There’s something of a friendly marital disagreement in our household when it comes to how money is spent. It would not trouble Sonja to put away as much money as possible in the bank for a rainy day, whereas I view money a little differently. In my thinking, money has but two purposes, the first being to help other people, and the second being to afford for special experiences and allow us to live life to the fullest. To paraphrase Thoreau, I like sucking the marrow from life whenever and wherever it can be found. In this way, continuing to steal from Thoreau, I hope that when I come to die, I shall not discover that I have not lived.
Sonja knows this about me, and we do our best at obtaining balance between the two positions. For the most part we are successful. But for my birthday, which was yesterday, it was very thoughtful of Sonja not to purchase for me still more worldly possessions for which I have little space or use, much less to put money in the bank on my behalf, but instead to use some of her own personal money to create for us a special experience, a birthday dinner for the four of us — myself, my father, my mother, and Sonja. Over the course of three plus hours we sat and talked of life, of my past thirty-five years, of hopes and still further ambitions, and of young Titus, Sonja and my son, who was by then fast asleep at home in his crib, unaware at 7 months of age that his father, too, was getting older by the day.
Sonja and I are both reasonably good cooks, and I have better wine in my cellar than the vast majority of Omaha restaurants, so when we go out to eat, what we’re really looking for is an experience. For that reason, V. Mertz is almost always our favorite choice, though we do our best not to wear it out. Simply put, the service is the best in the city, and the food unparalleled in our experience. Further, they staff the best sommeliers in town, and that means not only great wine, but a chance for additional learning. Sonja called weeks in advance, and a special menu was prepared, complete with wine pairings. It was the start of a very special experience.
Thinking back on last night, I’m writing about this largely out of gratitude, and also partly to pass along to our readers just a few of the truly fascinating things that I learned over the course of the evening. While I try not to allow wine to dominate a conversation, a knowledgable sommelier can keep me far more entertained than even a good sporting event. Included herein are a few of the amazing pairings; though I make a mean scallop and asparagus risotto, I’ll keep my largely uneducated culinary comments to myself, save for that the food was outstanding, as it always is at V. Mertz, and stick to relaying a few of the things that I learned about the wines last night that I thought were particularly fascinating.
The first two wines, a sparkling rose’ from Champagne and a Gewürztraminer from Austria, were outstanding. The H. Goutorbe Grand Cru Brut Rose’ was a gift that our dear friend Zach, who will be accompanying me to Napa this summer, sent over to the restaurant just for tonight. The fact that this wine was such a thoughtful gift from our friend made it very special indeed, but learning more, I soon came to find that the wine was even more special than I realized. Henri Goutorbe, who died in 2009, did something unfortunately uncommon in Champagne; in a region dominated by huge conglomerate owners (many of them from Germany), this comparatively small operation is not only family-owned but also produces wines exclusively from the vineyards of their own estate. The result is something delightful, and something I recommend you try when the opportunity arises. The second pairing was a Gewurz from a house known better for Gruner Veltliner. Rounded with subtle sweetness, it paired well with the earthy dish and reminded me that many of my favorite wineries may be known for one or two famous wines, yet be producing small lots of other varietals on the side that are truly extraordinary.
The next two wines, the reds, were both fascinating choices. The 2011 Chateau Belles Graves hailed from an AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) I hadn’t heard of before, Lalande de Pomerol. Of course, we’d all heard of the better known Pomerol, but Lalande I learned is a small AOC just to the north. On the Right Bank, this excellent wine was predominantly Merlot, with some Cab Franc to offer further structure. The other red, a 2010 Buil & Gine, turned out to be the most fascinating learning experience of the night. In summation, it comes from Toro, a centrally located village and DO (Denominacion de Origen) whose sandy terroir saved them from mother nature herself. In the late 19th Century, when Phylloxera wiped out as much as nine-tenths of Europe’s vineyards, the sandy soils of Toro saved their vines from seemingly imminent destruction. Today, Toro boasts some of the oldest vines in Europe, and the Tempranillos they produce, such as the 2010 Buil & Gine, seem to me to be pretty amazing. I’ll definitely be seeking out more of them in due course.
And finally, the dessert. It was nice to get to share this with my father, in particular, for his love of Port exceeds even my own. Once a fan of the plusher, sweeter style often attributed to Ruby Porto, today, little is more enticing to me after dinner than the unmistakable smell of walnuts that I find on the nose of a good Tawny Port. A tiny, three-story structure in Gaia, Portugal, positioned on the banks of the Rio Douro, Kopke is a small operation focused exclusively on Port wines. Like the Prager brothers in Napa and others we’ve experienced, we find that when the focus is wholly on fortified wines, the product is often sensational. This seems definitely to be the case with Kopke, and again, we will surely be seeking out more of their wines as time goes on.
None of this did I know before, and credit is due in large part to Matthew Brown, who always makes our visits to V. Mertz very memorable, as well as to Nile Schneider, one of the best servers we’ve had anywhere. Most of all, however, the credit belongs to my loving wife, for knowing me well enough to know that more than another necktie or even a bottle of scotch, what I would enjoy most as a gift was a great experience to share with my loved ones (those of legal drinking age, at least). Looking back, the whole thing seems rather extravagant, of course; we don’t eat five-course meals very often on our budget. But when we do, we like to eat them at V. Mertz, and last night’s experience reminds me of precisely why. As I turn 35 and look back on a lifetime of hits and near-misses, of trials, tremendous wins and devastating losses, great victories and mistakes that all lead me to the wonderful place in which I now so fortunately find myself, I recognize that without a doubt, the best marrow to be had of this life is in the experiences, and in the people they can be shared with.
Written with special gratitude and appreciation for my wonderful wife, Sonja.