So Kane has put together a little dinner in his brand-new apartment as a sort of pre-housewarming fÉte, a way to inaugurate the new place with cheerful but not grandiose festivization.
As we enter the new digs we place our offeratory bottles on the sideboard, which has as its centerpiece a wonderfully decayed-looking bottle bearing the label "1908 Cockburn Porto." Geez, we didn't know this was a Grand Cru jeebus, we thought it was just a little dinner, maybe a Village-level jeebus at best. But here's Brad, pulling out all the stops. Good ol' Brad!
We settle in, greet the usual crowd of drunks and reprobates, and it quickly becomes clear that the night's conversation is going to center around three individuals: the late lamented Andrew Scott, socialite/exhibitionist Paris Hilton and Star Chick Sommelier Vanessa Treviľo Boyd. Oh, we occasionally get to talking about wine and such, but we always return to one of these three like moths to a tatty cardigan.
Enough talk, let's start the drinking. Here's a Vinum Cellars Chenin Blanc Clarksburg Wilson Vineyards Cuvée CNW (Chard-No-Way) 2002. Smells quietly tropical and stony, hints of pineapple, yellow flowers and rainwater. Tastes quiet and ripe and friendly, a mineral spine laced with light tropical hints and underlain with a subtle flinty-toastiness. Perhaps a trace of sugar, but only enough to give the fruit a certain plumpness. Rather loosely wrapped, lacking in nervosity, but I don't mind, as the wine is a smoothly amiable whole, restrained and calm and soothing. Decent, friendly stuff.
I've brought this one along to turn this notoriously surly crowd on to the joys of Clarksburg chenin ("In the long run, Clarksburg has the potential... to become the Vouvray of California" --Creighton Churchill). It is greeted with indifference at best. Damn euro-elitists don't know good wine when it bites them on the scrotum. Only Dressner gets behind it, swirling it langorously and calling out Ramtha-like: "Fresh and youthful, probably from last year's vintage. Tastes like it's from cool climate grapes. This is a lascivious, powerful, smoky sexpot of great fruit intensity, purity, and voluptuousness...." Now that's more like it.
Speaking of smoky sexpots, we all agree that this Paris Hilton character makes us proud to be Americans. That someone can achieve near-universal notoriety merely by being a moneyed twinkie who takes grainy pictures of herself engaged in carnal romps seems a triumph of the American spirit. Could this happen in any other country? Lisa is awestruck: "Living proof that one can be very rich and very trashy at the same time," she says admiringly. We ponder the possible contents of her imaginary wine cellar. Thousands of bottles of Cristal? What would a nouveau-riche chippie gravitate towards? LABELS! Perhaps a Screaming Harlan Family wing?
Next victim, a Dönnhoff Riesling Schlössböckelheimer Fëlsënberg Spätlese 2002. Oh. Oh my. Smells of lemon-peach perfume, underpinned with white rocks and glacier water. Smooth and supple, with plush edges around a tight core. Lovely mouthgrab, just whispers sweet nothings to my tongue, then finishes sweet and fruity and long and long and long again. Glorious young riesling, fascinatingly light and lithe yet with a deep inner purity, a worldbeater. At about eight percent alcohol I could drink two bottles of this at a sitting. I scan the table and look under Brad's bed, but sadly don't see a second bottle. Curses. A wonderful match with Kane's pumpkin risotto; frankly, it would be a wonderful match with a bowl of damp hay.
While Kane is cooking there is much whispered speculation as to where he would've gotten ahold of a bottle of 1908 Cockburn. Was it one of his shady grey-market deals? An ITB connection? A fire sale in an obscure shop in Bremen that he stumbled across on the internet late one night? Was John Gilman involved? We're very curious, but can bear to wait a little longer: delayed gratification can be sweet.
Here's a Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Zind! 2001. I don't know what the hell this is. "Zind!"? Egad. It smells of ripe pear and yellow apple, minerals underneath, whiff of vodka spiritousness above. Tastes ripe, dry, and chardonnayish. Not bad, if you don't mind a bit of booziness and blowsiness, rough edges and loose strings. A big, clumsy wine without much cohesion, but with a great deal of flavor. Strange, big and broad.
Kane confesses that he was recently involved in a road rage incident, someone trying to kill him or something. Gosh. How, um, surprising. (Several of us have had the misfortune of being a terrified captive in a car he's "driving," you see.) Perfunctory expressions of shock and horror, followed by a few well-placed wisecracks.
Domaine des Terres Dorées (J.P. Brun) Beaujolais l'Ancien Vieilles Vignes 2002. Smooth, utterly charming and silky, with a bright acidic core wrapped with juicy cherry-pit fruit and dusted with talc. The wine has the usual lightness and sense of lift, but there's more of a satiny quality to the tart red fruit than is usual. It's light, it's cheery and gulpable, but it's also almost ethereally pure, and it insists you keep drinking it. The loveliest young Ancien since at least '97 (the first one I tasted, back when it was l'Ancienne). If you don't like this wine you don't like wine, and you probably kick your dog and have personal hygiene issues as well. We say a small group prayer that Matt Kramer doesn't blab this one all over the print media like he did the Pépière Muscadet--that guy is cruisin' for a bruisin'. I decide to buy a few bottles before Florida Jim can corner the market and flip them on Winebid. Dressner swirls it slowly and calls out in an odd voice: ""Fresh and youthful, probably from last year's vintage. Tastes like it's from cool climate grapes. This is a lascivious, powerful, smoky sexpot of great fruit intensity, purity, and voluptuousness...." What can it mean?
