Last night, to combat the rabid (and determinedly unwilling to use ";-)" emoticons) Joe Dressner's spurious charges of Anti-Semitism, I took the opportunity to dine with the Manhattan Young Men and Women's Hebraic Tippling Association at La Rochetta on the scenic Upper West Side. The event was a celebration of the life and times of Oleg O. on the occasion of his birthday, with an appropriate selection of tasty vino from the 1966 vintage.

The evening began with a bit of a scare, as Oleg arrived and somewhat breathlessly explained that early in the day tiny Rachael had to be taken to the emergency room for a slight dislocation of her young arm. Fortunately, everything turned out well thanks to a nimble nurse, who quickly put everything right, and, once it was clear that the little one was A-OK, we all relaxed and got down to some serious celebrating.

Present were the birthday boy, his lovely and talented spouse Inna O., the irrepressible Bradley Kane, .sasha the Wonder Horse, Lisa ("Shoshonna") Allen and myself, trying to live up to Lisa's potentially overconfident claim that "the goyim can be taught."

After a brief seminar on the positive aspects of Hanukkah (eight days of presents, no barking-dog version of 'I had a little dreidel,' no Kathy Lee Gifford Hanukkah Special, no latke-nog), and the ritual gift of Bradley's spice cake (spicy nose of cinnamon, nutmeg... touch of breadiness), we pop a couple of whites to kick off the festivities.

Domaine de Chevalier Pessac-Leognan 1992: a very pale gold color; lush, soft nose, velvety and somewhat Sauterney-smelling--slightly waxy, creamy lemon and light tropical fruit, hints of pineapple and apricot. Very beguiling nose. Slightly round in the mouth, with good weight and presence, this is a rich wine with great grace and, for all its expressiveness, nice restraint and balance. Very tasty stuff, a fine start to the evening.

Next up was the G. Roumier Corton-Charlemagne 1992: pale yellow-gold; a flinty note is the first thing that strikes me upon smelling this, floating over a body of light honey, yellowfruit and minerals, and a slight touch of botrytis. Being a little off chardonnay in general, I was prepared to write this off, but in the mouth it's got a nice leanness, tangy fruit and crisp acidity, with a bit of oilyness to the mouthfeel and some slight limpidity in the midpalate. Nevertheless, this is a fine wine, leaner and more vivid than I'd expected.

We offer our friendly waiter a glass, but he has apparently sworn off the sauce and is content to swirl and sniff a bit.

Our appetizers arrive, some kind of gefiltered fish(?) and antipasti galore, as well as calimari, of which I seem to be eating the lion's share, and the old, dusty bottles begin to emerge one by one...

Château Gruaud-Larose St. Julien 1966: Interesting squat bottle, decorated with a painting of the mustachioed Monsieur Gruaud. (Or is that Monsieur Larose?) Nice rich red color, only slightly bricking at the rim; whooey, there's a lot of funk on the nose. I pass it to Kane, who takes a whiff and exclaims "Smells like horse!" Indeed it does, but under the Secretariat funk there's a base of dark, smoky-bricky fruit, muted and softly red. Upon first sippage this wine spreads out in a feathery fashion over the palate, dispersing soft black raspberry and smoky cassis fruit in smooth silky layers. It shows its age, but in a pleasant, complex way, and even Secretariat fades a bit after awhile, morphing pleasantly into one of those tiny dwarf horses you see at a petting zoo.

Next was Château Montrose St. Estephe 1966: Imported by 'Macy's Famous Tasters', this is another healthily-colored wine, just a bit faded around the rim, with a pretty but curious nose. There's some leathery hints, and a kind of spicyness that is very familiar but which I can't quite place. I pass the glass to Lisa for consultative purposes, and she puzzles over it for awhile before coming up with 'cream of tartar,' which is, as usual, just right. There's also a hint of 'pepperkakor' or cardamon over the leathery, muted cassis. Very interesting. At any rate, the wine is a bit thinner than the Gruaud, with tangier fruit and sharper acidity, with some dry tannins and a somewhat abrupt finish. .sasha opines that it's a bit oxidized, and I'm sure he's right, but I don't find it distressingly so.

Moving on, we pour some of the Château Ducru-Beaucaillou St. Julien 1966; more good color, even less faded than the other two. Smells very nice, velvety-sweet aromas of rich cassis, smoke, graphite and stewed tomato. I can't help an involuntary exclamation when I take a sip of this, because it's a doozy, still very fresh and vibrant. If I had to guess, I'd say this wine was fifteen years old at most, with layers of soft, fleshy fruit and an oh-so-silky mouthfeel leading up into a beautiful long finish. My wine of the night (so far); a real gem, drinking wonderfully.

