Wine and Song with Amy Lutchen

Wine and song is an occasional series on Wine in Chicago featuring a local sommelier challenged to pair a great song with a great wine.

Song: “Baker Street,” Gerry Rafferty; #2 on Billboard, 1979. A song that captures the transition from the soft rock of the 70s to the AOR of the 80s. It is a song about how life changes and it delivers one of the best sax solos outside of a Steely Dan song I’ve ever heard.

Wine: 1985 Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, $495–$1,100

Sommelier: Amy Lutchen at DelFrisco’s Double Eagle. Wine in Chicago met with her in the Champagne room on the second floor. She served a bottle of Raventós Blanc and talked about this sparkling wine from Spain. It’s not a Cava, as the producers of Raventós felt cava production has lost its mojo and is lately producing substandard bottles. So a handful of vintners put new standards in place and bottled this extraordinary bottle of bubbly. A refreshing take on a known appellation, Raventós is a gorgeous translucent gold, crisp and intelligent, and redefines all the best qualities you expect in a cava. Over the next hour, Lutchen presented a variety of sparkling wines, domestic reds, and a Rhone that brought a surprising depth of emotion into the glass. Her choices reflected a deep enthusiasm for wine. Lutchen is affected by it, moved by it. Clearly, for Lutchen, wine is a thing of the spirit—in the most delightful, joyous, effervescent way.

Wine in Chicago: Tell me about this song.

Amy Lutchen: It’s an American classic. It makes me feel about who I am and all the things I’ve been. I just see myself driving down the pacific coast highway in this old Beemer I used to have. The extreme western Sonoma coast because I love it there. You have a such a freedom. There’s so much to explore.

Wine in Chicago: So you’re on the Pacific coast highway in a convertible and you pull over into the perfect café, you’re at a table overlooking the ocean, “Baker Street” is playing. Order the perfect wine.

Amy Lutchen: Pinot Noir’s always my go to. It has to be just one, right?

Wine in Chicago: Ultimately, I want you to get to the perfect wine for this song, but how you get there doesn’t matter. This is your show.

Amy Lutchen: And it’s got to be a domestic wine. I’m not thinking of a Burgundy Grand Cru only because “Baker Street” is such an American classic. It doesn’t have to be a classic wine, but something that screams freedom in ways that you’re talking about when you talk about wine.

On the west coast, in Oregon, in Washington, you can plant whatever you want. We don’t have specific regulations in the U.S. We’re still making new AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). In France, this is what it is, this is the law and you don’t have much freedom. I love French wine, don’t get me wrong, I love all wine. But . . .  wow. This is . . . hard.

Wine in Chicago: Ok, try this: “Baker Street” is a glass of wine. How would you describe it?

Amy Lutchen: I’m thinking of wine that I love. This song makes me feel good–(as she says this, the line, you’re crying now plays)–but it’s not really a feel good song. It’s . . .

Lutchen walks out, returns with three reds: a 2012 Cobb Pinot Noir, a 2016 Tyler Pinot, and a 1985 Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. She quickly dismisses the first two in favor of the cabernet.

Amy Lutchen: This song reminds me of the first time I went out to the Sonoma coast. You have to drive through a patch of redwoods to get there. You’re in the middle of nowhere, near Occidental. And you come out from going through a microclimate. This wine has a very, very small production, only 300 cases a year. But here’s the thing. Being in a steakhouse, everybody loves Napa country cabernet. So if someone asks me what is your favorite bottle of cab . . . and I don’t want to be cliché because we’re at a steakhouse and pick a big cabernet sauvignon, but this is a 1985 Dunn Howell Mountain. When I came here to work three and a half years ago, coming from The Boarding House, we did not sell a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. We were selling Grüner Veltliner and Okuzgozu from Turkey and all kinds of esoteric but awesome, awesome wines. Cabernet was not my go-to.

Wine in Chicago: It’s kind of a song about resignation, he’s saying all that just happened so I guess I’ll just square up my shoulders and go on. . . you know what, I’m putting words into your mouth here. Sorry.

Amy Lutchen: No, you’re saying exactly how I’m feeling today and how I’ve felt the last two days.

Wine in Chicago: I mean, that sax solo is where the song goes from “This is where I am” to “This is where I’m going.”

Amy Lutchen: All feelings I’m having today.

Wine in Chicago: Well, then. We’re listening to the perfect song.

Amy Lutchen: Yes! Yes. It brings back memories of when I was younger, growing as a sommelier; there’s a little inspiration but a little sadness. You’re moving on from things. It’s time to move forward.

Wine in Chicago: How do you taste that in a wine? What is the thing inside this Howell Mountain cab that brings you there?

Amy Lutchen: When I first came to DelFrisco’s, I had to re-explore or rediscover the Napa Valley and its appellations and Howell Mountain and Diamond Mountain were my favorites. I was tasting wines from the 80s and 90s that really blew me away. My favorite wines became the ones from the 70s through the 80s. I said, wow, this is Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon how it was a long time ago before people started making high ABV or over-extracted big, big cabs. This is more Bordeaux like. This helped define what Napa Valley is. People ask me what my favorite bottle of cab is in the restaurant and I tell them, this bottle of 1985 Dunn Howell Mountain

Wine in Chicago: How much would one pay for that here in Del Frisco’s?

Amy Lutchen: $495

Wine in Chicago: [Nervously] Good lord. I mean, you know I’m not on expenses here, right? We’re not going to open that are we?

Amy Lutchen: [scraping the wax off the cork] I think we might.

Wine in Chicago: But I’m just a stupid journalist writing a dumb wine column. I mean, why?

