I confess it: Jay Miller's extensive litany of prejeebus regulations throws me for a loop.
"You may bring one bottle of red wine that is from Burgundy and after that either another bottle of red wine that is also from Burgundy or a bottle of red wine that is not from Burgundy but is from somewhere else and is made from pinot noir, or a white wine that is from Burgundy or a white or sparkling wine that is made from pinot noir or chardonnay, or a wine that is made from any kind of grape that is sparkling or sweet or a wine that is..."...at which point my eyes are too glazed to continue.
Were I truly wise, I would submit it to my amanuensis for proper parsing, but I'm running late and the gang is already waiting at Greenwich Village's historic Inside, so I grab the first two bottles I see and race out the door.
Yes, I know I've done bad. There's an ominous feeling in the pit of my stomach which I choose to ignore, in the hope that it will go away. When I finally make it to Inside I'm a bit late, so I've got some catching up to do. I wave feebly to the assembled geeks, Jay pours me some Francois Chidaine Montlouis Brut NV. All chalk, pollen and honey, the usual suspects. I see that there are like a dozen chardonnays awaiting me, so I quickly gulp a few glasses of this in order to fortify myself against the onslaught. It's beautiful as always, pure and taut, with a waxy midpalate heft that mingles with an eager frothiness for an attention-getting mix of focus and friendliness. Jay stands, clears his throat, and announces that after years of research he's determined this is the best value in fizzy wine in the whole wide world. Polite applause, I don't argue.
Okay, deep breath, here we go.
First up is a Boyer-Martinot Meursault les Narvaux 2002. Light lemon-butterscotch aromatics. Medium-bodied, with lean buttered-pear flavors, watery midpalate, abrupt finish. Generic, lackluster Meursault--heavyhandedly wooded and not particularly interesting. I'm afraid at first that it's suffering the usual fate of chardonnay, performing especially poorly following wines made from more compelling varieties, but I go back to it later and it's just as lame.
Next is a Joseph Drouhin Chablis Vaudésir 1997. Smoky-flinty smelling at first, some flat apple-juicy oxidative notes, then butterscotch and toast. Unpleasant. It seems a good dose of bully-boy new wood has beaten the crap out of whatever else was in the bottle with it and now reigns supreme, with no challengers in sight.
Here's a Niellon Chassagne-Montrachet les Vergers 1993. Okay, this smells pretty decent--some supple pear and pineapple hints, bit of vanilla, calm and bright-smelling. A sip, and it's a subtle, creamy wine that spreads out rather insistently over my tongue. Very pure tasting, cohesive and firm but velvet edged and ticklishly flickery. Medium amplitude, startlingly persistent finish. I confess that I may have been wrong that this grape has no potential; this wine at least achieves veryniceness.
The last steak I ordered in a restaurant launched the evening into David Lynch territory, but it's time to get back on that horse, so I order the famed house specialty Newport steak.
Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet les Ruchottes 1986. Tired and flat-tasting at first, but once I get used to the tiredness and flatness it seems to rally in the middle, acquiring a bit of zip. Oddly, it continues to revivify with air, finally seeming quite crisp and almost bright everywhere but at the core, which is still somewhat tired and flat. If I sound like I can't quite make up my mind then I'm communicating the experience properly--this wine is a moving target in need of repeated reassessment, it continues zigzagging until it's gone.
I try to slip a Heinrich Mayr-Nusser 'Blaterle' Tafelwein NV into the mix with the quiet assertion that 'Here we have the latest Italian cult wine--get some now before the blatterle bandwagon can get rolling!' But even as I pass the bottle to Marty I can see it's too late: Jay is stunned, his mouth working soundlessly, face flushing, dudgeon rising. He points an accusing finger at the offending bottle. "That," he hisses through clenched teeth, "does NOT conform to the clearly defined parameters of this jeebus! How can you expect the chardonnays to shine if you bring that?!"
I am at a loss, caught out without the possibility of defense. "I didn't know! I didn't understand!" I wail. "The instructions were ambiguous, my brain has never worked well, I didn't know!" My only hope at this point is to whip up a good public scene, hoping against hope that I can deflect attention and play on Jay's one fatal weakness: his sense of decorum.
