, and point at the amount you want to spend. Don't be shy about asking him to explain how French wines compare with ones you know better. Maguy often drinks a California Chardonnay, Hanna ($30). Other finds are a Ménétou Salon from Henri Pellé ($30), a Loire white made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes, and a Saint-Aubin from Marc Colin ($60), a white Burgundy--for novices, that's Chardonnay.
An Uberhostess at Work
If there is such a thing as an uberhostess, Nan Kempner, is it. She is a pro who knows more than anyone about "giving good party." At dinners in her Manhattan apartment, she never goes for the predictable: instead of boring baked potatoes, she'll serve potatoes with a poached quail egg hidden inside like a Cracker Jack charm. Nan always orders bottles from D. Sokolin Wine Merchants (800-946-3947) in Southampton, New York, and is keen on the 1978 Duart-Milon Rothschild, and the 1997 St. Véran from Joseph Drouhin. Years ago, Nan bought a supply of 1982 Château Margaux for $400 a case (the price has since shot up to $7,000) and her friends--a lucky bunch--can expect to see that on her table soon.