At Cue: A Thinking Woman's Wines

She may look like a lost cast member from Charmed, the former WB’s show for Gothic teenyboppers that featured beautiful, modern-day witches living in San Francisco, fighting evil lords, and dyeing their long, silky hair. But Jessica Nielsen is, in fact, the wine captain at Cue and a first-level accredited sommelier (which is rare these days, when most people calling themselves sommeliers actually are not) who spends every night circulating among the tables and making personal recommendations for the guests.

If you have a yearning to see what this sorceress of a wine expert would select for you, now’s the time. Three reasons: First, the Guthrie Theater is on hiatus, so it’s easy to get a table, even at prime pre-show times. Second, chef Michael Delcambre recently introduced a new spring menu that features pan roasted chicken breast in a roasted lemon sauce and a beautiful grilled artichoke and ricotta ravioli. But third — and most important — Cue is putting all its wines on special until April 11.

Management at Bon Appetit — the company that owns Cue and runs the food service operations at high-end colleges such as Macalester, St. Olaf, and Carleton — has come up with a hopelessly (and unnecessarily) complicated rubric for what they’re calling the Spring Cellar Celebration. What it boils down to is this:

Wines from overseas will be offered at a 30% markdown this weekend, through Sunday, April 6. Wines from the Americas, both North and South, will be offered at the same 30% discount next week, until April 11th. All 35 by-the-glass options will be available 1/4 to 1/3 off at lunch only. There’s a special prix fixe lunch for $20 that can be paired with a flight for an additional $24 or $30, and a prix fixe dinner for $30 also with the two tiers of 3-ounce flights. And finally, on the 11th itself, Nielsen is adding a special Big Red flight that will cost you a mere $45.

Got all that?

Well, here’s the real deal. Word on the street is that Cue overbought on the pricey end of the wine cellar, and they’re trying to sell off those truly [for most of us] out-of-reach bottles so they can bring in more $60 and $90 vintages that real people can afford. So for the next 8 days, they’re willing to broker some pretty incredible deals on wines you may never, under normal circumstances, have an opportunity to taste.

Plus, Nielsen is a pro. Put aside the fact that she looks barely old enough to drink, she has a great palate, an ear for the things that make a wine interesting — such as the fact that it was made from grapes shipped from one tiny French region to another, then casked in a way that makes the taste completely unlike other varietals of its ilk — and she’s willing to tell you what she doesn’t yet know. . . .then go find out.

My advice: Go to Cue, forget their ridiculous "program" for specials, pick out the wine you like and ask if they’ll give you the discount. My guess is the answer will be yes. And if you’re so inclined, there are a couple extraordinary and unusual wines there that I think serious wine drinkers really should try.

Domaine Jean-Marc Pillot, Meursault 2001 — a white Burgundy with a sunny, straw-like yellow hue, this is one of the wiliest wines I’ve ever drunk; full of butterscotch and oak, it has a looonngg finish that zings back on perhaps ten seconds after you’ve swallowed with a shot so mineral-rich it’s like having a stone land in your mouth. There is even [and believe me when I tell you, I liked this about it] a slightly fishy, oyster-y quality to this Mersault. A wine you must think about as you drink, if I were ever to drop $150 on a bottle of white wine, this might be the one.

Nicolas Catena Zapata 2002 — a huge, formidable, conquistador of a red from Mendoza, Argentina, that comes in the heaviest bottle I’ve ever hefted (I swear, it weighs a good three pounds). Meaty, complex, and hot — the Zapata has 13.9% alcohol — it has layers of salt, saddle oil, tobacco, and plum, all suspended in a strong base of cello: the wood, the bow, the resin, and the sound. Never have I had to listen to a blend so carefully. . . .This is a $205 wine that will sell for roughly $140 on special, Monday through Friday of next week. And if you happen to show up for Big Red night on 4/11, it will appear on the $45 flight alongside a California Zin and an ultra-smooth Bordeaux.