These days I wake up and check CNN to see if anything else around here has exploded or been declared pestilent. I turn CNN off at 5 a.m. having made sure none of these potential attacks we're continually being warned to be on a 'High State of Alert' for has come to pass. All the bridges still standing out west? Good, time for bed. In between I open bottles, close bottles, open more bottles.
Week One: Shock--No Wine, No Notes.
The voice of Aaron Brown, who used to be my very best friend when he was one of the original anchors of ABC World News Now (at 3 a.m.), sustains me as I drift in and out of sleep on the couch.
One night, when I hear him say this:
"In other news from the southern stronghold of Kandahar, a spokesman for Mullah Omar reports that the reclusive Taliban leader continues to be amazed that numerous American wine critics routinely give outstanding ratings to wines that he finds almost undrinkable..."
then I know that it's time to start drinking again.
Week Two: Life is Short, Let's Drink the Good Stuff
The coverage of the not necessarily Iverson-related war continues apace. But the little voice in my head tells me that if I don't continue to drink and take silly tasting notes, the terrorists win. I'd take this little voice more seriously if it didn't pronounce 'nuclear' nook-yuh-ler, but these are desperate times and desperate times call for desperate measures.
Huet Vouvray Petillant Demi-Sec 1964: Medium to medium light gold color. Warm yellow-brown honeyed nose. Smells great, lemon-pollen and wax. Tastes crisp and lean, sharp and not as rich as the nose suggests at first, the upfront hard edges growing a velvety skin as they surge through the midpalate, finishing with a feathered flurry of earthy-mineral layers. Very lightly fizzy, very nice to smell, a bit lean to drink. Lisa brought this home from a night out on the town somewhere, perhaps it was better freshly opened.
Domaine de Chevalier Graves 1962: Pale straw-gold. Light buttery-flinty, lush, honeysuckle, sings with extravagant, complex--buttery-pineapple-vanilla aromas. Tangy, tangy-crisp, with a finish that goes on and on--young and rich. The wine evanesces on the tongue and fills the inside of my skull--tangy lemon-creamy hints--balance, integration, harmony, youth. I am put in mind of a dry Sauternes with no botrytis. I was poured this blind and got the wine, but was twenty+ years late on the vintage. Extraordinary, profound. One whirring clockwork Prong made of shining silver and polished brass, ticking over relentlessly as the years pass, caring nothing for the works of man.
Domaine Dujac Clos de la Roche 1985: Muddy matte ruby color, full of sediment and ambering slightly at the rim. Smells of baked bricks with a hint of baked yam that puts me in mind of a well-aged Rhône. Fairly low-acid, smoothly warm and velvety in the piehole. Tangy fruit wells up in the midpalate, turns more muted on the cherry-yammy finish. A fleshy wine, seems prematurely old, but still quite decent, if gobbier than I like my burgs to be.
Domaine Dujac Clos de la Roche 1988: Opened alongside the '85, this hasn't the sense of development that the older bottle has. It's a similer matte ruby color, but there is no ambering at the rim. Quiet nose, many layers of aroma--earthy, leafy notes and beety dark red fruit. Much more closed on the palate than its older sibling, despite a similar low-acid fleshy quality that speaks more to texture than to the quality of fruit. Comes at you smoothly and quietly at first and seems to have great promise, then just kind of rolls over and doesn't give much away. Puzzling. Two small wax Prongs hidden under a bedsheet, then placed outside in the sun on a warm summer's day.
Joseph Roty Bourgogne Cuvée de Pressonier 1993: Medium ruby color, just the beginnings of bricking at the rim. Light but layered in the noseholes, hints of tea, muted cherry-raspberry redfruit and clovey underbrush. Ethereal on the tongue, light but supple fruit wavers slightly out of focus in the middle, then rallies and finishes sweetly and earthily, albeit with a pulse of strong fine tannins. Not a lot of stuffing or great complexity, but a very pleasurable little wine that goes down easily. Five and a half parchment Prongs set on a base of woven dried reeds and dusted with commercial potting soil. I'd drink 'em up sooner rather than later.
