I give up. Close the notebook, shut it down for the night, it's too damn late.
Everything's gone wrong, we're too goddamn late, we've already missed a passel of wines, the food is circulating, there are people I want to talk to ( is tonight's visiting dignitary); notetaking is an all-or-nothing thing, and tonight it's going to be nothing.
I can do that, right? Nothing.
Yes. Take the night off, just this once.
Except, wait... whoa, here's a really interesting aligoté. Geez, how often can you say that? Let me just jot something down quickly on this one... who knows if I'll ever see it again, ya know?
Uh, oh, there's also a couple of Knoll wines on the table... and the new Gravonia... now that's something I'm sure as hell never going to buy, might be my only chance to taste it... and if it's not written down in my little notebook it might as well have never happened, right?
Okay, screw the people and the food, I'm back on duty: a man may work from sun to sun, but a winegeek's job is never done.
Back to the beginning, then... need an intro... okay, stay simple, gloss over the stuff you missed, here goes nothing....
The name brings shivers to the spines of winegoing New Yorkers, for it is from the far far land of the Red Hook, on the bleak fringes past the heart of darkest Brooklyn, that a culinary ziggurat beckons, a siren on the waterfront, a rough diamond amidst the dreary projects and teen thug wannabees. '360 Van Brunt,' they call it, a name that stands in the pantheon of imaginatively-named restaurants right alongside '2117 Sawtelle'. After all, wouldn't life be simpler if all restaurant names were merely addresses?
Unfortunately, our sketchy directions involve leaving the subway and spotting an overpass that is a good half-mile down the road. The other time we'd made the pilgrimage it was summertime and still light; in the wintry darkness we mistake the railway bridge overhead for the signpost overpass and wander off in the wrong direction. It's only after we're crossing a waterway of some kind that things start to seem unfamiliar. "Mmmm... do you remember going over a river?" I ask Lisa. She admits that she doesn't, but had inexplicably been laboring under the impression that I knew where I was going. Ha! We make a quick about-face and retreat to the subway station to consider our options, in the process finally spotting the distant overpass.
This time, this time we're heading in the right direction, and things start to seem hazily familiar. It's cold as [FILL IN YOUR FAVORITE COLD METAPHOR] out, and we're bustling as fast as we can past deserted lots, barbed-wire fences and crack-vial littered doorsteps. I'm sure that we're getting close, when Lisa's cellpone rings. It's the irrepressible Brad Kane, wondering if we're alive and demanding our exact location. She begins to carry on a surreal conversation with him, narrating the street corners to him as we pass them, until the cold and general irritability make me crack.
"What, is he plotting our course?" I snap, "Does he have a map with pushpins? Just tell him we're almost there, for gods' sake, and hang up."
She ignores me completely and continues narrating the street names as we pass them. I mutter angrily into my scarf, then come to my senses and decide shutting up would be the better part of valor.
Whoa, see--we're here, and there's Denyse Louis, out grabbing a chilly smoke. She gives us companionable hugs and Gallic smooches and pushes us inside where it's warm. And here are the geeks, a whole table full of 'em. There are only two chairs left, so we plop ourselves down at the far end by the team of Camblor and Castrodad, but there's "good ol'" Bradley Kane waving halloo, there's macho pedant Jay Miller, and there's Joe Dressner, curiously bearded and looking rather rabbinical. And of course tonight's visiting dignitary, .
We've apparently missed an extensive diagonal of Puzelat bubblies (some disgorged, some nondisgorged, some redisgorged, some renondisgorged, some nonredisgorged), which is a shame, and our loss. But since I know that you, the reading public, shouldn't be shortchanged, for no extra charge I'll throw in a note on the '01 Chidaine Clos Habert that we drank when we got home many hours later, tired and thirsty for chenin.
[Francois Chidaine Montlouis Clos Habert 2001: Pale straw-gold color. Robustly chalky-waxy nose, paraffin laced with quince and pollen. Maybe a touch of sugar, but at an almost imperceptible level, just enough to keep the wine from abrading as it slides down the gullet. A small-framed wine, lacking the intensity of the '02 but wonderfully balanced, a slight dilution in the midpalate might be a quibble, but quibbling feels mean in the presence of such grace and delicacy.]
So. Here we are, at last. Shuck the jackets, scarves, listen to thirteen progressively wittier variations on "We thought we were having the Waiting for Coad jeebus!", settle into our seats and grab at whatever chow is being passed around. First some miscellaneous smoked hams and cured meats with teeny-tiny pickles, then some ersters, fresh from New York Harbor.
