Once again, signaled by a light in the sky in the shape of a Leverpull, a cross-section of the Vinous League of America's super-geeks assembled for a wino summit at the digs of non-millionaire playboy Bradley Kane. Stately Kane Manor being rented out for a charity social to benefit wineless orphans, we met in the cozy Manhattan Bradcave, chafing our thighs somewhat as we slid down the firepoles behind the bookcase in the lobby of one of the upper east side's finer buildings.
When Lisa "The Finger" and I arrived, fashionably late as usual, the Graped Crusader was bustling about the kitchen, preparing a vast array of tasty comestibles to offer to the hungry heroes straggling in one by one. Joe "Mr. Big" Dressner was holding amiable court in the corner, kissing babies and generally behaving himself, Don "Loiredude" Rice, with Melissa "Loirechick" and their accomplice (who went only by the name "Babyface") were sampling the wares, Oleg "Cult Daddy" and Inna "Designated Driver" O. were there with the latest mailing list wine, with Rachael "Rubber Arm" O. in tow; .sasha "The Swirlmeister of 1927" was practicing his latest astonishing glass-in-each-nostril technique near Mike "Man in Black" Bassman; Jeff "Zen Master" Connell (able to leap tall Methusalem in a single bound!) had some kind of musical emergency to attend to but was promising a quick return, when suddenly the door flew open and who should appear but Robert "The Goy Wonder" Callahan, beyarmulked and fired up for some serious vinous action.
Sensing that the real fireworks were about to begin, I grabbed a glass in one hand, some pat in the other and a pen in the third and started scribbling brief impressions of the first wave of white treasures to hit us, missing by a hair the Vouvray Petillant that was making the rounds as a starter bubbly. Such is life. Nevertheless, I leap into the breach feet-first...
Domaine des Douvelieres Vouvray Demi-Sec 1983: pale straw color; limestone and gardenia hints on the nose, flowers & stones, smooth and restrained; in the mouth it's very crisply acidic, with nice balance and weight--tangy and richly flavored, but light in body, with a long minerally finish that seems a bit more complex each time I try it. Very nice Vouvray.
Château D'Epiré Savennières 1995: pale straw again; light honey-mineral nose, tropical hints, not giving much. This one tastes a bit limpid, a bit low-acid and round--good lemony stony yellowfruit flavors, but lacks structure.
Morey Batard-Montrachet 1992: Oxidized--apple-juicy flavors overlay some light buttery-pear fruit. Leave it for the latecomers.
Trimbach Riesling Clos St. Hune 1986: Lovely nose of light gasoline (Kane calls it 'diesel,' but it seems more refined to me), lemon, yellow apples and hints of pine needles, just a pleasure to smell. A sip, and there's a nice attack of tart yellow fruit, but it fades quickly, leaving behind a flinty tartness that isn't entirely pleasant. The fruit in the midpalate seems a bit faded to me, but the wine sure smells great. .Sasha swears that the apples in the nose are of the Granny Smith variety; I'd go with Golden Delicious, but who am I to argue with someone who can sniff a First Growth in each nostril in unison?
The coq au vin is flowing, Lisa has to run off to Finger someone across town, Robert is cursing the finger-slicing aluminum capsules that have spilled his precious bodily fluids, and still the whites keep coming--out of the corner of my eye I see an empty Baumard bottle being carried off by the butler. Or is that Dressner?
Must... drink... faster...
Pinon Vouvray Cuvée Tradition 1997: Pretty, pretty nose--velvety lemon-honeysuckle-rainwater, expressive and elegant. Not a blockbuster, but some very well-balanced white tangy chenin fruit makes this a pleasure to drink. An absolute QPR steal at around $11-12. Our host made us buy some, and I'm glad, Brad, I'm glad.
Here's something you don't see every day--a sparkling Norman pear cider. From low-yielding (one pear per tree) 300-year-old pear trees comes Bordelet Poiré Pear Cider Poirier Tricentenaires (3% alc.): Pale, pale color; light hints of pear on the nose, with some applejuicy notes, a bright, friendly, sweet-smelling cider. Crisp and light tasting, very lightly fizzy, slight sweetness, long pearish finish. The best sparkling Norman pear cider I've had, bar none; very nice as an apertif. Even Spiny Norman would like this sparkling Norman.