Château Curé Bon La Madeleine St. Emilion 1979: Medium muddy ruby color. Light, layered nose, hints of soft mint, tobacco and black olive over soft redfruit that has faded into smelling like dirt. Tastes brownish-red, somewhat thin and faded but still hanging in gamely, finishing with a coppery-earthy hum. An old soldier on its last campaign; drink up.
Week Three: Renewed Patriotism
I must have some American wines somewhere, right? Really, there must be some tucked away in the back of the storage unit, maybe things I bought a few years ago and forgot about. Hurry, though--Christiane Amanpour is on now, mustn't miss her.
Ah, here's a Beringer Chardonnay Napa Valley Private Reserve 1996: Medium gold color, like a twenty-year-old Sauternes. The once creamy pear/apple fruit has fallen away almost entirely, leaving a mess of wood-toast flavors. What fruit is left has flattened out and turned marmaladey; the formerly round leesy mouthfeel has collapsed like yesterday's soufflŽ. On release, this was quite drinkable if you don't mind a big gooey-oaky style of chardonnay; four years later it has become a geriatric ruin of a wine. Appalling. I begin to hyperventilate. Can a country that makes a wine like this defeat a ruthless and determined enemy?
But after a moment's reflection I realize that there isn't necessarily a correlation between military and vinous success. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case, so I relax.
Harlan Estate Proprietary Wine Napa Valley 1992: Sweet cedary, old bookbinding hints over a base of tobacco-flecked dark cassis, with just a hint of oregano herbiness. Richly flavored thrust of fruit that spreads out in the midpalate with some roughness at the edges. Never my favorite Harlan, this has a lot going on but is showing some hints of fraying at the seams, the tannins seeming harsher than I remember. Lisa digs it though, which is good enough for me. A solid three leatherbound Prongs on the top shelf of a law library in a hundred-partner firm in midtown.
Gallo of Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Barelli Creek Vineyard 1997: Dark cassis and shoe polish smokiness on the nose. Nice balance, crisp spine, tangy rich vein of dark, slightly tense red and black fruit and plenty of almost but not quite integrated smoky oak. Very pleasant up until the finish, which fades in a flurry of astringent wood tannins. I was prepared to dislike this wine, but was pleasantly surprised to find a fairly elegant, well made cabernet that holds its good dose of oak nicely and with restraint. Score one for the industrialists.
Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 1999: Simple soft redfruit nose. Simple soft redfruit taste. Clean, two-dimensional wine with good balance and some friendly loosely wrapped red fruit. No finish and no real character, but it's cohesive and not overwooded. A wine that knows its place and doesn't aspire to be more than a decent burger wine. And it is.
Ridge Vineyards Geyserville California 1999: Robust nose, peppery dark berry, smoke and vanilla. More robust than the light '98, lacks the suppleness of the '96, more in the mold of the rougher '97, only this is tighter and more closed now, less bumptious. Rich, concentrated core of fruit, overt oak running at right angles to the fruit, needs a few years to calm down and come together. A lot of potential here, flashes of finesse and power wrapped up tight. Hold until mid-May of 2006.
Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Lytton Springs 1999: Smells more cohesive than the Geyserville, smooth and velvety and smoky-red, the wood better integrated and the red fruit looser and more seductive. A rich, silky Lytton Springs with a deep dark core of fruit, drinking very well now. Delicious, slightly slatternly zin, its lipstick a mess and its stockings all ahoo.
I think I've just finished off the last of my U.S. wines on premises. Must hang on until my allocations of Turley and Scott-Clark arrive. Reinforcements!
Week Four: Belt-Tightening
Sacrifices must be made in time of national emergency. Everything under $20...