Huh. Here's an Alice & Olivier De Moor Bourgogne Aligoté 2003. Cloudy-pale color, the color of fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Bright, citric, vivid wine. Pure, focused and whiteminerally, with light floral hints. Come to think of it, this is rather like a weightier cousin of blatterle, Blatterpithicus Robustus. Who knew this disreputable grape had such potential? These guys do aligoté like Wittman does albalonga or Müller-Catoir does scheurebe: in a class by itself. A stirring match with the wonderfully smutty oysters, fish-briny little sacs of lovejuice.
I'm flustered from arriving late, still not sure what's going on, way behind in my always-tardy notetaking. It's here that I have the crisis of confidence detailed above, actually closing my notebook and momentarily giving up, but, as we are seeing, ultimately lacking the resolve to make it stick. Especially when wines like Weingut Knoll Riesling Loibner Ried Loibenberg Smaragd Trocken 2001 come around. Smells charming, shy pineapple-grapefruit tropicality, light kerosene hints. Ooh, it seems very hard at first, then suddenly sneaks up on my tongue, turning long and vivid and finishing with an electric buzz. Deceptively impressive, a wine with a deft headfake and legs that won't stop churning.
Kane points at me and announces "There's one more oyster left, it has your name on it!"
That can't be right. "My name?" I ask. "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely!" he burbles, handing it to Dressner to pass to me. Dressner swallows it in one gulp.
"Oop," says Brad, "I guess it didn't have your name on it after all."
It may have, I didn't get close enough to tell. From this point on Kane begins to refer to Dressner as 'Reb Joe.' I assume this is a Civil War reference, but Lisa informs me that it's a Jewish thing, I wouldn't understand. Damn smug chosen people.
Weingut Knoll Gruner Veltliner Ried Kreutles 2001. "Would you like some wine with your sulfur?" asks the proprietor congenially. I would, in fact, but it's very hard to find any underneath the waves of brimstone. Jay tries dropping a penny in his glass, nothing happens. I always forget which type of sulfurousness that's supposed to work with, but one thing is certain: it's not this kind.
This is apparently grey market wine, and I take the moment to complain that the whole 'grey market' thing is very confusing to those of us who a) aren't in the business and b) don't particularly care. Dressner launches into a fairly clear explanation of what seems to me to be a mundane business practice that doesn't nearly live up to its quasi-legal sounding name. I had hoped there was some kind of Midnight Express/Man with No Name angle about the whole thing, but it turns out its pretty boring. Unless you're a marketer, of course, in which case it might hold some interest. But who's a marketer these days?
Okay, moving on to the Lopez de Heredia Rioja Viña Gravonia 1994. Ah, the smell of freshly cracked coconut shell brings me right back home to the islands. There's a lemon-creamy edge to the aromatics as well, but it's mostly coconut and rocks. Tastes hard and taut, seems a bit watery. Nope, still not convinced. Even when paired with the rillettes, seemingly the French term for 'mystery meat swimming in lard,' the wine is lackluster.
There's also some kind of sliced tongue on a tray going round. I've a mouthful of the lard stuff, hence an excuse to spare myself more offal, but I get a good fit of schoolgirlish giggling out of passing the tray with the ever-pertinent question "Would you like some tongue?"
Hee hee. Still makes me giggle. "May I offer you some tongue?"
Hee hee heee... man, I'm a funny guy when I'm on a roll. No, seriously, I am. Tongue, hee haa hhaaaa... hee hee. Great stuff.
Wine drink now. A.J. Adam Riesling Dhronhofberger Tholey 2002. This smells sulfurous too, are we in trouble again? No, it blows off fairly quickly, leaving some shy lemon-vinyl aromatics, not much going on, aromatically speaking. It does, however, have more presence in the piehole--quiet at first, but bright-tasting whitefloral fruit wells up in the midpalate in a rather viscous, moderately sweet wave, finishing whispery-quiet once more. The last impression is an almost ethereal flickering-out that has me going back to start the ride over again. Very interesting, a lot of mouthswoop in this wine, perhaps the evening's zenith of mouthswoopery.
My mind is whirring aimlessly: Pale Male and Lola, the storied Red Tail Hawks of the Upper East Side, have apparently been saved from homelessness by a grass-roots movement. We can all rest easy now, methinks. "Red Tail Hawks..." I mutter to myself. "Red Hook Hawks... Red Tailhook Hawks..." What? More wine? Sorry, no brain tonight work well. Yes, drink, me.
