My ears are still ringing with the cries:
"You missed my whole point..."
"C'mon, let me finish..."
"Hang on a minute..."
"Can I PLEASE say something here..."
"Everything you're saying is wrong..."
Lisa and I got together last night for a long-anticipated evening of sparring with a few of the WLDG's most shy and retiring participants. Joining us upstairs at The Palm on Manhattan's historic east side were Joseph L. Dressner (in the red trunks), Steve Plotnicki (in the blue trunks) and Mr. Jeff Connell, gentleman. Lisa was appointed referee by common consent as Joe and Steve agreed to go ten full rounds over a mound of rare steak and a lobster the size of a 1950s sci-fi movie villain.
Oh, and there were some wines, too, although they were a little lost in the scuffle.
We assembled at a little round table which soon groaned under the weight of thirteen or so bottles, raising a few eyebrows among our fellow diners. Steve assures them that it's all right, that the five of us have been on the wagon for a few years and are just making up for lost time. Technically this is true, except for the part about having been on the wagon. The French couple behind us begins to mutter under their breath, despite the fact that we keep offering to give them a pour or two.
We began with a pour of Renardat-Fâche Cerdon du Bugey NV, a fizzy gamay with a shot of poulsard (gamay clone #A732, not sure about the poulsard #), which made for a delightful apertif: pale pink, lightly bubbly, lightly sweet, fairly low alcohol, with juicy strawberry-watermelon flavors and a nimble underlying minerality that gives some weight and intrigue to the taste without detracting from the fun. This wine makes me giggle like a schoolgirl. More so, I mean.
As the shrimp cocktails begin to flow like water, we try a Domaine de Roally Macon-Viré 1998, and it's got something going on; very bright, lushly tropical nose, lemon-pear cream and yellow apples, ripe and friendly. You get a hint of sweetness in the juicy-round midpalate, and it finishes with a pleasant lemon-fruity zing. Another friendly, accessible wine.
The table conversation is beginning to percolate, fueled by the first few glassfuls, but things are still relatively civil. There is much talk of whether some wines from California are actually wines, or perhaps some kind of unspecified clonal/enzymatic beverage concoction, and much debate about market forces and capitalism. So far, so good. The waiter puts this vast dismembered chitinous beast on our table, ties little bibs around our necks, and we set to rending and tearing it with vigor. Lisa's allotment is a claw the size of a catcher's mitt, and she is in seabug heaven, giving proper Fingering demonstrations when she needs to keep the combatants civil. Mr. Connell merely speaks very softly and carries a big glass.
A Raveneau Chablis Valmur 1989 comes around, and the heady flinty-chalky nose makes for an immediate pause in the action. "Radioactive," says Joe, which sounds about right to me. Really strong, deep aromas of minerals & burnished-steel white flowers. Rich and powerful tasting, quite racy but simply packed with dense flavors, it overpowers the lobster with pure lean hard muscle, but I don't mind a bit. This is a very deep, strong wine, and it wins the Thunderbird Prize easily.
There is a Pinon Vouvray Cuvée Tradition 1998, but I don't get much more than a brief impression before I'm rushed onto the reds: lemon-rainwater, bright & shiny-crisp Vouvray, seems a bit lighter and perhaps a bit chalkier than the '97, which was a true QPR gem last year. Nicely balanced, elegant, but I go back to the creamier Roally to finish off the last chunks of bug flesh.
In the intervinous lull between the reds and whites Joe and Steve trace their ancestry back to the old neighborhood, discovering, among other things, that they both knew someone who used to play guitar in Steve's band. Small world! Joe establishes that he has seniority on Steve, and takes to calling him 'Junior' when he has to make a point. Things begin to spin out of control.
Now here's a Dervieux-Thaize Côte-Rôtie Cuvée Reserve 1978: Medium ruby, ambering at the rim of the glass. Smoky, rich baconberry nose, nice hints of well-done rump roast and eucalyptus. Great to smell, but faded on the palate, lean and tart, a bit over the hill, mostly acidity and earthy baked-yam tartness left.
A couple of Marsannays, first Joseph Roty Marsannay Les Ouzeloy 1995: Medium red, aromatically light, although with air it takes on more nasal weight, showing some nice dark earthy-smoky cherry-berry fruit. I keep waiting on this, as it keeps showing better as the night progresses. In the mouth it seems fairly hard and unyielding, good smoky fruit is there, but it's not raising its hand and volunteering for the mission of charming some steak into my gullet. The 1997 seems more accessible to me at this point, showing more clovey spiciness on the nose and more cran-cherry-berry fruit in the midpalate. Still, it too is tight and young, and some strong fine tannins shut down the party quickly.
