This Week's Cafe Review: Sweet Wine at CINQ

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I had something of an epiphany while sipping from my wife's glass of 2005 Meulenhof Erdener Treppchen Riesling Beerenauslese. She'd asked for something to go with dessert, and this is what our waiter, Sebastien, had brought her. At once clean and bright, concentrated and intense, it was eye-opening. Most of my sweet wine experiences had been limited to Madeira (a bit of a fetish in my house, due to my wife's Portuguese ancestry), and the occasional gently sweet Riesling. This was something different.

To cap a previous dinner at CINQ, the subject of this week's review, Sebastien had brought a glass of oxidized sweet Jurançon (trying to hit that Madeira obsession), and it was well received. We talked about the production process, how that year had been one of the hottest the region had seen, and the effect of stress on the grapes. With a relatively empty house - it was a Tuesday - Sebastien was free and eager to stand there and discuss wine.

By the time we'd finished that small glass of Beerenauslese, though, talking through the various methods used to concentrate the flavor of a sweet wine, I knew I'd have to have more. It was light on the palate, despite an intensely saturated flavor. Not mildly sweet, it made its presence known and its intentions clear. Pear, raisins, a bit of solvent. It was honeyed but never cloying, with a gentle acidity that made all of the flavors fairly dance.

I can feel an obsession coming on; I'm already scouring the Internet, searching for a reasonably priced bottle or two to put away for special occasions. I asked a wine-savvy friend about it, and he warned me that I might find it difficult to locate another bottle of this weapons-grade wine, but could certainly find similar, younger bottles that would be similar, and less powerful, versions of the same.

As happy as the wine made me, it also made me a little bit sad. It reminded me of my feelings about the Minutemen, a band whose opus I heard first, and whose other efforts have always paled for me, as a result. I'm afraid I'll get the same experience out of my next bottle of Botrytized Riesling.

Fortunately, Sebastien is aware of the longings that rare wines can inspire, and takes some pity on his customers. From time to time, he reaches into CINQ's cellars, arranging vintage wine tastings. As he so well put it to us, not everyone can or wants to shell out the cash required to splash out on a single bottle of rare wine; his programs afford the possibility to taste a range of special bottles for one price, along with a few bites of food best suited to highlight them. A more varied bang for your buck.

Go to CINQ for a special occasion, celebrate it with a glass of dessert wine. The Meulenhof probably won't be there. My apologies. I'm sure Sebastien can recommend something suitably delicious and, if it's a slow night, talk your ear off about soil drainage, temperature gradients, and noble rot. If you're interested. He might mention his vintage wine tasting series, or offer to help you track down a bottle you particularly enjoyed (he told us he'd keep an eye out for that Riesling). He'll probably wax slightly rhapsodic about Tokaji, his favorite dessert wine. Let him. You'll understand.

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