Of all the statistics relating to the extravagant cargo that went down with the Titanic on April 14, 1912, few seem as moderate by today's standards as the wine-bottle count. It was about 1,000. That's less than half the number of passengers and crew for an Atlantic crossing and hardly as impressive as the cigar stash (8,000). But wine wasn't as prevalent back then.
Even so, curiosity persists about the specific vintages on board, about which we know little. The mystery will be pondered more than ever on this 100th anniversary as restaurants around the world prepare to cash in on the tragedy with commemorative soirees. Establishments in locales from Australia to Belfast, the ship's birthplace, will feature meals based loosely on the first-class dinner menu the night the band proverbially played on in the gloomy waters southeast of Newfoundland.
It might seem in poor taste to be partying hearty in tribute to what turned out to be a mass funeral for 1,500. But that's what we sometimes do to remember, isn't it? We gather 'round, we say grace and we raise (one hopes) a solemn toast. We also scour the cellar for the good stuff because we want to acknowledge that life is finite.
That final first-class meal was a predictably lavish affair: 10 courses and, as custom of the White Star Line would suggest, different wines for each. Unlike the beverage list, the menu survived. It featured oysters, cream of barley soup, poached salmon, filet mignon, lamb with mint sauce, punch romaine, roast squab, cold asparagus vinaigrette, foie gras pâté and Waldorf pudding, among other selections.
I'm intrigued by the punch course. It was designed to cleanse the palate before the roasted-meat course, a chilled-cocktail interlude of citrus, rum and sparkling wine frothed with egg whites and likely served in wide-bowl Champagne glasses. I suppose Newfoundland Screech would be the apropos rum for a modern salute. But many people these days prefer vodka in their cocktails – and there's a fitting brand for that. It's made in Newfoundland using water from the breakaway Arctic glacier chunks that float off the coast. It's called Iceberg.
Solaia 2008 (Italy)
SCORE: 95 PRICE: $249.95
Antinori's top Tuscan cuvée, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese and cabernet franc, delivered beautifully in 2008. Lots of sweet vanillin oak here, but the underlying fruit is concentrated and perfectly ripe, with lots of chewy tannins and a salty, mouth-cleansing tingle coming from the sangiovese. Blissful for filet mignon. $194.86 in N.S., $256.73 in Nfld., $249.93 in B.C., $241.75 in Que., $482.79 for a magnum in N.B.
Rioja Bordon Gran Reserva 2004 (Spain)
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $22.95
Showing just enough age to deliver complexity but still fresh for a red Rioja, this wine is built around a seductive cherry core, with lots of spice, subtle vanilla and a crisp-smoky finish. Pair it with lamb. $22.75 in Que.
Bouchard Père & Fils Macon-Lugny Saint-Pierre 2010 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $14.95
Talk about delivering above price. This white Burgundy (a.k.a. chardonnay) is medium-bodied and silky, with tropical fruit and buttery nuances, tangy acidity and a subtly pleasant whiff of matchstick. Nice for cream of barley soup. Available in Ontario and on sale for the steal price of $13.95 till April 29.
Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2010 (South Africa)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $31.95
Candied tropical fruit, citrus and cold butter mingle on a full-bodied frame. The wood is not as integrated or subtle as I'd prefer, but it will please fans of full-bodied, opulent chardonnay. Good for salmon. Available in Ontario.
Quails' Gate Gewurztraminer 2011 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $16.99
Medium-bodied and dry, this one starts with a suggestively sweet, fruity core of lychee and white table grape, followed by a rose-petal fragrance that builds through the delectable finish. A good choice for pâté de foie gras. Available in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Quintay Q Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Chile)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $14.95
Grass and more grass, then some lemon grass and a piquant chili-pepper note on a base of zesty grapefruit. Perfect for cold asparagus with vinaigrette. $16.99 in N.B., $15.40 in Nfld.
Brotte Château de Bord La Croix de Frégère Côtes du Rhône-Villages Laudun 2009 (France)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $16.95
A straightforward red Rhône but admirable for its balance, this wine is medium-bodied, with soft cherry-like fruit and a floral nuance. Nice for roast squab. Available in Ontario.
Sauvion Carte d'Or Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2010 (France)
SCORE: 86 PRICE: $12.95
Very lean and typical of the muscadet grape, this wine nonetheless shows a subtly creamy texture before the acidity lifts it to an almost effervescent finish. An ideal and inexpensive white for raw oysters. $16.99 in N.B., $15.40 in Nfld.