2001 Domaine Joseph Rieflé Pinot Gris / 2002 Gundlach Bundschu Gewürztraminer

Sasha's Wine Bar and Market, 706-C Demun Avenue, 314-863-7274

Jul 30, 2003 at 4:00 am
"Everyone is mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of wine," apparently wrote someone named Fernando Galliano, at least according to the epigram on the menu at Sasha's Wine Bar and Market in the Demun neighborhood, just west of Forest Park. We'd like to continue the thought: "or until a toe-stub, an eye-poke, a finger-burn or, conversely, a soft where-the-hell-are-we-again? spring breeze in the depths of St. Louis summer, the taste of the first fresh peach of the year and coupling cheese and white wine at Sasha's."

This last pleasure -- cheese and wine, enjoyed as twins -- is sublime, especially on a frickin'-beautiful breezy San Francisco summer night in St. Louis, hands-down the most beautiful one so far of the season: Thursday, July 24, 2003. Let history record that on this day in St. Louis, taste buds were erect after titillation from the double-whammy wine/cheese combo on an outdoor patio in Demun; two American housewives practiced twang-infused French; at least one man glared at another for checking out his pretty girl; at least one fruit fly lost its life after failing to resist the temptation to dive headfirst into a glass of pinot gris; and the following, award-winning tidbit was overheard: "See, I wanted the ring first, and then I wanted to be able to give it back. I called his bluff." Ouch. Oh, silly Americans, with their angry hearts driving messy minds.

Sasha's opened in the springtime, and it's buzzing. Fancy, good-looking people fill the outdoor tables, eat delicious crêpes and taste glorious vintages picked by wine buyer Ann Bardone. On this night, shift manager Dave Bailey is guiding our wine-and-cheese tour. He delivers the French Tickler cheese plate -- Brie, Gruyère, Morbier and Pave d'Affinois cheeses, along with walnuts, pine nuts and dried cherries, cranberries and figs -- and selects two whites to savor in conjunction: a 2001 Domaine Joseph Rieflé pinot gris ($8.20 a glass), a solid, French white from the Alsace region; and a 2002 Gundlach Bundschu gewürztraminer ($9.95 a glass), which, says Bailey, "nobody orders because they're scared to pronounce it." (That's guh-VURTS-trah-mee-ner).

Once the vittles and the vino arrive, do it like this: Eat a fig, take a sip of Gundlach Bundschu, eat a little chunk of Morbier, with its distinctive strip of ash at its middle, then take another sip of Gundlach Bundschu, and prepare to be blown away. The gewürztraminer by itself is rather dry, though its bouquet is strikingly sweet. After a taste of the Morbier, though, the white is transformed. Where once it wore a pantsuit, it's now wearing a stunning sequined gown, the result of the taste-bud gymnastics that are pitting cheese against wine. Crazy. Now drop a walnut into your mouth, then a dried cherry, then a sip of the Rieflé, then a taste of the Pave d'Affinois, a creamy Brie-like cheese, which has a nutty, smoky thing going on. Savor, sip, repeat. Savor, sip, repeat. Finish it off with a fig, and you'll understand the truth of experiential immortality, the feeling of time grinding to a halt in the midst of a breeze, then the moment rolling itself into a pearl of a memory, one that will return to you the next morning and make the sides of your mouth curl upward and your eyes twinkle just for a moment.