Here's a Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sevre etc. 2003. I owe this wine an apology. When I first tasted it I was so startled by the atypicality that I wrote it off without benefit of counsel. Today, I greet it on its own terms, as a wine born of a freak vintage, and I find the meeting much more pleasant. The aromatics are still rather vague and diffuse, light citric lime-lemon over a base of quiet yellow apple and a suggestion of minerality, but the flavors are bright and friendly, the medium acidity is enough to get by, and the softness that I previously decried doesn't seem so troubling when removed from burdensome expectations. At any rate, it's an amiable little wine that drinks smoothly and uncomplicatedly on its own terms, although the De Moor suits the oysters much better.
We've promised to order stuff off the list, so Dressner asks what anyone wants. Kane pipes up that he want something 'fruity,' which has the proprietor scratching his head and looking rather cross. Eventually he returns with a Le P'tit Rouquin Vin de Pays du Loir et Sonny et Cher 2003. Ook, here are some peculiar smells: weirdly ripe and tobacco-piney, framboise mixed with cigar butts and pine needles. "Candy and ashtrays!" sings out Camblor. Awkward wine, hollow in the middle and turning disagreeably jammy as it heads into the finish. Everyone leans in, discusses, concludes. Resolved: never pay attention to Kane's requests again. Ever.
Damn, the grilled octopus salad is superb, the mollusc itself rich and flavorful, the texture chewy but not rubbery, a coup de tentacle. Can't really match a wine with it, but it sure is good.
Belle Pente Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Murto Vineyard Reserve 2001. Medium light dead-center red color. Still lean and taut and medium-light bodied, it seems about half shut-down now--the vivid spiciness has receded to a background buzz, the fruit is a little reticent, the toastiness a little more overt, but there's good balance and nice sustain, the wine shows character. The middle is light and insouciant, the finish a bit overly toasted now but pleasant enough. Strangely, Dressner takes another pour of this and passes a glass to the proprietor with a cheery "Pas mal."
This works really well with the steak. Yes, steak! I've finally gotten over my fear of ordering steak!
Amazingly, Kane takes this opportunity to attempt to rationalize the recent steamed-steak fiasco at Minetta. "It was just a flourish," he says, "the Jiffy-Pop foil steam bag was just a flourish!"
Mute incomprehension all around. A small piece of bread is thrown, but misses everything.
Quick, some wine to ease the tension! Whew, just in time here's a Joseph Drouhin Grands-Echezeaux 1983. Smells of muted redfruit, crushed brick laced with tea and hints of caramel (Caramel? Uh oh.). A sip, and the wine is not well, not at all well. Yes, the bottle is damaged. Jay is sad. He stares at it balefully. "I paid a lot for you," he moans, "and this is how you repay me?" I keep going back to it, and for a moment it seems to shake off the heat damage and begin to perk up, but it's a short-lived Indian Summer and soon fades.
I try to take Jay's mind off the pain of cooked Drouhin by complaining about work. Scott perks up and asks me what I do. I confidently announce "Oh, production graphics, digital prepress, you know, that sort of thing," expecting the blank stare and slightly unsettled grimace-and-nod that people do when they have no idea what I'm talking about. Instead he asks me to send him a resumé, and it occurs to me that I have no idea what this guy does or who he really is. I begin to worry that we're in the presence of some eccentric billionaire or something, and eye him suspiciously. "What are you, some kind of bigshot?" I demand. He denies it emphatically, but I vow to watch him closely for what remains of the evening.
Quintarelli Valpolicella 1996. Smells warm and welcoming, like a well-used hearth. Crushed bricks and dried flowers over a base of dried cherry-cassis, quietly fragrant. A sip, and it's a subtle wine, medium-light bodied, tartly taut at the core and feathering lightly at the edges. Striking; really pure and fine and light and robust and flavorful and dancing, a joy. Have I ever had a bad wine from Quintarelli? Maybe one or two of the weird whites, and the Alzero will throw you for a loop if your guard isn't up, but I dunno, I think this guy may be the Huet of Italy. Now if he could just get a label that wasn't such a design trainwreck... where's Andrew Scott when you need him?