The '66s under our belt and our entrees in front of us, we move on to some youngsters...

Château Latour Pauillac 1975: THIS IS THE LAST LATOUR .sasha tells us ominously. We are momentarily confused and frightened. I still don't know what he meant, but if this is the last one I'm going to enjoy it... Hey, this IS a youngster; deep, dark red color. Big but dense nose of smoky red cassis, plum and cedar. This is a big wine, with a tight rich core of brooding dark red fruit, some seriously crisp acidity and fine but somewhat stern tannins. Still seems like a baby, especially in this company, but a powerful and impressive mouthful nonetheless. If this wasn't the last one I'd sit on 'em for awhile longer.

At this point .sasha and Oleg begin speaking in tongues and the rest of us eye each other nervously. Are they talking about us? But no, it seems to be some kind of secret vinous plot, for a bagged bottle is produced and .sasha passes samples around for inspection...

Mystery Wine: Medium-dark rich garnet color, only very faint signs of fading at the rim. I'd guess it was from the early to mid-80s if the two conspirators weren't oohing and aahing over how young it looked, causing me to mentally push my guess back ten years. Beautiful rich velvety nose with a lot going on--blackcurrants, tobacco, graphite & minerals, sweet and ripe-smelling, best nose of the night. Oleg is having fits over this one, uttering "shitfuck" to no one in particular over and over again. This takes us into a sidetrack about Joe Schultz in 'Ball Four,' which Kane peculiarly insists Graig Nettles wrote. We have to wrestle Lisa's finger back into its holster in order to get back to the wine, which tastes as good as it smells, smooth and impeccably balanced, full of ripe dark fruit and just a delight to drink. .Sasha, attempting to snap Oleg out of his spasms and trying to save Kane's life, announces that it's a 1975, and I halfheartedly guess Lafite, but when the bag is yanked it is revealed as Château Haut-Brion Graves 1975. Surprising to me, since we had this one over at Oleg's about two months ago, and it seemed more diffuse and not as youthful as this specimen, although still wonderfully rich and tasty. Go figure.

I return to the remains of my Ducru, to see if the Haut-Brion has become my new wine of the night, but it's frankly a tossup; both are beautiful wines--the Ducru softer and silkier, the Haut-Brion more vivid and brighter.

At this point it becomes clear why we are now the only patrons left on our floor: .sasha somehow is standing with a Bordeaux glass pressed to each nostril and is saying "Look! I can do two First Growths at once!", Oleg is exploring the varied pronounciations of his new favorite word, and Lisa and Kane are still going on in escalating tones about who really wrote 'Ball Four.' The hostess comes to seat a couple, takes one look at us, and retreats with them to another section of the restaurant. Just in time, our waiter comes by (with a look like he's thinking of taking up drinking again) to ask if we would like dessert.

We order, and things settle down a bit when the sweeties emerge to distract the combatants.

Château Rieussec Sauternes 1988: fairly light yellow-gold color; this is, as Mr. Kane might say, 'Killer Stuff.' Bright, spritzy-lush nose of creamy lemon, apricot, hay and a mess o'botrytis. Vibrant smelling and fun to just sit and sniff the tropical-botrytisy aromas. Yum. Now this is tasty, a light and vivid mouthful of flavor, light hints of creamy oak flit about the midpalate, a perfect match with my creme brulŽe. An exciting young Sauternes.

Château Soucherie Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu Cuvée de Latour 1997: Okay, I'm probably drinking these in the wrong order, but whaddaya gonna do? Kane says this apparently sees "25% oak," but you couldn't tell it by me: nose of light apricot and pineapple in a rich minerally base, more minerals than I've seen in a '97 CdL. Tangy and spritzy, a lean and racy wine, not showing the lush dense fruitiness of some others from this vintage, but very nice nonetheless, with a crisp stony mouthfeel, good balance and a nice acidic bite.

What a lot of extraordinary wines. It's a good thing, as .sasha rightly points out, that the alcohol in First Growths metabolizes differently. Otherwise we'd all have been wasted.

Having made it thus far, we pack up our various stemware and assist the birthday boy down the stairs, with his periodic shouts of "I can't feel my legs!" astonishing the patrons on the main floor. If we're ever asked back, it'll be a miracle. We did indeed burn our candles at both ends this night, but ah my foes and oy my friends, we gave a lovely light!


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