Right between the Boehm and the Lalique, that's the proper spot for the alcoholic extravagance being marketed by the newly formed Le Chateau du Vin: a limited edition (1,200 bottles) of 100-plus-year-old unblended cognac in its own exclusive crystal decanter, oak and velvet box, with an accompanying lithograph designed just for the cognac. The cognac, says the company, is "the oldest known quantity in existence," having been kept in 11 casks in the cellar of the Hardy family in Charente, France, and reblended every decade only with cognac from one of those 11 casks. Thus it is entirely a product of pre-phylloxera grapes. You don't really want to know the price, but it is $3,750 a bottle -- which means that the whole collection is worth $4 1/2 million. But the company is considering delivering the first hundred bottles by Rolls Royce. And its primary American market, should anyone fail to guess, is expected to be Dallas. If this cognac goes over as the company hopes, it will be followed by a series of collectables: an old, rare single malt scotch, maybe a hand-picked Cha teau Yquem or a rare vodka. Unlike Boehm and Lalique, these collectables have to be ordered through your local liquor store. And unlike most cognac, its temptation at that price is not to drink it.
The consensus was that it was an exercise in turning coaches into pumpkins, after the German Wine Society had gathered in room 2175 of the Rayburn Building (the site of the Watergate hearings) to investigate German trocken (dry) and halbtrocken (semi-dry) wines. Ten percent of Germany's wines are now dry and semi-dry whites, explained Peter M. F. Sichel -- the New York Peter Sichel, not the European cousin -- as he presented the wines to the group. Since Germans have developed a taste for drinking wine rather than beer or sparkling water with food, and have demanded dry wines to go with their lighter-than-before food, there has been a bit of a scramble to produce such wines on home ground, said Sichel. The first were acid, with little structure and body, disagreeable wines that aged too fast. But the wines had improved, he said, and would suit people who like the fruit and character of German wines but find them too sweet. The wines that traditionally have been dry -- Franken and Baden wines -- traditionally have been consumed locally.
But the German wine society had tasted the new trocken wines before, and made Sichel promise to bring along some beerenausleses from his private cellar to compensate for going through them again. Sure enough, this tasting confirmed the earlier impression, with comments on the wines tending to be: dull nose, insignificant, dies in the mouth, pallid but drinkable, lightweight, unbalanced. The most satisfactory of the new releases tasted, as it happened, was Sichel's own Rheinpfalz '78 QbA halbtrocken, a light and fruity typical rhine with an agreeable aftertaste. For all of the trocken wines, calling them "dry" was stretching the term. And the group heaved a sigh of relief when the spatleses, ausleses and beerenausleses were poured.
Aged in wood is one matter; drunk in wood is quite another. But at the launching of the Wilmington, Del., Hotel du Pont's "Imperial Hotel -- Japan Week," the sake was not only served cold, but in small, square wooden boxes. The boxes, it was explained, were Japanese rice measures, and were traditional vessels for drinking sake, often with salt sprinkled on the rim, as with margaritas. The guests struggled to decide whether to drink from the side or the corner (the corner, it was revealed, was correct), concluding that either way was awkward. As chins were wiped, guests agreed that they preferred the newfangled little porcelain cups, though the smooth touch of the wood and its spicy smell did add a certain compensating pleasure to sake-drinking.
While the wine-touring season in California reaches full force, Virginia is modestly dipping a toe into organized vineyard-hopping. The Albemarle Harvest Wine Festival claims to be the first of its kind in central Virginia -- a modest enough claim -- and will include wine tastings and tours of Barboursville and Montdomaine vineyards, as well as a small model home vineyard near Charlottesville. On Oct. 17 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the festival will center on the grounds of Charlottesville's Boar's Head Inn, and include viticultural lectures, a grape-pressing demonstration, an amateur winemaking contest and guests such as California's Leon Adams and Lapo Mazzei, president of the Chianti Classico Consortium of Italy, as well as a direct descendant of the founder of the area's original vineyard. Price is $2.50 for adults, $1 for children -- who, of course, will have to forego sampling the wine. For more information, contact Harvest Wine Festival, 2 Boar's Head Lane, Charlottesville, Va. 22901.