Folks, let me just say it's been a long and busy week, and I couldn't have made it through all the speaking engagements, tastings, champagne brunches and testimonial dinners without the generous and ongoing support from winegeeks across the world. So thank you, one and all.
Circumstances have managed to force me out of my usual routine of antisocial behavior, so I have far fewer notes than I ought, especially from the the afternoon gigs, many of which found me barely awake. The only weekend evening that I found myself available to the local crowd a small but enthusiastic gathering assembled at Jersey City's cozy Madame Claude Cafˇ for a night of celebrating the appreciation of little 'ol me.
This is a new neighborhood BYO place, and I'm excited because for once it's in a neighborhood that doesn't involve me taking lots of public transportation. I'm running a little late, but with Lisa not here it's only ten or fifteen minutes rather than our usual hour and a half. (Lisa had to study for her head and neck test--I voiced some disappointment that she wasn't going to make the final night of Chris Coad Appreciation Week festivities, but she just sighed and said "In this house, every week is Chris Coad Appreciation Week," which took the wind right out of my protestory sails.)
I easily spot the geeks (the table with all the bottles) and settle in. We open with a Gratien & Meyer Saumur Cuvée Flamme NV. Salmon-pink color, frothily fizzy. Fun, innocuously flavorful bubbly. Not a lot of depth or cut, but cheerful and friendly.
First up, by way of appetizer there's liver stuff, different kinds of paté, smooth-style and country-style. I'm not really a liverish guy, but these are pretty good. I actually have some Sauternes in my bag, but it's warm, but Jay's got a Burn Clos St. Imer Tokay-Pinot Gris Goldert La Chapelle 1998. Medium-light gold color, vivid lychee-floral nose, plumeria and orange rind. Big, plump and demisec-sweet, the acidity is just enough to keep the intense pineapple-citric flavors knit together in a glyceriney web. Happily extravagant--almost silly--this is a delightful wine, and a superb match with the liver.
Jim mentions that one of their friends, curious about the origin of the name of his and Jeff's estate, typed 'Beaucoin' into Google, and got my 'Beacoin Revisited' essay as the first hit. The internet likes me, it really likes me!
Let's shoot for number two, shall we? Beaucoin, Beaucoin, Beaucoin!
Here's a Domaine du Closel Savennières Cuvée Speciale 1997. Pleasant, layered, loosely-wrapped. Ripe and rich, happily aromatic-- hay, wax, pollen and muted earthyquincey yellowfruit. A bit loose, not the greatest in terms of focus, but rich and lively, with medium-firm acidity. The happy exuberance of the vintage is shining through; this is probably a wine to drink sooner rather than later, but it's a great package this evening.
Beaucoin, Beaucoin, Beaucoin!
Next is a Nikolaihof Riesling Steiner Hund Reserve 2002. Pale straw color. Very aromatic, lemon-pineapple and chalk, rainwater and a hint of chamomile. Despite the lithe form this tastes menhirlike, deep, long and imposing, that sustained chord at the end of 'A Day In the Life.' Oh so pure, not as seizure-inducing as the '99, but a beautiful baby in need of many years' sleep.
Speaking of the internet liking me, a charming woman from England emailed me recently to inform me that, in all of the web, my 'Rejeebus' essay was the only page that contained the words 'ethereally' and 'skulduggery.' This is apparently known as a 'googlewhack.' It's all very complicated to me, but clearly a great honor. Let me quote from her email in an utterly unauthorized fashion, crossing my fingers that she's not a lawyer (or a banister or whatever they call the fine-print leeches over there):
"Yours is the only website Google finds (and there are very very few it doesn't find) which contains the words 'ethereally' and 'skulduggery'. That makes it a googlewhack, which in turn makes it entirely unique. Be proud. I've registered it at www.googlewhack.com . You're welcome."
Except, wait, now there will be two... uh, oh, did I just screw myself out of one of those big internet paydays we hear about?
Oh well, there's more wine to be had. Next we've got another Closel, this time a Domaine du Closel Savennières Clos Papillon Cuvée Speciale 1989. Pale lemon-straw color. Spicy aromatics, minty high note, lemon and chalk underneath, chamomile herbiness, charming and prettily complex. A sip, and ooh baby, there's an insistent rip current of chalky-lemon-quincey fruit washing me out to sea, and I'm powerless to resist, so I relax and let it sweep me away. Vivid, humming midpalate, pulsating with universal energy, I start to hear the beating of my own heart in my eardrums, the midpalate keeps expanding until it hurts, it's stretching the inside of my head, and the pain is good too, and suddenly that's gone as well and I'm left with a tingling, twitching finish, tingle, twitch, tingle, twitch. God wine. After the first encounter I go back to it and try to be more analytical; I note the solidity and heft of the wine, the sheer broadness and closely-packed flavorosity, the core of muscular acidity and delicate, tickling layers of flavor out at the edges. Confirmed as best Savenni¸res ever, still twenty years too young, but what a ride. I choke back my Howard Dean impression only through sheer force of will.
