Ben Weinberg was one of my heros in high school if for no other reason than that he was two whole years older than I but still spoke to me like I was a regular person. He was also one of the first people to notice that I had a sense of humor.
So I was both delighted and terrified to learn that — after a journey through corporate law and financial planning — he had become a wine writer. I was delighted, because wine writing is a good job, but terrified because wine writers can be among the most pompous, pretentious, ill-humored windbags in the whole world of food and beverage, surpassed only by freebie-grubbing travel writers.
They're not all bad, of course, but people whose whole world is fermented grape juice have a tendency to lose perspective. I was a little worried that a good friend who helped me grow up into the person that I am had fallen down the loathsome hole of self-importance.
But of course I had to see him, after a solid 20 years of not doing so, during my trip last week to Denver, and so he arranged a dinner at Table 6 and invited along a few friends from the Denver wine scene: A fellow wine writer named Tim Heaton, Tim’s friend Michael Frederick and Cliff Young. You would instantly recognize the name Cliff Young if you lived in Denver and were interested in its restaurants during the 1980s and 1990s, as he was the chef-owner of Cliff Young’s, which reigned as one of Denver's top restaurants for its 17 years of existence. That's a good run.
He now spends half of his time in Burgundy, and is an importer of premium Burgundies into the U.S.
Now that I’m writing this, I realize that turning a meeting between old friends into a wine dinner does look like a pretty pompous thing to do, but it didn’t seem that way at the time, partly because Cliff and I were the only ones at the table in collared shirts (but that’s just Denver, one of the most casual cities in the world), partly because the mood was so relaxed even though the conversation was probably 50 percent about wine, and partly because the wines that Ben & company brought were so good that I didn’t care.
And they were also very good restaurant customers. They had brought their own wine, it’s true, but after we tasted it we sent it to the kitchen for the chefs to try, and we tipped well (20 percent, plus an extra $20 per person, which, it being Denver, meant we tipped about 75 percent total).
And this is what we ate and drank:
confit fresh bacon with Parmesan broth, ricotta gnudi and greens
marcona almond tater tots with tomato marmalade
chicken fried sweetbreads with Honeycrisp apple salad
2006 Jean Perrier et Fils Roussette de Savoie Monterminod
1997 Louis Jadot Corton-Charlemagne
2000 Domaine de la Cotelleraie Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil Le Vau Jaumier
Arugula, white anchovy and a ham crouton
Duck confit with arugula, duck ham, Humboldt Fog cheese and plum jus
2000 Hospices de Beaune Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Brunet Enchers par Cliff & Sharon Young
1996 Domaine Dujac Morey St. Denis
Then the chef tasted the 2005 Switchback Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Peterson Family Vineyard and, to go with it, made us a hot chocolate mousse with burnt sugar brioche.
Then we had assorted cheeses that I didn't write down, along with 1999 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese and 1994 Château Tirecul La Gravière Monbazillac
It was a good evening.
Here’s Tim’s assessment of the wines.