Willi Schaefer Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett 1998: Very pale, almost colorless, with a light greenish cast; hints of light honey, (finally) green apple and white flowers on the nose. A rich, slightly oily mouthfeel gives a low-acid impression upon first sip, but in the midpalate some tangy lemon-edged acidity kicks in and dives neatly under the tongue to grab you. Just a hint of sweetness, a nice young Kabinett, crisp and rich.
Coffinet Chassagne-Montrachet 1990: Pale lemon-yellow; slatey hints drift up in the slightly buttery-lemony nose--bit of burnt-matchy flare as well. Medium-thick and slightly unctuous, but there's some good structure too, and it doesn't feel distractingly fat. Tangy yellowfruit hangs nicely in the mouth and lingers softly on the finish. Decent enough, if unremarkable.
Finally, the end of the procession of whites is in sight. Pinon Vouvray Moëlleux 1997: Pale straw-gold color. Light, airy, spritzy nose, not yielding up too much... some light minerals... light floral hints.... Whoo, but it tastes much bigger than it smells--persistent earthy, honeyed minerally chenin fruit, big and rich and smooth, with a good balance of light sweetness and crisp acidity, and a glyceriney mouthfeel. Very richly flavored. Tasty.
I take a breath and survey the scene. Oleg is having Rachael practice her swirling technique, and it looks like she's a natural. Don, Melissa and I have discovered a shared passion for the seafaring novels of Patrick O'Brian, and cries of "A glass of wine with you, sir!" break the already feeble concentration of the tasters around us. There is some hubbub going on around one of the reds, but I can't quite tell if it's good hubbub or bad hubbub. I pour a glassful of Jones Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1996 to find out for myself.
Ooh, one solid vote for a bad hubbub. This wine is a deep, rich red, but the first aromatic impression is of oddly candied yeasty-smoky-dark cassis, almost an artificial fruit smell, layered with choco-smoky oak and hints of blueberry. Frankly, it smells counterfeit, like pasteurized processed cabernet food product. Other than that, this wine seems fairly generic, an upfront attack of not particularly big, but still monolithic cassis, berry and oak that drops away quickly into a dilute midpalate and a sharply tannic finish. I don't like it much, especially for a wine that apparently costs around $50 a bottle. Callahan, ever the apologist for this kind of wine, opines that it would make a decent $9 or $10 cab, but he's just being his usual sunny-Jim milquetoast self, because this wine, as the kids say, bites. Hard.
On the other hand, the bottle is unusually large and heavy, reminding me a bit of the Sine Qua Non Twisted and Bent and the Behrens and Hitchcock Ode to Picasso and leading me to formulate Coad's First Conjecture: namely, that the weight of the glass used in a wine bottle is in direct inverse proportion to the quality of the wine inside the bottle. I will gladly accept further evidence on this subject from all concerned, but I feel confident that this is a viable hypothesis.
By contrast, Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Backus 1992 is a breath of medium-fresh air: Medium-dark purply-garnet; medium-rich cassis-mocha-oregano nose. Fairly open, velvety-smelling but not terribly complex. Medium-bodied and fairly flavorful, decent blackcurrant fruit, medium weight in the mouth, finishing a bit short with firm fine tannins. (The secret word is "medium.") A medium-sized wine with small peaks and valleys, decent balance and nothing out of whack. Nothing to write home about, but mediumly pleasurable after that last "cab."
Palacios 'Les Terasses' Priorat 1996: Medium garnet; light smoky dark cherry nose, touch of vanilla; tangy red-dark mineral-tinged fruit; fairly high acidity, bit simple, fine firm tannins. Not a great first impression, but I like it better when I think it's something else (Bassman pulls the old glass-switcheroo)(well, okay, I pull it on myself, really), and the fruit seems to smell a bit deeper, a bit earthier than on first pass, with an herbal nuance that I hadn't spotted at first. Just to be sure, I go back for a third tie-breaker, and find it decent and clean, but not particularly expressive or complex. Needs time, perhaps, or maybe it's just a simple pleasant little wine.