We do our best to grease the Francophonic proprietor--he is delighted to accept a glass of Savennières and pinot gris. I think he likes the pinot gris better, it's certainly more of a crowd-pleaser (more sugar).
My chevre salad is pleasant but nothing out of the ordinary, just decently flavorful greens and tangy goat cheese, a nice package.
Last white, a Clos de la Coulˇe de Serrant (Joly) 2001. Medium gold color. Ripe, spicy apple-pie/quince jam aromatics, calmly oxidative, with air a light minerality pokes its nose out from under the plush ripe fruit, then submerges again fearfully. Big and ripe and spicy, almost muscattishly so. Reminds me of nothing so much as an over-the-top Sablonnettes Anjou blanc, I watch my glass carefully to see if the wine will darken while I drink it, but it maintains its ten-year-old medium gold color for as long as it remains. A wacky wine, a stylistic departure from any Coulˇe I've had before. I'm not sure what to make of it, it's just weird.
The bouillabaise is fresh and spicy and fisheriffic, chock full of lively shrimp, mackerel and racasse. I am given a lesson in bouillabaise protocol. First spread the red pepper/garlic/mayonnaise stuff on the big crouton, then cover the crouton with cheese, then deposit the crouton in the bouillabaise and let it sink. What fun! Jim covets my red pepper/garlic/mayonnaise stuff, but isn't terribly happy when I try and tuck the tin into his pocket. Make up your mind, man!
Then we've got a Fattoria di Felsina Fontalloro 1999. Medium dark garnet color. Smoky cherry-cassis aromatics, rather slick and new-wave in style, glossily wooded and with enough of that internationalism to give Jay pause. It's really more up my Turleyesque alley, coiled and vividly ripe, smoothly oaked, compactly fruited and nicely contained. Short finish is choked off by dark woody notes, but that's no big deal, it's a baby. Not a great deal of character, but very well built and solid red wine, if you don't mind the shiny/woodiness and all (I don't).
Jay is fascinated by the people across from us, who have a pair of double-magnums. We can't identify the wine, but I suspect it's probably something like Franzia Merlot, so I suggest he calm down. Jeff assures him that what we're drinking is better than what they're drinking. He doesn't seem convinced, and I periodically catch him eying them narrowly.
And here's a Fourrier Chambolle-Musigny les Gruenchers 'Vieilles Vigne' 1998. Coiled up tight, gnawing on its own tail, it occasionally pokes its head above the surface and sniffs, but then sinks into ourobourean tautness once again. There are tiny cherry-beety hints, tiny spicy hints, but nothing you can sink your teeth into. HOLD HOLD HOLD.
Now that dinner is over, it's time for some fun. Because it's a matter of public record that I enjoy mystery wine games, the gang has arranged a double-blind tasting, with the only information being that all the wines are made from the same grape. (I've noticed that whenever anybody says that, it's almost always syrah, because there just aren't that many different styles of other grapes.)
We take them on one by one, unveiling as we go...
Mystery Wine I. Medium-dark garnet-black color. Lots of pepper and iodine on the nose, blackberry, smoke and earth. Tastes assertive but rather quiet, matte blackberry fruit laced with sod, pepper and more iodine. Vivid, chewy-sinewy wine, not brand new but on the young side. Finishes with the telltale iodine-dirt-blackberry hum. The mystery grape is clearly syrah, because this is either Graillot Crôzes or a damn good imitation. My guess: Mid-90s Graillot Crôzes-Hermitage. (Alain Graillot Crôzes-Hermitage La Guiraude 1995)
Yes, I actually nail the very first blind wine on this, the celebration of Me Day festivities. Just like a dream, it is. Unfortunately, it turns out that's the only one I'll nail all night. Still, there is much hosannaing and cries of 'It's a miracle! A miracle' and 'He speaks with devils! Burn the witch!'
Mystery Syrah II. Medium-dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Smells of leather and shoyu, blackberry and a touch of mint. Shiraz? No, not enough ripeness, not much stuffing here, watery blackberry fruit. Finishes abruptly, with a tiring sourness in the prefinish. Indistinct, vapid wine. My guess: Michigan syrah? (Jean-Luc Columbo Crôzes-Hermitage le Tuil¸re 1999)
Mystery Syrah III. Medium matte brick-purple color, full of sediment. Smells quiet and earthy, dirt mingled with plum-blackberry. More faded purple dirt in the mouth, medium-light bodied and rather soft, but smallness and lightness helps keep it together. Loosely wrapped, calm and quiet in the middle, quiet finish, a small, quiet wine that is decent in its small, quiet way. My guess: Early-90s Cornas? (Scott-Clark Cellars Syrah Central Valley 'Sherwin-Williams' 2000)
I'm astonished when it's revealed--where did the overwhelming VA get to? Why all this sediment? I had pegged it as at least ten or fifteen years old. Oh well, I got the Graillot though, right?