I say this out loud, and we talk about Andrew Scott for awhile. We reminisce about him. Then we reminisce about Callahan, then Steve Plotnicki, and several others who have fallen by the wayside during the long internet slog. The evening is threatening to grow maudlin, and the proprietor actually complains to us that we've been too well-behaved ("I expected yelling, fights, broken chairs... you're not having fun, are you?"), so I call for more wine.
"More wine!" I say.
Nobody is paying attention to me.
"Do they still have the Angeli rosé?" I ask loudly. "That's some great after-dinner stuff!"
Only Manuel seems to be listening. He snags a menu, we peruse the list intently. No sign of the Angeli rosé, damnit. "Wait!" I say, "We can still get some of the P'tit Tannique--that's great stuff, not "fruity" like that other P'tit thing, doesn't anyone want some of that? Let's get some of that!"
But Kane is already pushing around a couple of half-empty bottles of Port that he's apparently lifted from some previous tasting.
I retreat to sulk, and in my absence the conversation turns to Spanish wine. Someone asks "Who's that Thor Jr. smartypants kid with all the opinions?" but nobody undertands the reference. Rajah of Rioja Gerry Dawes's name comes up, to universal acclaim. A motion is put before the floor that he be elected honorary Emperor of Wine, unifying what had been a contentious tripartite crown (UWG, USIWG and IBWGEW). The vote is taken, the matter resolved: Mr. Dawes is promoted from Sultan of Spain to Emperor of Wine. At this point many of the attendees swap Shogun of Sherry stories, each transparently attempting to curry favor with the new administration, really it's a shameful spectacle. "What Would Gerry Do?" becomes the question of the moment. "I wonder if his ears are burning...?" muses Camblor.
Dow's Porto 2000. Dark and rich-smelling, black raspberry and baking chocolate aromatics. Tasted equally cocoaberried, relatively sweet and monolithic, good focus, a broad-beamed youngster that seems to have a lot of potential but is so young and solid it's hard to judge now. Dark bramblefruit in the middle, turns towards tarry cocoaosity again on the finish. Sweet, rich, very nice, if perhaps a bit more imposing than you'd want right now.
We discuss what a disaster the Port market has become, with ordinary bottles selling for eighty or ninety bucks. "Just buy the old stuff," says Scott, "it's cheaper to buy the well-aged old stuff than the new overpriced bottles."
"That's exactly what Gerry would tell us to do," say I, "It makes a damn lot of sense."
"Gerry told me I needed a mullet," announces Dressner. The table is quiet, pondering this revelation.
Oh heck, there's geek cheeses. My Achilles' heel.
I can't stand toe to toe with the cheese geeks without blinking, I admit it. I like a crusty old gouda, a creamy washed-rind cowgirl pussy cheese or a velvety Humboldt Fog, but the hardcore stinky-underwear stuff leaves me wishing for La Vache Qui Rit. I am a cheese Philistine, I am the Kane of cheese, it's my albatross and I must wear it in perpetuity. So sue me.
But first let me have some Dow's 20-Year-Old Tawny Porto. Yup, it's tawny. I don't drink a lot of tawny, but when I have this I can't remember why. The butterscotchiness is just right, there's a happy vein of orange zest, the wine is sweet and rich and far more layered and yielding than the '00, a very pleasant husky-sized tawny.
"James Lipton!" squeals Scott, levelling an accusatory finger at Dressner. "I finally figured it out!" Dressner is appalled, shakes his head no no no, but Scott is persistent. "The beard!" he says "That's it! Gerry Dawes would say you looked just like James Lipton!"
"C'mon, give us some of that smarm, big guy, let the people decide!" I urge, to no avail.
Suddenly it's time to settle up, and of course we've forgotten that the place only takes cash. Denyse has to cover us as we sheepishly mumble feeble excuses about too many drugs, Alzheimer's setting in, etc. Great, first we're an hour late, then we can't pay for our dinner. I flush a deep shade of crimson. Will anyone ever invite us out again? Will we become the new pariahs, the anti-Gerry Daweses?
Pain, shame, more shame.
We tumble out into the night air and pack into the Kraftmobile, which isn't a Bentley or anything, but I think Scott says it's his brother-in-law's car or something like that (Bentley in the shop?). He drives us to the nearest subway stop, breaking several local traffic laws in the process but not causing any serious damage to people or structures.
As we're changing trains at the World Trade Center I think 'Well, that was a total disaster.'
Well, except for the food, which was pretty damn fine.
Oh, and the wine, and the fact that we finally elected an Emperor.
Jeez, I guess it wasn't a total loss after all.