We don't have time to digest this before Kane, looking sweaty and mournful, wanders out of the kitchen and asks plaintively, "Would anyone be crushed if we didn't have the polenta?"
After a few threats of immediate departure ("I only CAME for the polenta!") , he gets on the phone to Greg dal Piaz, who is apparently his polenta guru. Sadly, whatever he's managed to do is beyond even Greg's ability to repair, and at the end of the phone call we are polentaless.
To cool our polenta fever here's a Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion Péssac-Léognan 1986. Medium-dark red. Dark and smoky smelling, with a streak of burnt caramel that seems to indicate storage issues. Light hints of tobacco, oregano in a base of muted toasty-cassis, but there's that odd caramelized note again. Good balance, on the slender side, but doesn't seem like an intact bottle to me.
Before we can sit down to break bread in the proper sense, Dressner clears his throat and makes an announcement. "Today," he says in his booming voice, "is a proud moment for the Dressner family. From our humble Long Island shtetl origins we have risen to the high Order of the French Legion of Agricultural Merit. From this day forth..." he pauses for effect, "...you may call me Chevalier Dressner. Or Chevalier Joe the Bounteous, that would be all right as well." Denyse blushes proudly.
We are thunderstruck, and all thoughts of the late Andrew Scott, moneyed twinkie Paris Hilton and Vanessa Treviľo Boyd, Star Chick Sommelier, are momentarily driven from our heads. Can it be true? Kane takes the opportunity to slide his storied osso bucco onto the table, and we sit and munch in silence, our heads whirling.
Les Cailloux (André Brunel) Châteauneuf-du-Pape Selection Reflets 1988. Medium ruby color. Smells rich and layered, muted red berry fruit laced with crushed brick, an earthy tree-bark streak and a dash of cinnamon. Smooth, elegant and nicely developed, a fleshy wine that retains a sense of lightness and matches wonderfully with the osso bucco. Even Jay, the über-grenacherbasher, gives this wine its props. Thanks, Asher!
Dressner is musing out loud: what kind of life would he, Chevalier Dressner, have lived had he married Rebecca Finkelstein and worked in the garment district? He opines that the both of them would've stayed together until the kids were out of the house, then divorced and come out of the closet. It's a glimpse along the road not taken, and the mood in the room turns reflective. Where would any of us be today had we made different choices along the way?
Okay, I'm starting to rhyme. I'm scaring myself, so I try some of the Rocca di Montegrossi Vigneto San Marcellino Chianti Classico Reserva 1995. Lightly earthy black cherry aromatics. Taut, hard and rather characterless, although somewhat less aggressive than I remember. Either closed or just boring.
The chat veers onto the subject of the general decline of the quality of the material on the web since the virtual passing of Andrew Scott, and how his last words ("The internet is dead, man, deeeeeaaaaaad!") became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The mood turns chilly. Dressner, flush with the arrogance of the aristocracy, calls into question my position as The Voice of the People. Imagine! What does he know, up there in his Bigshot Chevalier Wine Guy ivory tower? There follows much speculation about the supposedly singular and peculiar nature of my character, none of which bears repeating here. Screw you guys, I'm getting drunk.
Or maybe not, as what's next, pursuant to the French-American Hybrid Affirmative Action Act of 2002, is a Swedish Hill Vignoles Cayuga Lake Late Harvest 2000. Medium lemon-gold color. Smells of canned pineapple slices wrapped in Saran Wrap and left in the sun. Very sugary and simple, with a lipsticky mouthfeel. There's a good spine of acidity, but it can't support the weight of the sweet glossy fruit.
Pierre Frick Tokay-Pinot Gris Alsace SGN 1989. Elegantly floral-smelling, caramel hints down below, gentle spicy-hay botrytis above. Tastes smooth and medium-lean, a pretty, sweetly earthy little wine, a charmer.
Someone claims that Michael Jackson has been arrested for illegally downloading Raffi songs from the internet, but no one follows up.
Domaine de Montgilet Coteaux de l'Aubance Clos des Huttieres 1997. Medium gold, ambering at the rim. Mess o'botrytis suffuses the creamy orange-apricot aromatics, dark caramel-earthiness underneath. Earthier and not as boisterously fruited as the same year's Trois Schistes, but still pretty darn large and sweet, perhaps a bit lacking in the structure department. Weighty, a ripe St. Bernard of a chenin, big and slightly ungainly, a fun wine that is devoid of finesse but quite rich and slurpable.
A hush falls over the room; I turn, and see Kane finally approaching the table bearing the bottle of Cockburn Vintage Port 1908. He ceremoniously removes the cork and waves it back and forth under my nose. "Smell that!" he burbles. I do. It smells good, very good, brown-sugary, richly laden with dark fruitcakey spiciness. An anticipatory shiver goes through the room, but no one is moving.
Enough suspense, I think, pour the wine, Brad, pour the damn wine. But still no one is moving.
I can't wait any longer, I lean forward and proffer my glass. Kane looks perplexed. "Oh no, there's nothing left," he explains. "We drank it all a few days ago. I just saved the empty bottle because I wanted you guys to smell it."
Dead silence. We look at one another:
Fade to black.