Mystery Syrah IV. Medium-dark to dark garnet, touch of purpling at the rim. Lots of smoky-blackberry aromas, some fresh-sawn lumber. Plush and chewy, a raspberry-blackberry blanket of warm fruit with a firm acidic core and plenty of toasty-smoky wood. Smooth, ripe and muscular new-wave syrah, possessed of two or three gobs at the very least. My guess: High-end California syrah, probably Napa. Recent Araujo? (Finca Sandoval Manchuela 2001)
Mystery Syrah V. Medium-dark garnet color. Light, redstony nose, cracked peppercorns and raspberry, touch of iodine, honeysuckle hints, charming to smell. Tastes medium-bodied, smooth, small and flavorful; on the lean side, with a certain softness around the edges. Flows smoothly through a pleasantly pepperberried midpalate, finishes silkily, with some light whispery tannins. Small-framed wine, balanced and meaty, with just enough mouthgrab. My guess: Edmunds St. John syrah? (Eric Texier Hermitage 1999)
I like this wine well enough (despite it being bought from Helen Turley as leftovers or something like that) but frankly I don't think it has the character of the good vintages of Texier's Brézème, which cost a third of what this does. Whatever happened to that wine, anyway? It used to be a great deal, but I haven't seen one on the shelves since the '01.
Mystery Syrah VI. Medium red color. Sweetly complex nose, light eucalyptus high notes--soft dark raspberry. Tangy, crisp, a bit hard. Tangy, not terribly dense, a layered, medium-bodied wine, on the lean side but layered and interesting, but ungiving & closed. Slightly rough; in need of time. My guess: I have no goddamn idea. (Michel Ogier Côte-Rôtie 1995)
Mystery Syrah VII. Medium garnet color. Nonchalant nose, easygoing aromatics, touch of black pepper, muted raspberry, smoked meat that gradually turns bacony. Pleasant to taste but rather vague, the flavors are all there but there's a sense of watery diffusion in the middle that is only partially compensated for by a flickery-smoky finish. My guess: a gentler, less consequential Northern Rhône... young St. Joseph? Chave Offerus? (Ferraton Hermitage Les Miaux-Miaux Kitties 1999)
Mystery Syrah VIII. Deep purply-garnet color. Velvety-spicy nose, plum-pepper-blackberry, toastiness, hint of orange rind. Rich to taste, plush and ripe, but quite crisp and spiney. Long licorice purpley-peppery finish. An unreconstructed bigass hootie but one with decent integration & a sense of balance. Might be a bit of VA, but it's well buried under plum-peppery dark fruit--finishes clovey-tarry. Nice: over the top, but cheerfully so. My guess: Australian blockbuster-style wine, but not an Astralis/Marquis Phillips freakshow. Dead Arm with a bit of age? (Jim Barry Shiraz Clare Valley The Armagh 1994)
Mystery Syrah IX. Dark garnet color. Smells spicy, blackberry-plum, earth, shoyu, graphite and old cedar. Touch of something high up, either mint or VA. Dark and matte, ripe and chewy, with tangy red fruit and slightly spiky acidity. Holds together pretty well for such an overstuffed wine, tarry on the finish, but there's a certain lightness on its size-fourteen feet that serves it well; it's aging pretty well. Lots of sediment. My guess: Australia all the way. Early 90s Grange? (D'Arenburg Shiraz McLaren Vale The Dead Arm 1995)
Damn, one wine too late.
I've decided that the key to enjoying these absurdly huge wood-and-jam monsters is to drink them all by themselves, with a big steak, and no Burgundy or other real wine in sight. In the presence of other wines they seem freakish and borderline disgusting, but alone with a big slab of burnt meat and some greasy potato-things they do pretty well. Really, though, this '94 Armagh beats the pants off of the '95, Jay's objections to the contrary notwithstanding.
Mystery Syrah X. Medium garnet color. Quiet nose, light plum and red berry hints. Elegant in the piehole, tangy and light. Blackberry and smoke in the middle. Plumskin. Racy and sternly tannic. Quite balanced, although lightly candied, bit of cherry cough syrup. Tight, closed, but seemingly promising in time. My guess: California syrah? Maybe Ojai? (St. Hallett Blackwell Shiraz Barossa Valley 1996)
Mystery Syrah XI. Medium to medium-dark ruby color, browning just a touch at the rim. Smells of bricky redfruit laced with sweet cedar, truffles and mushroom. Touch of eucalyptus hovers above. Tastes soft, layered and resolved, an ethereal-tasting wine that feels a little tired but still has a lot going on. My guess: '85 Clape Cornas? (Jamet Côte-Rôtie 1988)
Mystery Syrah XII. Corked; TCA, muted bricky redfruit and smoky bacon. My guess: Corked Côte-Rôtie. Gentaz-Dervieux Côte-Rôtie C™te Brune Cuvée Reserve 1986.
