On Monday, when our plane touched down and my phone’s data was once again activated, I learned that the local temperature, at 4:00 in the afternoon, was a not-so-ripe 21° (and that is Fahrenheit, or -6°C). For someone who has spent the vast majority of his life in northern climes, this should not have been much of a shock.
But it was. It was cold.
We had traveled to Columbus, Ohio where my wife would be interviewing for two days for an exciting position and I was there, officially, as the “trailing spouse” (a term that I have heard many times, of course, but I believe this was the first time that it was applied to me).
I was born, however many years ago, in the great state of Ohio, which many of its residents refer to as “America’s Heartland” (which always seemed a bit presumptuous to me but given the state is roughly shaped like a heart, I let it pass). While I officially left the state when I was but six years old, I have maintained an allegiance to the 17th member of these United States mostly through my fervent support of the state university here (or at least its athletic teams) and I was cheering loudly (and yet in vain) for the state’s representative in this past Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Having said that, it was cold, really cold.
I pondered if my nearly six years in Texas (where it was 70° when we landed in Ohio by sharp contrast) had somehow made me “soft” or “thinned my blood” causing a sudden adverse reaction to the frigidity of the Ohio air. No, I had always disliked winter whether it be Southeastern Michigan (where I grew up), Coastal Maine (undergrad), Alsace, France (where I studied and played basketball), or Philadelphia (where I lived for 16 years).
Growing up, while I liked Spring and Fall, I would have easily traded in both for a few extra weeks of summer. And I dreaded Winter since it was always cold.
Yet there I was, with the Texas version of a winter coat (a Gortex shell) as my only protection, shivering, and waiting for the rental car shuttle to arrive (waiting in the extreme cold always seems longer than waiting in very hot weather, at least to me).
Driving from the airport to the hotel reminded me of many elements of winter that I had gladly left behind when we moved to Houston: the cold air coming out of the vents as the car tries to warm up, the snowbanks that not only take up several parking spaces in every lot but also most of the right-hand lane on city streets, the gray(?)/brown(?) color of both ground and sky, the salt that covers every street, sidewalk, and car. Yeah, I don’t miss any of that.
There are, on the other hand, many attractive aspects to Columbus: the weather in the summer, the somewhat slower pace of the Midwest, football games in the Fall, and for a relatively small city, Columbus seems to have a vibrant and diverse restaurant scene.
This is the third time in the last six months that I have been to Columbus and each time I have found my way to a particular restaurant in Upper Arlington: The Wine Bistro (on one trip, I went there twice). The food is good. A bit heavy on the sauces, but really no complaints. The reason I keep coming back, however (and a bit predictably), is the wine program. There is no real list but rather 3 dozen racks adorn the walls, each with scores of bottles (the wine director indicated that they have 600+ SKUs at any given time). The wines are priced at maybe 10-20% above retail, and they seem to be quite eclectic, particularly the champagnes. Which, since they are sitting on a shelf in the restaurant, can take a bit of time to get cold.
Maybe they should just keep them outside, where it is cold. Really cold.
Here are the two champagnes we opted for this past visit, both very nice and reasonably priced:
Pierre Cellier Champagne Le Mesnil-sue-Oger, France: Retail $48. 60% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Meunier. This brand was started by the late Philippe Gonet and named after his son (Pierre and the current cellar master) and Philippe’s wife’s maiden name (Cellier). We were in Columbus for an interview and when we got off the plane on Valentine’s Day, it was 23 degrees. Twenty frigging degrees. So we went to what has become my favorite restaurant in Columbus: The Wine Bistro in Upper Arlington. When the bartender opened this wine, the cork soared right in front of my face, glanced off a chandelier, and landed in the water glass of another patron. Yikes. Thus, I was not able to look at the cork (the corks from older champagnes take a particularly long time [if ever] to expand), but I have the feeling that this wine had some age on it. Golden in the glass with a Whoa-worthy nose of tarte tatin, freshly-baked brioche. Dry. Really dry. Much drier than I anticipated since this is labeled a brut, but it has to be on the bottom of that scale. But yowza. Baked apple, fantastic acidity, an incredible Whoa factor on the palate. Outstanding. 94 Points.
Jean Lallement et Fils Champagne Cuvée Réserve Verzenay Grand Cru, France: Retail $70. 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay. Paid $90 at the Wine Bistro. This comes from a tiny ten-acre plot in the only north-facing Grand Cru vineyard in Champagne, on the Montagne de Reims. It was not until this wine was open for a good 30 minutes that I noticed the disgorgement date: November 22, 2012. Whoa. Not sure how long it has been on the shelf here, but this is a classic *old* champagne: golden color, intense sherried nose, maybe some baked golden delicious apple. Holy cow. The palate is concentrated with incredible richness and depth. Old champagne is not for everyone, but it is for this Buckeye. Whoa. Outstanding. 96 Points.