Last week I paired a really ugly hamburger with an indisputably pretty wine.
The burger was just as delicious as it was ugly. The wine, on the other hand, was as graceful, balanced, and pretty as folks have come to expect from a Luca Roagna wine. They made magic together, an uncommon partnership between simplicity and beauty, combining an appreciation for the luxurious with a bow to the unembellished.
This wine and burger pairing eventually came to pass because I coughed seven weeks earlier, fulfilling a speaking engagement in NYC. Four discs in my lower back organized themselves in immediate protest and swiped all feeling out of my left leg and right foot while they teased a slew of spinal nerves and back muscles to their breaking points. Those muscles and nerves became really aggravated and directed their newly stoked fierceness at me, inflicting terror-like pain and unimaginable restrictions on simple movements like walking, standing, looking sideways, raising your hand, sitting down, tying shoes, waving….you get the picture.
The discs have had the upper hand ever since, even with my crutches and canes as weapons in self defense. My new temporary handicap has slowed me down; lot’s of home office time, wheelchairs in airports, hours of rehabilitation, and crutches for short distance walks. I am not sharing any of this to solicit your sympathy, but instead to share some post traumatic joy from living life a little bit slower.
For all the good and bad of it, I travel around the country moving 500 mph every day of my media career. I believed I was at least sniffing (if not smelling) the roses all these years. But planes move too fast for that, fine restaurants’ food and wine parades overwhelm it, rental cars smell way too musty, hotels waft antiseptic, meetings and speaking engagements wreak of coffee and bad take-out food, and pinnacle moments of business victory smell more like spilled blood and prized carcasses than the pleasant sweetness of delicate roses.
It was surprising that in the middle of their torturous reign of terror, my angry discs would help me smell the roses; simply by keeping me housebound and quiet. I reengaged with the simple things that happen in families and homes every day, and that all started to smell a whole lot more like roses to me.
So on this Tuesday evening in Atlanta, during my discs’ first week of travel since that dreaded pre-Labor Day cough, I needed to lay low and hold onto my new and slower pace. It meant that a top Atlanta hamburger from Grindhouse “Killer” Burgers and a good bottle of wine from Tower Spirits would make a perfect quiet dinner back at my apartment. I would be miles away from a big steak and crowded dining rooms of Atlanta’s top business eateries.
I ordered my favorite Grindhouse combination; double patties of dry aged chuck & brisket, lettuce, american cheese, grilled onion, pickles and secret grindhouse sauce. These hamburgers only occasionally make it into the top ten Atlanta burger debates that mostly include Holeman & Finch, Flip, Vortex, Farm Burger, etc. I like Grindhouse best. They are mushy and decadent, reminding me of the Shake Shack burgers I used to eat with my oldest son in Madison Square Park after his shift ended across the street in Eleven Madison Park’s kitchen. Both burgers just slide down and are mostly about texture and sauce.
Before picking up the burger, I snagged the ($55 ****1/2) 2003 Roagna Paje Barbaresco, made from south facing slope fruit of the Paje vineyard. The Roagna family has been making wine since the mid 1800′s in Barbaresco, and now owns pieces of top vineyards around town. The fruit macerates for months in wood vats before aging in French oak over four to six years before bottling and further aging prior to release. This is their entry level Barbaresco, but in this vintage no Riserva was made so the fruit normally reserved for the top blend probably found its way into Paje. The wine’s sweet fruit aromas combine with mint, char, herbs, and anise. Deep fruit sweetness wraps itself in regal silk, supported by tannins that are noticeably friendly and uncharacteristically soft, letting the wine linger with grace before leaving its authoritative finishing signature that makes it impossible to forget. The wine is indeed majestic, and Roagna is a producer to follow. Every sip of this wine had me closing my eyes to better focus on its intense balance, elegant texture, riveting flavors, and ethereal aromatics.
I took note of the moment inside my sparse Atlanta pied-à-terre, eating something as simple as an ugly burger while experiencing a wine as monumentally beautiful as a Roagna Barbaresco. And while…
…it might have been coincidence, characteristics of the vineyard, or just righteousness—- THE WINE SMELLED LIKE ROSES
In a familiar way, I relished the simplicity of sitting at an apartment countertop and quietly enjoying a good burger and bottle of wine without any other competing agendas. I was smelling the roses once more, just like back home over the last six weeks. I have my discs, Roagna, and Grindhouse to thank for this special gift. Avoid my path of the angry discs, but definitely check out Grindhouse and Roagna Paje Barbaresco 2003.