Mystery Syrah XIII. Dark purply-garnet color. Rich, meaty nose, dark blackberry-plumskin fruit, hints of smoked meat and black raspberry, traces of eucalyptus. Silky-meaty and balanced, tartly darkfruity, fine glassy tannins aren't bothersome. Balanced, expressive, complex and honest. My guess: Northern Rhône, second-tier Hermitage, maybe late-90s B. Chave? (Edmunds St. John Syrah El Dorado Fenaughty Vineyard 1997)
Wow, good for the ol' U. S. of A. Does California syrah get any better than this? (That's a rhetorical question, by the way; the answer is 'not tonight.')
Mystery Syrah XIV. Pure northern Rhône nose, lots of peppercorns, menthol, blackberry and bacon. A sip, and it's surprisingly accessible; a rather loose wine that's middleweight, crisp and darkly flavorful. A lot of flavor, but seems a bit vague in the middle. Finishes with an iodiney flourish. My guess: '98 Ogier Côte-Rôtie? (Eric Texier Côte-Rôtie Vieilles Vignes 2000)
Mystery Syrah XV. Medium ruby color, ambering lightly at the rim. Smells nice--muted bricky redfruit, mint, eucalyptus and leather. Tastes fully resolved, smooth and fleshy and a bit flaccid. The aromatics are more interesting than the flavors, the wine seems a bit dried out, past its peak. Still, it has a pleasant sense of decay to it. Drink up. My guess: Mid-80s La Chappelle? (Jasmin Côte-Rôtie 1988)
Well, that was a great deal of fun, and a wonderful way to cap off the Chris Coad Appreciation Week festivities. I know the legend will grow about how I nailed the Graillot at first taste, and the misses will be forgotten. I am content with this, the most recent contribution to my mythology.
I wrap things up with the tarte tatin with creme fraiche: servicable, a bit lifeless, but serviceable. I'll go for the mousse next time, that looks good, and bring a Banyuls instead of a Sauternes.
Château Lafon Sauternes 2001. I've brought this along because it's my new favorite cheap Sauternes. Spicy, botrytis-laced pineapple-vanilla-butterscotch nose. Quite sweet and viscous, with enough lemony acidity to keep the mouthfeel bright and crisp. Broad and simple and sweet--far from profound, but a decent everyday Sauternes is worth far more to me than endless processions of overpriced gobfests. Has anyone else noticed that the price of Sauternes has gotten crazy lately? My old favorite Rieussec, which a few years ago cost me like thirty-five bucks, is now around $90. What's up with that? Soon it'll be like Port, just price itself right out of the market. Oh well, if there's one thing that market forces teach us, it's that there's always more wine out there.
Just as I'm sucking down the last of my double espresso and getting ready to hit the road, the restaurant staff dims the lights and brings out a beautiful two-tiered spice cake with WE APPRECIATE CHRID COAD!!! written on it in red frosting. Yes, it says 'Chrid,' but really, it's the thought that counts, and I am overwhelmed, although I could perhaps wish they'd done this before I had dessert. Nevertheless, it's a wonderful gesture, and it turns out that we have one last wine with which to wash our cake down.
Huet Vouvray Le Mont Moëlleux 1953. Medium gold color, tinged with amber, hint of orange at the rim. Prettily and expressively aromatic: quince, tangerine rind, golden honey and leather. A good bottle, more lively than the last few I've tasted. With air the nose spices up, turning pomanderish. A sip, and there's just a bit of sweetness, demisec-plus. The wine is lovely: spicy and layered and long. Almost sings, almost sings. The only thing holding it back is a certain flatness around the core that tells me that even a good bottle of these '53s is probably best drunk up soon, within the next decade or two.
Whew. That's a lot of wine for only four people, and it's with a sense of liver-clenching wooziness that I stagger blindly out into the night, narrowly avoiding death in the street several times. At least I've got much less to carry home than I did coming here. Strangely, the walk home takes me through several neighborhoods that I don't remember from the walk there, and rather than taking fifteen minutes it takes almost three hours. But I finally do get home, which is good. But then Lisa's not home yet, so I eat two-thirds of a bag of stale marshmallows while listening to Tenacious D. tunes, which is slightly more problematic and probably a cry for help.
But then again, who among us hasn't done the same during their own Appreciation Week?