It hit 105 in Newark a few days ago, 103 in Central Park, and 128 in my living room. During times like this Lisa and I almost unconsciously reduce our wine consumption to almost nothing, less than a bottle a day each. The wines of summer pass as if in a dream, through hazy waves of heat. Where has the summer gone?
As I remember it, reclusive former Wacky Internet Wine Personality Andrew Munro Scott was bored, tired of the same old routine. One day the answer to his persistent ennui came to him like a bolt out of the blue: Eureka! he thought, why not an evening sitting in the backyard with some other winegeeks, drinking until someone falls down?!
This sublimely simple yet perfectly realized notion came upon him late one Thursday evening, born of the dregs of a bottle of Marechal Savigny-Les-Beaune, and by late afternoon Saturday the geeks were already arriving, bottles in hand. He smiled to himself: Yes, he thought, this is good.
A bottle of Alain Renardat-Fâche Cerdon de Bugey NV is chilling in the ice bucket. I pour myself a generous glassful and slug it down, powerful pink refreshment on a dusty-hot summer day, a perfect confluence of place, time and wine. Crisp, fresh, lightly sweet, earthily strawberried with crackling minerality and bracing fizziness. Fun, but with enough of a hint of seriousness to make you want to contemplate it as it goes down. Three small, crystalline Prongs swathed in a nest of cotton candy, placed on a velveteen base and autographed by Jasper Johns.*
Here's a Domaine Barmés Buecher Gewürztraminer Rosenberg 1998: burnt firecracker and lychee aromas, big and sweet smelling. A taste gives you a rich wash of upfront lychee fruit with an oily texture, simple and robust, that moves sluggishly through a wan midpalate and finishes prematurely. A bit quick on the trigger but not otherwise unpleasant. Decent enough, if undistinguished and a bit hollow. Maybe Kane likes it, maybe not. I forget. It's hot, what do you want?
A Bourillon-Dorléans Vouvray Vieilles Vignes 1993 smells waxy-polleny with honeyed hints but tastes tart and matchsticky, thin and smoked. Odd, not good, seems dead, or almost dead.
A step up is the Régis Cruchet Vouvray Mo‘lleux 1996, which is more robust to smell, with hints of almond and plaster of paris over the yellow apple fruit, and an interesting bug spray note. Or perhaps that's the bug spray that is being roundly applied to lithe young limbs all around me. The wine has a light touch of sweetness and a pleasant chalky streak, but is more about structure than anything else right now, a bit hard and tight, cushioned somewhat by the light sweetness.
Another take on the Clos des Briords Muscadet Vieilles Vignes 2000: Hard, squeaky-dry, light green honeydew hints with a touch of what Andrew likes to call 'shower curtain' plasticity. Crisper than crisp, refreshing and bright but fairly ungiving.
Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape (white) Réserve 1993 is a medium straw-gold color, smells sweetly honeyed, lightly nutty and vanillaed. Rather weightily textured and slightly nut-oily, it's a wine that lets you know it has arrived, layered and complex, and it divides the company into camps, with Kane disliking it and everyone else making little yummy noises. We watch the lightning bugs flit around and agree that they are easily the coolest members of the vast bug family.
It being Andrew's house we can expect a Finger Lakes riesling, and here's the Dr. Konstantin Frank Johannisberg Riesling Finger Lakes Dry 1999 to fill the bill. It's a pale, almost colorless wine, and actually smells quite like riesling, light green apple and pine needle hints with a bright citric acidity that is firm but not aggressive. There is a hint of minerally rainwater deep down, and the wine finishes on a limey gin and tonic note that simpers briefly, then rallies, then returns as a shade of its former self for a moment or two. Interesting, decent and well realized if uncomplex riesling.
Moving along to some reds with the flash-grilled aged porterhouse steaks, here's a Château d'Espigne Fitou 1989, a Kane closeout special. It's got a light raspberry-leathery nose, hints of sweaty saddle and eucalyptus. Tasted muted and berryfruity, another middle-of-the-road, quaffable wine that says little but goes down easily and smoothly. Small and undemanding, with enough traces of layering to get by.
A Beltran Crianza Navarra 1995 is up next, and there's plenty of smoky-coconutty oak here, along with an upfront blitz of dark cassis-berry smoky-tarry fruit, an initial rush that goes nowhere. Yet another wine that inspires neither much interest or much disdain but seems decent and drinkable if you don't mind the heavy handed oak treatment that gives the wine a smoked character. Six big machine-lathed Prongs.
A bottle of Domaine de Peyra Côtes d'Auvergne Cuvée La Roche 1999 brings Kane to life. "Chicken dung!" he cries, "And I know chicken dung--I worked in a chicken coop on the kibbutz!" I fail to take further notes on this wine.
The steak is calling out for a friend, and here comes a Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 1983 to answer the call. Here's a light nose, herby-graphite over light red cassis-berry fruit, traces of tobacco and smokiness. Tastes tight, with a hard core of acidity and without the depth I've come to expect from this producer. Edgy and a bit hard, it's a very good wine but comes in well behind the compelling '85 and almost as compelling '82 in terms of character and sustain. Still, it's a magical combination with bloody-burned dead cow flesh, and several of us are caught actually moaning with contentment.
A Gilbert Alquier Faugeres 'Maison Jaune' 1996 comes around, and the nose of the wine is dominated by a Quonset hut metallic streak that infuses the dark berry fruit and rudely elbows it out of the way. What has happened to an old favorite? Could this be a damaged bottle? Disjointed and skittering all over the place, a disappointment.
Still, it's showing better than the Scott-Clark Cellars Syrah 'Sherwin Williams' Mendocino 2000, which has a pronounced gluey streak over the light black and red fruited base. A cherry-smoky note hits you upon first sippage, but the off aromas soon dominate the midpalate and send the finish jumping off the tracks. If you've got 'em give 'em time, cause it can only go up from here. This is the flip side of the strictly noninterventionist philosophy this producer has increasingly adopted ("Minimal Process" is their new bottle motto)--you can get honest, surprisingly rich wines, but you can also get weird bottles like this one. Still, it's a baby, so perhaps it just needs time. Lots of time.
What better to drink in the heat than a couple bottles of port? A Torga Porto 1997 starts things off, smelling of brick dust and red clay/Play-Doh) amidst a pool of smooth medium red berry fruit. Deep, rich and velvety, a wine of distinction that is rather monolithic now but has reserves of richness for the future. Slightly sweeter than the almost off-dry '95, I like this one very much, although it's too young to be drinking properly now. The cohesion is impressive, the balance striking, a very nice young port that doesn't hit basso profundo brambly notes or tenor high Cs but is impressive nonetheless, a middle range wine with great gifts. Two and a half scrimshawed Prongs, fitted onto the facing of a Colonial desk made of teak and polished lovingly to a silky shine.
Better drinking now, although not nearly so gifted, is the Niepoort Colheita 1987, a much less dense wine with a tawny-nutty edge, nutty goodness mixed in with light, earthy muted red fruit. Warm and light, a medium-sweet wine that is feathered brown at the edges and comes across as a nimble, bricky mouthful with enough development to squeeze all of the potential out of lesser material. Nice.
That's all for now. I'm going back to the air conditioning. Does anyone know if the heat is going to break any time soon?
* With this note this wine now finally eclipses the 1994 Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon as the most-TNd wine in the history of the internet (USENET totals aside). I am proud to have made even a small contribution to this historic effort, and I wish to offer my best wishes to all those who will surely continue on in our footsteps. Job well done!