Gerard Schueller Pinot Blanc Alsace 1998: Pale gold. Brightly floral nose, honeysuckle, white and yellow flowers. An effusive wine, lightly creamy/waxy-floral. Balanced and whole, lightly white-honeyed and creamy in the midpalate, tangy lemon-floral finish. No wimpy pinot blanc here, this is a big, happy wine.
Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet Coteaux du Languedoc 1999: Pale lemon-gold color. Lightly tropical nose, pineapple hints with a mineral undertone, traces of wax , lanolin. The wine has some weight and density, a slightly oily mouthfeel, not unctuous, just a hint of mineral oil. Plenty of flavor, crisp and tangy fruit that finishes not much at all but has a friendly, amiable quality while it lasts. A pleasant little wine with some interesting nuances.
Groot Constantia Cabernet Sauvignon Constantia 1999: Medium garnet. Smells lightly shoe-polishey, with green peppers and matte red currant fruit that is a little too tart and shrill. A medium-light wine with a watery midpalate and a general diffuse quality, it drops off a cliff on the finish, leaving a flurry of fine drying tannins. Drinkable in a pinch, but not very enjoyable.
Does anyone else find Kamal Hyder to be a dashing, rough-hewn figure of a man? He's got me under his war correspondent spell.
Château Bouscassé Madiran 1997: Blackberry and Band-Aids on the nose along with a light patina of poopiness. Crisp and well-stuffed, it's wrapped very tight and it's rather abrasive at the moment, the tarry red-limned blackfruit tied up with the stern acidic core and the swarm of rough tannins that comes with the tannat territory. After a day of air it's showing minute signs of loosening up, but it's harsher now than the past few vintages have been in their youth, liquid sandpaper, a problem child. Hold. Then hold some more. Then, if you get sick of holding, drink with goat jerky.
Domaine Rabasse-Charavin (Corinne Couturier) Côtes du Rhône Villages 1998: .sasha forced us to buy a case of this wine at gunpoint. Sadly, it seems to have all vanished. Familiar quiet raspberry-smoky nose, meaty-smelling and ripe. Slightly roughish in the piehole, a chewily darkfruity mouthful. Seems softer than it is because of the slutty-plush fruit, but there's enough spine to do the trick. Gulp, gulp, gulp. Oops, another bottle has vanished.
Domaine Rabasse-Charavin (Corinne Couturier) Cairanne Côtes du Rhône Villages Cuvée D'Estevenas 1998: The flagship wine. Riper and gobbier than the '97, this is clearly slouching towards hootiedom. Big tarry-ripe berrylicious nose, a taste gives you a rush of warm dark cherry-berry fruit suffused with smokiness, old leather hints and tarry bass notes. The midpalate surges past, rough and boisterously dense--a barroom brawler of a wine. Hasn't the balance of the last release but it's got more stuffing and more muscle, not to mention the love handles that cushion the roughness as it flows past. This divides the company, Ms. Amanpour thinks it a bit much, but I like it.
Week Five: Return to Normalcy
I'm worried about Matthew Chance. He just seems so... white bready to be walking around in the scrub with the United Front. (Matthew has taught me that it's cool to call the Northern Alliance the United Front because that's what they call themselves). It looks like he's dyed his hair darker, which helps a bit.
Domaine Schoffit Gewürztraminer Alsace Cuvée Caroline 97: Really boisterous sweet-smelling lychee nose just leaps right out of the glass and into my nasal passages, lychee syrup up the wazoo. A taste, and the sweetness in the nose is belied by a surprisingly dry wine, weighty and well oiled but with a certain elephantine balletic grace. All the usual gewürz goodies are accompanied by a light but clearly defined mineral streak that surfaces immediately after the first wave of fruit and lingers through the finish. Somewhat overdone, but memorable and fun. Three colorfully decorated red plastic and papier-mâché Prongs with lit sparklers stuck in them, dusted lightly with confectioner's sugar and sprayed with Shalimar eau de toilette.