Château St. Pierre St. Julien 1989: Dark ruby-red color, slight hint of amber at the rim; there is a bit of barny, earthy funk on first whiffage that blows off somewhat after a minute or two. Underneath that is a relatively tight nose with hints of stewed tomato, cassis and graphite. A taste, and it's got some nice dark tightly-wrapped cherry-cassis fruit in a medium-low acid base. Seems young. With some swirling and time light herby notes emerge and the barniness fades into a background earthy tone. I'd give this some more time, but it seems to have some good solid stuffing.
Remelluri Rioja Reserva 1994: Medium, slightly translucent garnet; oops, musty. Corked. Or is it? There's some talk of contaminated barrels or tainted labels or something, but whatever it is shows like corkiness.
Callahan, racing ahead, has been without new stimulus for a little too long now, and starts to get fussy, pleading for another bottle of anything, anything at all, please, anything. Our irrepressible host being busy removing the detritus of the evening's feast, .sasha assumes command, trots off to raid the storage unit to appease RC's eternal thirst for new stimuli, and returns with a decanter full of something red and mysterious. We gather round and pour the new toy into our glasses...
Mystery Wine: Hmmm... medium matte garnet... fairly unremarkable color... hints of leatheriness, black raspberry/black cherry and plum on the nose... bit too cold at first... tastes fairly ripe, ever-so-slightly pruney, plenty of fairly simple fruit... very little complexity... not really much here to hang your hat on. Finishes abruptly, with gritty tannins. Everyone looks at each other. No one has a clue. Could really be a lot of things, and there's just not much distinctive character here. I idly consider the possibility of an older zin of some kind, but that doesn't really fit either. "Pinotage!" shouts Oleg, who is feeling a bit puckish. Alas, pinotage it is not, and although .sasha takes off his shoe and waves it around in a vain attempt to drop a hint, we are uniformly clueless. Turns out to be Banfi Brunello 1990.
By this time both Lisa and Connell have returned from their various endeavors and are probably wondering what .sasha is doing jumping around waving his shoe in the air, but are willing to take it at face value, bless them.
Now is the very desserting time of night upon us. Bradman brings out some of his luscious pumpkin-spice bread and the sweet stuff begins to flow...
Muller-Cattoir Gimmeldinger Meerspinne Gewürztraminer Auslese 1989: Brad always breaks out the sweet gewürz when he sees me coming, and I'm a sucker for this one as well: pale yellow-gold; nose of all things good and gewrziful--rose petals, lychee, honey, with some pleasantly flinty undertones. Smooth and crisp, light to medium-sweet, vividly fruity, slightly unctuous mouthfeel. Yum.
Henriques & Henriques Malmsey Ten-Year-Old Madeira: This is cooked. Next.
There is an Amontillado Viejo going around, but, for the love of god, I don't get the name of the producer. It smells wonderful, nutty and butterscotchy, but falls a bit short on the palate for my tastes, thin, acidic and hot. So watch out for that one, whatever it is. The label was brown, does that help?
Finally, the black beauty, Niepoort Vintage Port 1997: Deep purply-black color; brambly, dusty dark berry fruit on the nose, which is tightly-wrapped, but yields up hints of cocoa, earth and black raspberry if you press it. A sip, and this is one dense little critter, big and fierce, coiled up tight and gnawing on its own tail. Some of the more delicate shrinking violets around me find it too intense to be pleasurable, but I find it a fairly compelling infant. .sasha seems upset by it, muttering darkly something about 'the world being turned upside down' and 'Turley' or something like that, I don't quite catch all of it, but from what I can gather at least he's not claiming it's THE LAST NIEPOORT. I'm a fan of the style, and this one seems like a serious winner to me, although the next bottle may want to wait until our 20th anniversary in 2017.
So, the last of the bottles being drained, the secret signal ("Time to walk the dog") is given, and, after offering up profuse thanks to our super-host, those of us that remain take the elevator the the top floor, go out the window and rappel down the side of the building to the street below, having several interesting and amusing cameo encounters with celebrities along the way. That's just the way we do things on nights like this.