By now, Steve is undergoing some pop-psychoanalysis, for Joe is loudly positing that he (Steve) needs pricey winery mailing list acceptance to make up for having missed the 60s. Steve protests "But I was at Woodstock!" and is told "No matter how many California mailing lists you get on, you'll always be an arriviste!"
Lisa overhears the French couple behind us calling us 'Barbarians.'
Looking for more of a steak wine, we pause in the escalating mayhem to open a Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Medoc 1979: Medium-dark garnet, almost no sign of age at all. Nice cassis-cedar-tobacco nose, but I'm a trifle surprised when I taste this wine, for it seems uncharacteristically soft and fleshy for Sociando. This is the first time I've had the '79, and it drinks very well now, surprise aside, although it still seems fairly youthful. There's plenty of smoky, stony cassis fruit that turns more tobacco-earthy on the subtle, quiet finish. I'm partial to this house, and I like this wine. It helps me plow through the bovine flesh with swift exactitude.
I look up from my glass of Sociando to find the conversation has taken a turn towards the mercantile. There is a great debate going on about importing wines from Europe on a mailing-list basis, and the difficulty posed by the various restrictive interstate laws: Steve says the laws will fall within five years, Joe says no. They go back and forth, back and forth. Lisa tries to intervene and Steve (who learns fast) actually uses the Finger on her!
After we remove the fork from Steve's forehead, a wager of $148.50 is proposed and accepted, fistfuls of French francs are thrown at Lisa, who agrees to hold them until April 18th, 2005, when we will meet for adjudication and the awarding of the purse to the winner. This seems to pour oil on the waters, and we can taste some more wine in peace for a moment or two, although this abuse of their currency seems to be the last straw for our Gallic neighbors, who sweep out of the room in high dudgeon.
Quinta do Mouro Estremoz 1997: Another nice showing for this one, smoky choco-raspberry with nice dark tarry undertones. I was taken a bit to task for comparing this to a metaphorical Portuguese zin before, but to show that I never learn I'm going to do it again: dark raspberry-cherry fruit, silky mouthfeel, smooth, ripe and forward without going overboard and slobbering all over your face. Tasty.
What's going on now? Steve is holding forth on Plotnicki's First Law of Economics ("He who touches the money first, touches the money most..."), and Dressner is carrying on about the day he punched Pete Seeger.
I wave at Connell across the table. He waves back.
Lisa suddenly declares "Capitalism is the natural state of human endeavor." That stops things long enough for us to open another bottle.
Chapoutier Hermitage Doux 'Velours' 1982: Medium brownish-gold. Verrrrry interesting aromas are emanating from my glass. Sweet nutty gold raisin, light molasses, caramel and gingery earth, yow, there's a lot going on here all at once. Tastes nutty-brown, lightly sweet and earthy, with hints of marzipan flitting in and out of my field of taste. Layered and fascinating, a real beauty of a wine.
To give you an example of the kind of thing that went on all night, I am now going to quote verbatim from the record at this point in the evening.
"STEVE: The down side to democracy is that we often drink shitty wines because the MANY choose what is good instead of the FEW.
JOE: In Saudi Arabia, they like spicy toothpaste. Cumin, turmeric. Go figure.
STEVE: I'm talking about the consumer.
JOE: F--- the consumer!
CHRIS: Can I quote you on that?
JOE: Absolutely! There is no such thing as 'the consumer.' F--- the consumer, and f--- Steve, although anyone who brought this beautiful Hermitage to dinner can't be all bad.
STEVE: Are you getting all this down?
CHRIS: (scribbling furiously) You bet."
And so on, all in the friendliest fashion imaginable. I need more wine. Fortunately, there is a fresh bottle.
Château Pierre-Bise Coteaux du Layon Rochefort Les Rayelles 1996: Pale straw-gold. Every time I try the 97 I think I like it better for its lushness and exuberance, every time I try the 96 I think I like it better for its concentration and balance. Life is tough. Plenty of pineapple-apricot chenin fruit, not the botrytis of the 97, but whaddaya gonna do? Sharp and crisp, sweet and nimble, a delight, its youthful exuberance an interesting counterpoint to the profundity of the Hermitage.
Well, we've run out of wines and I must ring down the curtain on the evening now, lest I bore you with the details of the drunken 'Who should support the art theaters?' and 'Wasn't French culture really the result of bad transportation?' debates that kept us riveted to the sidewalk in front of the restaurant long after we had closed the joint.
You'll just have to take it from me: it was quite an evening.