Some of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous mysteries are the ones he never got around to writing. In several Sherlock Holmes novels his associate Dr. Watson asks Holmes about some intriguing title, but Doyle would never follow up on it and write the story. The Giant Rat of Sumatrai: one such title I seem to recall. What a loss.
Less of a loss is a book that probably will never be written—The Great Wines of Birmingham. Some have even said that if such a book were published, the pages would be blank anyway.
As noted in a column earlier this fall, the protector Birmingham is Vulcan, not Bacchus. Yet friends of mine seem to keep moving there. First, it was my neighbor Parham Williams, former Ole Miss law dean; now it’s Sam Knowlton, another former neighbor Parham Williams, former Perthshire. What would Pam and Sam do for wine in Birmingham?
For one thing, they’ll find that Alabama, like Louisiana, allows wine to be sold in grocery stores, unlike Jackson and New York City. For another thing, they’ll find that lots of what used to be called “country lawyers” but now are called by some Yurpies (Young Rural Professionals) have compactors but mellow Chardonnays and smooth Cabernets.
Earlier this year, I visited Birmingham on business, and went to that restored area known as Five Points, a tony name for a place where several intersect. To my surprise there was a restaurant called Highlands that had a surpassingly good wine list.
With your smoked Scottish Salmon or Aplachicola oyster on the half shell, you can get several outstanding wines by the glass: Acacia Chardonnay from California, Puligny-Montrachet from Burgundy or Muscadet from the Loire. Unbelievably, Highlands also has its own private bottling of several wines from Joseph Phelps winery of Napa Valley.
To clear your pallete, Highlands has its own fresh watercress supplied by a little old lady in a near by county. In all, the wine list has 73 items, all well-chosen. Of German wines they have Thomas Jefferson’s favorite, Brauneberger, from the Mosel Valley. In red wines, the 1964 Cheval Blanc from Bordeaux is a little steep at $225, but there are two Duboeuf Beaujolais and a fine 1979 Rhone from the village of Gigondas.
Add a dozen of the finest California Cabernets and several excellent wines of every type from Meursault to true Champagne in half bottles and one begins to understand a little better why people are moving Birmingham. With all due respect to Birmingham, the atmosphere and wine list at Highlands reminds me a lot more of Brennan’s or the Commander’s Palace in New Orleans than it did Birmingham. If this keeps up the city will soon merit a detour into it instead of around it.
Maybe Parham and Sam will invite me for a visit.