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First, My Wine Lesson

I must admit, I was a bit intimidated on my way to meet Todd English at his newest restaurant, Ca Va, for my first little wine lesson. Pretty safe assumption the chef/restaurateur/author/entrepreneur/TV star knew a thing or two about wine.

And while I did have my handy-dandy cheat sheet from my introductory column, my general knowledge of wine is limited to “red wine stains most clothes, so don’t spill it.”

Still, I took a deep breath and walked into his new brasserie, adjacent to the Intercontinental Times Square hotel on West 44th Street in Manhattan, and met up with the celebrity chef himself. We sat down and, as part of the rules of this column, I asked Todd to pick his favorite wine.

He looked at his wine list and instead, picked two. (Why don’t men listen?)

Ah, but there was a reason. Todd chose two wines made from the pinot noir grape that were cultivated in two different parts of the world.

We talked about this my last column: “A Pinot Noir grape grown in Australia, fermented in an oak barrel, will produce a very different wine then the same grape grown in Californian during a rainy season, then tossed into a stainless steel barrel.” So now we can prove it!

He picked and poured one from Sonoma, California – the Flowers Vineyard and Winery, Pinot Noir, “Perennial,” 2008, and another from Burgundy, France – the Louis Latour, Santenay, 2005.

He tilted both glasses of wine slightly and asked me to look at the color. Even I could tell that the more expensive Sonoma wine was lighter. So already the wines were noticeably different – even though they were both made with pinot noir grapes.

Then he told me to stick my Sicilian nose in each glass and smell them. As awkward as that felt, I again, noticed a difference. The Sonoma had a fruitier smell. I couldn’t tell you what kind of fruit – he said blackberries and cherries. Maybe. I just got “fruit.”

The French wine, on the other hand, had a smokier smell. And I got that quickly. He said it was from the barrel. The woods of the barrels are actually burned to meld them into that oval curve. Todd smelled chestnuts, too. Can’t say that I did, though the smell did remind me of the chestnuts my family seems to burn and serve every Christmas dinner.

They were both great – but definitely different. I liked the French wine better.

Now, My Life Lesson

In addition to all this wine tasting, he kept ordering food.

Foie gras and tuna nicoise came out. Saucisson en croute was placed in front of me, to which I proudly declared, “Pigs in a blanket!” (My mother would be so proud).

And yet with wine and food everywhere, his Blackberry never stopped. Chefs came asking questions. Others reminded him of upcoming meetings. I was dizzy just eavesdropping on it all.
But with 24 restaurants, two TV shows in process, another book (he already has three published) in the works and a line of cookware for HSN, the guy’s busy.

I asked about business. And he readily admits he got hit like everyone else. Restaurants closed and wine lists had to be adjusted. And a new type of customer comes to the door now, he says. Someone looking for comfort food in smaller affordable portions -- hence the delightful little plates in front of me – including now creme brulee and a pot of hazelnut mousse (totally up this Italian girl’s alley).

And yet in the midst of the wine, food and business chat, I noticed he smiled most when I asked about his three kids. His daughter and two sons have inspired menu items, restaurant names and have become his travel partners. With that, I dropped the business chat.
Instead we finished that fabulous wine and talked about our kids.

And I realized something.

Not only did Todd English introduce me to two different pinot noir wines, but he reminded me that in this frenetic world, the things that require the most patience and nurturing are still the things that make us smile the most.

Cent’ Anni.

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