Amy Lutchen: Because it’s the last one I have. And it’s an amazing bottle. But, I keep thinking about the Chave Hermitage. That changed my life before this changed my life. So, northern Rhone. Syrah. It’s very, very sexy wine and it changes, and it has this animale quality and you just never want to take your nose out of the glass.

Wine in Chicago: You have to pick one wine.

Amy Lutchen: So, it’s between the 85 Dunn or the Chave Hermitage. I don’t have the 2004 vintage which I fell in love with, I have the 2012.

Wine in Chicago: Ok, I really do feel like I need you to drink the wine while listening to the song but come on–that’s a $500 bottle of wine. I can’t ask you to do that.

Amy Lutchen: The Hermitage’s only $350 . . .

Wine in Chicago: [stares in mute disbelief] I . . . I mean it’s your house. I . . . it’s too much.

Amy Lutchen: It’s either this or the Hermitage. But I think the hermitage describes . . .

With Baker Street’s legendary sax solo wailing behind her, words seem to fail Lutchen for a moment and she seems to be shaping something with her hands, her eyes looking at something much further away than a wine bottle. She had declined to be photographed, but if only I had been able to capture this incredibly rare moment in the life of a somm, when they are facing a major unexpected change, wrestling the emotions of the music, and trying to choose a wine that defines not only this interstice of viticulture and a velour 70s hit, but who she is as a somm.

Amy Lutchen: . . . the Hermitage describes . . . It’s what’s inside of me; the sexy notes of Syrah. This is what you see me express . . . it’s a very sexy grape. It changes a lot in the glass. Everywhere it’s grown it’s completely different, but it has those elements of gamy, bloody, irony, dried herb, black pepper, smoked meats, grilled meats–

Wine in Chicago: This wine might make me cry.

Amy Lutchen: . . . and as it changes, as it develops in the glass, its starts having a . . . I remember first smelling it and thinking it smells like sex in a glass. Like the pheromones you release after an exciting night . . . oh my god, don’t print that! It’s from one of my favorite producers of Rhone in the northern Rhone. I also love Jamet, but the Chave Hermitage never lets me down. But, it needs to open up a little before we drink it. So . . . we’re gonna try both.

Wine in Chicago: Yeah. Well. I think that’s a great idea. [trying very hard not to shout with joy]

Amy Lutchen: Because I’m never going to decide: do I want to talk about Amy and deep, deep down feelings? Yeah, this is a good descriptor of me. (She picks up the 85 Dunn) This is also a good descriptor of me and the style of wine I love coming out of the new world. Alright. We’re just gonna do it. It’s the last bottle in the building and I don’t even have it on the list because it has to go to the right person.

Wine in Chicago: You’re the right person. I’m the right person. We’re the right people.

Amy Lutchen: I think Randy Dunn’s first vintage was 1979? And everybody else, going through the 90s, was going for power, Randy Dunn did not change his style ever.

Lutchen uses a Durand opener to pull the 33-year-old cork. Like a boss. We taste the Dunn. It is magical. It is life changing. Even after three decades, it’s still full, still strong.

Wine in Chicago: It’s way bigger than I thought it was gonna be.

Amy Lutchen: And it still has a lot of acid. Which is what you want to have in a wine you’re going to age, obviously.

Wine in Chicago: I don’t know how to describe this.

Amy Lutchen: There is dried fruit, there are dried leaves, there’s a . . . it’s from the conifers, there’s a tree bark, a pine needle kind of–it smells like California. It still has a beautiful tannic structure. Still has really nice red fruit.

Wine in Chicago: I feel like you shouldn’t drink this with food. I think you should drink it in a church.

Amy Lutchen: You’re in a house of wine. This is an exciting wine. It will hold up with any aged Bordeaux.

We move on to the Hermitage which has been sitting in the glass while we drink its neighbor. Although the Dunn Cab was extraordinary, and a rare treat, this six-year-old Syrah leaves me speechless. It is the most complex, crazy-good wine I’ve ever tasted.

Wine in Chicago: [garbled grunts of pure pleasure]

Amy Lutchen: Slight black pepper. Anise. Fennel. Herbs d’Provence.

Wine in Chicago: Fergl, hmmph, nerg.

Amy Lutchen: Wow. And the colors. Just beautiful. This Syrah is gorgeous. After it sits, I won’t swirl it, I’ll just see what it’s doing on the top. There’s also a meat element. Almost a dried . . . like sausage with fennel in it.

Wine in Chicago: I love it so much.

Amy Lutchen: Did you get a lot of black pepper and black olives?

Wine in Chicago: Why this wine?

Amy Lutchen: This is me in a glass. And I love Syrah. It’s voluptuous. It’s sexy. Every time you smell it, the aromatics and flavor profiles that develop, it’s a wine that could bring you on an adventure throughout the evening. That’s what I like about it. Because it changes.

Wine in Chicago: Can I just stay here for the next four hours and smell this wine?

Amy Lutchen: That’s what I’m going to do.

Wine in Chicago: You have to pick a wine.

Amy Lutchen: Classic Americana, Gerry Rafferty, I have to say: the 1985 Howell Mountain, it’s Americana in a bottle.

Wine in Chicago: Ok, last thoughts.

Amy Lutchen: Wine is fun, exciting, and everyone should have an opportunity to learn about it and love it and I’m lucky to work in a place such as DelFrisco’s because I have these wines at my fingertips. I’m very, very passionate about wine. About the industry. I love to tell a story behind the wine and share that with the guests or a friend or another group of sommeliers and really talk about how the wine makes you feel.






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