Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Old school in the New South

After having such a wonderful meal at the Highlands Bar and Grill, it sounded like a great idea when RJ and Darcy mentioned dinner at the Magnolia Grill in Durham when our mutual friend Mike was in town. When we were all in graduate school at UNC we used to try to have dinner at least once a month. RJ, Mike and me with my then girlfriend and their girlfriends (who became wives, unlike mine who broke my heart). Then Li and Wenjing moved to Chapel Hill to complete our 8 and we had a good ride. However, the truism is that all good things must end and we all finished school and moved about. It was nice to have a chance to get back together. I feel really lucky to have found folks that I like so much in graduate school, of all places.

About the Magnolia Grill, over the years I think some folks, including myself, have taken this restaurant for granted. We were all on the lookout for what was happening now, and despite the accolades that Ben and Karen receive, the food can sometimes seem a bit dated (from the era of New Southern Cuisine) when you have that mindset. The thing is, if you approach the food for what it is, meticulously prepared from fanatically chosen ingredients, most of them from right down the road, you can’t help but be charmed. This is an institution, the trailblazer for true fine dining in Durham, without which, folks like my brother might never come into being. Kudos to Ben and Karen for keeping it going for 22 years. Anyone can open a restaurant and start strong, it is another thing entirely to keep standards high for over two decades. This place is going back in my regular rotation.

2005 Grosset Riesling Polish Hill
I ordered this because in all of our dinners, I don’t think I’ve ever served (don’t own any) or ordered an Australian wine. I’ve always liked Geoffrey Grosset’s wines, but the rieslings in particular. This was showing well, if not spectacularly. Sometimes his wines manage to be dense and packed and amazingly light on their feet at the same time. This bottle had the density and concentration, but I would have liked to have seen more lightness and complexity. There were 6 of us at the table, so it didn’t get much of a chance to open.

2002 J. J. PrĂ¼m Riesling Kabinett Wehlener Sonnenuhr
Now this is what I should have ordered. That glittery fruit of young (but not too) Prum Sonnenuhr is just hard to resist. Mine was futile. It assimilated me like the Borg. How is that for geeky?

2004 Salvo Foti Etna Rosso Vinupetra
Much better than a bottle I opened a few days before. This bottle showed in the Burgundian manner that I remembered from a year ago. There is a slightly smoky to the relaxed cranberry/sour cherry fruit as well as a stony nuance. Lacks a bit of drive and force, but complimented the food nicely.

2005 Sylvie Esmonin Gevrey 1er Clos St. Jacques
Decanted as soon as possible. Showed a good hit of oak upon first open, which isn’t surprising given that it is raised in all new barrels, and Laurent “magic barrels” to be precise. I’m not going to get into a long dictum here about the use of oak and the quality of it, but these barrels are pretty amazing in person. Thickest staves I’ve ever seen on a barrel. Anyway, by the time we got around to drinking it, the oakiness had subsided and it was showing a lot of typicity, which was good as a recent bottle of 2002 was a very big disappointment. There is some around, I think I’ll pick up some bottles and see what they do, if I have any cash left after buying Foucault.


Andrew Martin said...

Glad to see a Grosset in the notes. Should you see anything Clare or Eden Valley rieslingwise from 2002 do not hesitate - they are cool, linear and waxy; not something you can usually say of an Aussie wine. I live in antipodally(?) and they are the only things bought in any amount for the cellar - screw caps can only help. Many old rieslings with tree bark stuffed in the bottle just seem oxidised these days. Strangely the only Ausssie reds I've got cellared come from the same place - the amazing Wendouree Shiraz, Cabernets and Malbecs from vines planted well before P***** was born and not oaky, syrupy or sweet like those acidified Barossa lumps.
cheers for open minded notes and hope Loire prices stay affordable - Andrew

the vlm said...


I've been a big fan of Grosset for years. I used to sell the wines once upon a time. I've always loved the rieslings and the Gaia red. Other wines from Australia I've liked have been Wendouree (on rare occasions), Mt. Mary's, Pike's, and a few other assorted things. Am currently tryin got get my hands on some Tyrell's Vat 1 in the States.

I try to have an open mind when it comes to Australia, and I realize it isn't totally monolithic, but, like most of CA, 95% of the wineries seem to be using the same model.

Loire wines aren't increasing much in Euros, it's the US$ that is killing us.

I hope to make an Antipodean trip in the next couple of years and see what's what for myself.

Andrew Martin said...


Feel like should call you Cheeky Monkey, which used to be a common endearment growing up in England. Glad you've tried Wendouree. When you make the long journey this way be sure to let me know, will be a pleasure to open some things and recommend some stuff. Make sure you put Melbourne on your itinery. Think you're 95% assessment's about right - makes shopping at our discount wine barns straightforward, depressingly.
From far away Obama seems a good ambassador compared to George W Shrub - he does have the disadvantage of being in politics however.
Keep up the vulgarity - Andrew

Salil said...

Interesting to see that note on the Grosset. I've had quite differing experiences with Grosset Rieslings (even though I generally like a lot of the Aussie wines that don't fall into Barossa/McLaren spoof territory) - compared to the Rieslings from the Frankland River or Macedon Ranges (that I normally buy), I've found them either too austere and tart, and sometimes a little too four square and lacking complexity.

That Prum sounds wonderful though. I'm finding it hard to keep my hands off the 02 Spats right now.