It works. He looks nervously about, then grumpily sits back down, content merely to glare at me imperiously for a few more minutes.
Oh right, the blatterle. Okay, it's a very pale straw color, light greenish highlights. Crisp, floral aromatics: at last, no lumber! Instead we've got a hint of gardenia, flecks of tangerine and a green note that strikes me as almost minty until Eden correctly pegs it as 'cucumber.' Light-bodied, bright and almost evanescent after the ponderous chardonnays, it's quieter and lighter in the piehole than up the nose, but the insubstantiality just adds to its charm. How to characterize blatterle? Hmmm, well, this one comes across as something like the bastard child of a pinot blanc and a dry furmint. Got it? Good.
Jeff suggests that more wines in this mold ought to be made. "After all," he points out, "Imitation is the sincerest form of blatterle."
Sometimes I worry about Jeff. And when he casually mentions that he and Jay have been playing the same game of Dungeons & Dragons for seventeen years(!), I worry that worrying sometimes isn't nearly enough.
Okay, gotta shake it off, pinot time is beginning with a St. Innocent Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Sinead O'Connor Vineyard 1998. Dark blackberry/raspberry fruit underpinned with minerals, hint of plumskin, touch of volatility. Tastes medium crisp, well focused if slightly candied. There's smooth, clove-dusted blackberry-cherry fruit in the middle, finishes slightly toasty-tannic but not unpleasantly so, just enough to give it some rough edges after the silky middle. Very nice mediumweight pinot, good composure.
Roumier Chambolle-Musigny 1989. Medium-light ruby color. Hint of Band-Aid brand bandage strips up high. Under that, quiet cherry-truffle aromatics, hints of horehound and forest floor. Tastes loose and calm, medium-low acidity, fleshy-spicy redfruit, soothing and slyly languorous; it has finally finished reading Baudelaire and started in on The Thousand and One Nights. I've always been struck by how this wine manages to embody both langour and luminosity at once, a striking blend of opposites in a small package. I sit and sniff and swirl and the table and its occupants recede into the distance. Sooo nice, such a nice little wine.
I slide back from my Roumier reverie just in time to hear Eden turn to Jay and observe "Liquid is escaping you this evening." This strikes me as a curious sentence; I jot it down for future investigation.
Francois Legros Morey St. Denis Clos Sorbé 2000. Smells cherry-beety, toastily wooded. Here there be gobs: tastes candied and glossy right up front, but fails to rally in the fashion of the lovely '99, turning instead towards midpalate blowsiness. The instinct towards gobbiness seems to have won out, as it's overcandified and understuffed, too broad-shouldered, undersinewed. Some unintegrated toasty-char notes rasp up in the finish. Air helps, but not very much.
Eden suggests that the town of Metuchen might one day become the next culinary heart of the tri-state area. I suppose stranger things have happened. The Red Sox won the Series. Cher won an Oscar. Why not Metuchen? I assure her that this kind of bold statement will only lead to packs of drunken winegeeks showing up on her doorstep in the dead of night, demanding vittles. She bravely accepts that possibility: she's got spirit, that filly.
Mugnier Bonnes Mares 1988. Ooh, lovely aromatics, horehound-laced cherry-beet fruit, with air tobacco notes emerge, forest-floor hints. Yeah, this is the real thing, perhaps a bit foursquare to achieve transcendence, but striking and beautifully deep in its layered complexity--the high notes are spicy-sweet and tickly, the lows are earthy, truffle-toned and dogged. The midpalate is muted and pure, rather light but with a great deal of scope. Wonderful stuff. "Like drinking money," I observe, with perhaps a hint of ambivalence, drifting away again on a waft of Bonnes Mares-scented air.
I only snap back into the here and now when I hear Eden say "First you do the little groan, then the giggle." I open my eyes--she's talking to Jay again, what's this all about now? After a few exchanges it comes clear to me that what they're doing is charting Jay's reactions to wines he likes--first he groans, then he giggles. I cross my fingers against the possibility of me becoming the next target of this investigation.
