Dev P. Ranjan Secret Pool Table
Tuesday, September 10th, 11:30 pm:
It was a cold and rainy night in Colorado, on the eve of what was to become the flood of the century. Dev picked me up at home, our first stop Mateo restaurant to collect a case of Movia glasses he’d purchased from Chef/Owner Matthew Jansen. We found Matthew sitting at the bar, enjoying a bottle of Gigondas with a friend. He was was kind enough to pour me a shot of espresso before Dev and I moved on to our final destination – a nondescript storage unit in East Boulder where Dev, along with a few climbing buddies, keep a bright blue pool table. Created for decompression, this space serves as a hideout, a formidable man cave, a vehicle for those who know its location to get away without actually leaving town.
I had wanted to chat with Dev for sometime. Really, since last spring, when he drove me home from a portfolio tasting of Italian wines at a warehouse in Denver. On that drive we discussed many things, ranging from Russian Opera, to properly aged Haut-Médoc wine, to controversy surrounding the confiscation of Justin Bieber’s monkey Mally by German authorities. While Dev and I certainly share some similarity, it is our differences from which I feel I have the most to learn. Also, the guy knows a ton about French wine, and there is definitely nothing wrong with that.
General Manager, Sommelier and Beverage Director at Black Cat Bistro/Bramble & Hare; Dev became interested in wine at an early age. Born in Delaware, Dev’s family moved several times before settling in Kentucky. His parents, both Medical Doctors of northern Indian origin, met in school and came to the United States together.
Dev’s parents raised their sons with a reverence for arts and aesthetics. His father and brother excelled at painting and drawing, while both Dev and his bother were taught to play piano. Dev took music rather seriously; he was inspired by the works of Beethoven, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Bach. Dev aspired to one day become a concert pianist.
In seventh grade Dev’s academic performance took a bit of a nosedive. He did so poorly that his parents decided to have him home schooled. During what would have been his eighth grade year, Dev began reading classical literature and philosophy, and was absolutely enthralled by this. Dev then went on to begin high school with the rest of his class, though in time a similar story surfaced. Dev wasn’t at all interested in what he was being taught, and focus shifted accordingly. It was during this time when the precocious fourteen year old acquired a bottle of Auguste Clape Cornas. Dev recalls it as being, “Really, really incredible and very compelling.” Dev began reading everything he could on wine, and quickly became obsessed with, of all things, Amarone.
Teenage Dev imbibed practically nothing but Amarone for approximately one year. He was fascinated by how it differed from other wines in production, taste, smell, and elevated alcohol level. Dev was smitten, and as he explains, “When you’re 14, wine with high alcohol is so much more awesome.”
With his nearly failing high school transcripts, Dev applied for college. Three schools were of particular interest – Princeton, Harvard and Yale. Not surprisingly, Dev was accepted into none of the ivy league institutions, and a last minute plea to the University of Kentucky at Lexington proved fruitful. Dev was accepted at UK, first as a music composition major; eventually switching to philosophy with specialization in logic, English and 20th century literature. Even though he had practically failed out of high school, due to remarkably high advanced placement testing scores, Dev entered college as a sophomore.
Following graduation, Dev looked back wishing he’d foregone the college experience all together. His interests now pointed him towards wine and rock climbing. He took his first restaurant job bussing tables at a Bistro called Le Deauville in Lexington. Shortly thereafter, Dev moved into the position of General Manager at another fine dining establishment, called Metropol. “Part of the reason I think I got the GM position at Metropol, is because I was already knowledgeable and could take care of the wine list.”
In 2009, Dev’s rock climbing pursuits led him to Boulder, where he currently resides. “I love Boulder, I think it’s a fantastic place to live. I spent quite a while traveling around the U.S. climbing; and then when I ran out of money I needed to go somewhere, and Boulder seemed by far the best. I like everything about it. I think it’s beautiful, the weather is great, people here are really happy which makes a big difference to quality of life.”
Dev currently oversees a collective list of approximately 300 bottles between the two wine programs at Black Cat Bistro/Bramble & Hare. In wine as in art, Dev looks for evocative objects, ones that elicit emotion and beauty, and are therefore worthwhile. Among Dev’s favorites, are the 1990 Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé Musigny; he loves Domaine de Montille and their Volnay “Les Taillepieds”. At the top of Dev’s list are also Château Climens and Château Cheval Blanc.
“The reason why I love Château Cheval Blanc is that they never fail to be, not just compelling, but also transforming. You drink a glass of Château Cheval Blanc and it takes you into its world, and you just sit there, overwhelmed by this landscape that’s in front of you, that’s inside this bottle of wine. It’s something that I’ve never had, and not been overtaken by, and still every time I have it I’m shocked by how much I love it. I’m actually surprised every single time. I can’t believe it.”
Other favorites include Les Amoureuses, and Clos de la Maréchale Blanc from Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier. He adores Domaine Jamet Côte-Rôtie, as well as Domaine Comtesse Bernard de Chérisey Meursault-Blaney. In Dev’s opinion, this white Burgundy takes what is great about Mersault – it’s power – and puts it in a form of purest beauty. “It’s all flowers and chalk, It’s very classic Burgundian flavors but in this framework that is very impressive, which is, I think the correct way for Meursault to be. As opposed to a fat, listless, heavy, oily Meursault. Meursault can be better than that.”
Beyond France, Dev has a few favorites. There is Soldera, Mascarello, and Giacomo Borgogno. in Spain, Dev looks to the Lopez de Heredia Gran Reservas (both white and red), and the Muga “Prado Enea” as well.
Within the new world, there are certain bottles that stand out. 1998 Chehalem, and the 1991 Chateau Montelena are noteworthy; as well as the overall 1991 and 1992 vintages in northern California, specifically Sonoma and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
“I really love wine, and love that its a part of my life that I’m able to work with very closely. I love finding someone else who’s able to be emotionally compelled by a wine. Being able to experience that with them and get them into it, that’s great. A lot of other art forms are artist driven, which is not the case for wine. Like talking about music for example, both the performer and the composer are really central to what you’re talking about; and in wine it really is the thing itself which is so much more important. The only part of it that’s actually important to me is really specifically that glass of wine. That by itself is a really compelling art object in some cases.” Dev continues, “There have been moments where I give someone a glass of wine, or a bottle of wine, and talk to them about it, and get them into a level of engagement with it that they did not think was possible. They find out that they can have this amazing sensory experience with a wine – I think that’s very rewarding.”
At 28 years of age, Dev prefers to live life focused on the immediate, with no grand future plans. His experiences obtained through specific bottles of wine, music, climbing, or even from a solid cup of coffee are of genuine significance. We stayed at Dev’s secret pool table until 3 o’clock that morning, hanging out with fellow climbers, listening to Beach House records, eating chocolate and cheese, and drinking Burgundy and Scotch while only halfway paying attention to echoes of rainfall overhead.
The following night Dev was scheduled to have dinner at a seafood restaurant downtown, he was looking forward to a feast of Lobster Rolls and “slutty” Chardonnay. No attempts were made at masking the experience of this meal with flowery descriptors in order to enhance perceptions of culinary importance. There was no shame, and there were absolutely no second thoughts. For Dev, beauty exists within a given moment, no matter how grandiose or cliché, and a singular visceral sensory experience provides the utmost poetry.