Château Pontet-Canet Pauillac 1997: Lightly tobacco-cedar nose, cigarbox, calm redfruit and oregano. Smooth, balanced and medium-lean, an easygoing wine without much stuffing and only vague mouthgrab. Fine for drinking now, although after '94-'96 this seems like Pontet-Canet Lite.
Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz South Australia Bin 389 1998: Medium-dark to dark garnet color. Plumskin and blackberry jam on the nose, smells more of shiraz than cab. Rather weighty mouthfeel, fat black earthy fruit with spiky acidity, finishing with gritty-sandy harsh tannins. Bit disjointed, bit medicinal--not up to past efforts, but not objectionable. Six small gelatin Prongs arranged in the shape of a pentagram, the largest in the middle being on a small raised wooden dais or platform, while the entire arrangement rests somewhat haphazardly on a tarnished metal breakfast tray.
At some point, lulled by the melodious voice of Wolf Blitzer, I drift off into a fitful sleep on the couch. As he often does, gentleman vigneron Jeff Connell comes to me in my dreams in the form of a badger. He has three glasses of wine. I'm not sure how he's holding three glasses of wine in his badger paws, but there you are. He smiles benevolently and hands me the first, a Baudry Chinon La Croix Boissée 90. This wine hasn't budged much in years, perhaps turning a shade silkier, but it's still a very young-seeming wine, dark and primary cranberry-leather-plumskin smells. Tastes solid and racy, the rich red fruit comes at you slyly at first, then as it races through the midpalate a minerally streak surfaces, then submerges again as the finish blooms with a tobaccoey hum. Very very tasty, still in need of much time to sleep.
(On a side note, the recent brouhaha over Dean 'Loire Schnauzer' Delahanty's revising the 1990 vintage in the Loire down from 61 to 43 Wags seems even crazier after the example of how marvellously this one is aging. Another data point to reflect that if 1990 isn't a 65+ Wag vintage for red Loires, I don't know what is.)
Mr. Connell's second offering is a Baudry Chinon La Croix Boissée 97, and it's delightfully aromatic, redolent of plum and cranberry, suffused with dark tobacco aromas. Tastes quieter than it smells, a firm core of fruit balanced by supportive but not aggressive acidity. The overall feeling is of a strong, friendly wine that is a bit shy and on the hard side.
Finally he thrusts the third glass into my hand. "What is the difference between this wine and the last one?" he chitters leadingly in his gruff badger voice. I smell it, taste it, choose my words carefully.
"It's quieter on the nose, giving much less, but richer and fuller on the palate, friendlier," I say, hoping to gain his approval lest he savage me with those lethal-looking claws. He smiles cryptically and nods, then leans closer, whiskers brushing my face. "It's the same wine from two bottles," he says. "The second one has been sitting in my glass airing out for a few hours, while the first one has just been opened. Are there any grubs down here?"
I must have looked astonished at this last question, for he begins to growl and starts to gnaw on my feet. I awaken in a cold sweat to relievedly discover that the foot-chewing culprit is merely one of the mundane indigenous felines.
Château Guiraud Sauternes 1990: Extravagant nose, so botrytisy-tropical, rich over the top pineapple-apricot-vanilla-marmalade-cream-hay. Lush tasting, weighty and dense and stacked, with a firm corset of rigid structure to keep the pillowiness in check. Quite sweet, quite crisp. BIG! Honeyed & vanilla-cream soda woody finish Nice, rich, dense. Two bodacious Prongs straining the gold-lamé laces of a Merry Widow.
It seems Wolf Blitzer has given way to a general who keeps using the phrase "A world of hurt." I am puzzled, but as the Taliban goons collapse like a Beringer chardonnay I fluff the pillows and settle in for the night.
Good night, Aaron. Good night, Wolf. Good night, Kamal and Matthew and Christiane and James Earl, and the rest.
I'll see you all again soon.