Marty has brought along a bottle of Domaine des Terres Dorées (Jean-Paul Brun) Beaujolais Vieilles Vignes l'Ancien 2002 that he's had stuck behind his radiator for 48 hours, some kind of science experiment or something, the point being to show everyone once and for all that the wine smells like a Turnpike rest stop (I'm beginning to suspect a case of mass hysteria is at play here). Anyhoo, as always the wine is quite lovely, lightly earthy and happily strawberry-cherried, light and lithe and focused. Marty is anguished, "I don't believe it!" he cries, "It was a COMPLETELY different wine two days ago! A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WINE!" We nod solemnly, which seems the best thing to do under the circumstances.
Trapet Chambertin Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 1988. Lightly funky aromatics at first, barnyard, flint and smoke in a muted cherry-beet base, seems rather more developed than the Mugnier. With air the funkiness modulates, but the aromatics turn muted and quiet. A sip, and it's a middleweight wine, calm and smooth, with a touch of midpalate glossiness. The finish is dulled by an initial light flurry of tannins; it tries to rally, then another, more aggressive round of tannins sweeps in to shut things down entirely. The overall impression is of a very decent wine that is at war with itself, the elements interesting but not working in sync. Curious.
"PINK GRAPEFRUIT!" yelps Marty. Wha? He's got his nose in something, is that the Brun? "Pink grapefruit..." he says again, more quietly this time.
I look over at Jay; he's engaged in single combat with a truly Flintstonian pork chop, easily three or four pounds of meat and bone. I can think of no good way to respond to this. Offer help? Politely ignore it? Jay looks around pleadingly, but no one has the courage to make eye contact, and he bends resignedly to his Sisyphean task.
Robert Chevillon Nuits-St.-George les Saint-Georges 1988. This too is lightly funky on first nosage, decaying treetrunk and a stange slatey streak over some ripe cherry-beet redfruit. After about an hour of air, however, it comes together nicely, the tree-trunk hints turning towards a dark mushroominess, the redfruit plumping up and filling in the cracks, the slate notes receding into a pleasant belowground minerality. The wine has fine focus, a vivid acidic core clothed with velvety flesh. Continues to turn more primary with air as the night goes on, a very beguiling performance, will it end the night as an infant monolith?
Marty leans in towards me. "I, uh, usually spit," he mutters, "Usually I spit. Not tonight... not ahhmmm these wines..."
I nod, uncertain as to where this is going.
He looks around unsteadily, then leans in even closer: "I'm a little verschnockered," he admits.
I nod again, "Good, good, that's good, you don't have to drive, we're all having fun, good, right?"
"Yep," he says. "It's just... just... I'm a little... verschnockered...." he trails off.
I clear my throat, a little uncomfortable at this degree of intimacy.
Must. Change. Subject. "Look!" I trill, pointing behind him, "It's another Burgundy! Let's drink it!"
And so we do, and it's a Jean et Gilles Lafouge Pommard les Chanlins 2002. Good heavens, this wine smells like buttered toast! Hmmm, check that again... yup, there's a strong toasty-buttery streak in among the young, primary redfruit. Other than that we've got a big ol' infant here--plush, slightly pillowy raspberry-cherry fruit, firm acidic spine, flurry of aggressive tannins on the finish. Lots of interesting raw material, hard to figure at the moment, a broad-beamed young Pommard that needs time, mucho time.
That's it for the reds, and as usual at these events there's a serious shortage of dessert wines. (Note to self: bring dessert wine next time.)
Francois Chidaine Montlouis Clos Habert 2003. Medium light straw-gold color. Yow, smells like clapping erasers in a pineapple field, ripe tropical fruit and chalk dust, aromatically puppyish. A sip, and it's similarly boisterous to taste, lots of juicy yellowfruit pillowed out by sweetness that is pushing towards mo‘lleux level. A plush, bountiful wine with gentle acidity staggering a bit under the weight of all that Rubenesque flesh. Quite a departure from the pure, focused wine of the year before, there's a certain amiable sloppiness to it, but I don't know if this is one to buy and lay down--the lack of acidity concerns me. I have to ask myself: What would nathan vandergrift do? The '02 is Baryshnikov, this is Larry Csonka, running right over you and leaving size-fourteen footprints on your back. Connell will swear by it, but to me it seems overplush and underspined. Time will tell, I suppose, but I'm buying more of the '02 while I can still find it.
Okay, we're done. I don't remember any more.