Please, let's keep this between us.
Truth is, if word of this got out there would be hell to pay. I'll try to be as straightforward as I can without compromising my associates' trust, but there may be some blanks that you'll have to fill in yourselves, so I must beg your indulgence.
Here's how it went down; I only am escaped alone to tell you...
Several noted wine lovers, some of whom may or may not have been well known political or entertainment industry figures, rendezvoused at a nondescript colonial-style home somewhere in the suburbs of a populous Northeastern state for the purpose of a discreet jeebus. I hope the reader will understand the need for discretion, as publicity is the last thing my associates desire when they are at play.
Our host for the evening, whom I shall call "M. Armande," is a fine figure of a man, dashing and youthful-seeming, given to flamboyant footwear and self-deprecating humor. His wife, who prefers to be referred to simply as "Mme. Rouge," regularly cuts a swath through the musty tiers of high society and is a heavy hitter in the cutthroat world of high fashion. Together they have set up the ideal pied-a-terre for many of our publicity-shy compatriots to gather, far from from the intrusive and burdensome spotlight that is the public eye.
My companion (whom I shall refer to as "Lisa") and I had failed in our attempt to conduct some important business of an undisclosed nature in the City of New York. Running our usual hour or two behind schedule due to some automobile trouble which I am not at liberty to discuss, we arrived at the location of the event in a state of nervous exhaustion to find a small but cheerful gathering of wine lovers enjoying a well deserved respite from the cares of the world.
Some discreet wines are poured immediately for the enjoyment of all. Here's a Domaine de Roally Mâcon-Montbellet Cuvéee Tradition 1998 and it's a bright, light mouthful of what might or might not be chardonnay, with an airy-rainwatery nose that offers up hints of hay and displays a light tropicality. Lean and bright in the mouth, a crisp, racy wine with a silky buttered-apple edge. Quite pleasant for a wine that both displays and offers up, showing a bit more follow-through than the last time I had it. This wine is a particular favorite of a fellow that I shall call "M. Reynard," who, along with his foreign-born lady companion, is apparently quite familiar with many of these wines and is not at all reluctant to show it, holding forth at great length about various crackpot theories of winemaking. The groundlings eat up this claptrap, but I smell a snake oil salesman.
Another wine is praised from afar by a rather intense redheaded man whom I can only refer to as "Carlos the Marmot," whose presence I can neither confirm nor deny (although, if pressed, I will deny it). It's a Gerard Schueller Pinot Blanc Alsace 1998, a pale straw-gold wine with a brightly floral nose, honeysuckle, white and yellow flowers. Tastes big, lightly white-honey creamy on my tongue, taking on a slight waxiness as it goes down and finishing tangily lemon-floral. Neither weighty nor unctuous, pinot blanc on a large scale with good balance and bright flavors, quite pleasant.
Not so pleasant is a Scott-Clark Cellars Muscat Central Coast 2000 (barrel sample). This wine may be going through an awkward phase, but the quick declaration of "Shellac!" by "Mme. Reynard" sums it up pretty well--there are strange plastic-chemical notes over the slightly brownish appley muscat fruit. A dry muscat is an odd duck anyway and this producer is known for taking chances, but this may be a failed experiment, although I'll be curious to taste it from bottle once it's a finished product.
Next up is a Fox Run Riesling Finger Lakes 1998: Almost clear color, light hints of beanbag chair and white honey, the nose is soft and quiet. Tastes light, slightly tangy and smooth, a quaffable wine that's a bit soft and not very complex but goes down easily and has some insubstantial tangy fruit. Edgeless, drinkable.
Suddenly our hostess is in our midst, beckoning urgently to our host to come to the telephone. There is a moment of tension and all conversation ceases as the guests eye one another uncertainly. Who could have gotten this number? Through the half-open door we can hear only snatches of strained small talk as the minutes tick away. Our host returns and smiles tightly as if to say 'no problem,' but it is clear that he is disconcerted; can someone in the media have been tipped off? He grabs the first bottle he sees and pours some J.J. Christoffel Erben Riesling Erdener Treppchen Kabinett 1998 a bit too rapidly, spilling some on his previously noted flamboyant footwear. Compared the Fox Run, this is riesling done right, with an airy lime-mineral nose; when you sip this one you know you've tasted something--the crisp acidity dives right under your tongue and squeezes your glands, followed by a pleasantly light hint of sweetness and finishing with a lemon-limey hum. Racy, strong and light, this J.J. is Dy-No-Mite.
Why not give a Domaine Clavel Coteaux du Languedoc Les Garrigues 1995 a try? Let's see, it smells great, red berry fruit, leather, freshly-turned earth. Tastes crisp and rich at first, veers disturbingly towards bitterness in the midpalate and finishes with a mess of tannins. Odd combination--I keep smelling it and thinking it's going to be tasty, but when I sip there it goes again, a burst of rich earthy red fruit that drives off the cliff halfway down the mountain and leaves me grimacing quizzically, something I don't usually like to do on such short notice.
Suddenly there is a flash of fur and the scuttling of tiny claws underneath my chair; I instinctively jerk my feet off the floor, but it's only the tiniest dog you've ever seen in your life, apparently the constant companion of a lithe young woman that I shall, for purposes of this narrative, refer to as "Mme. Terpsichore." I believe that there was some kind of a scuffle between her and "M. Reynard" earlier in the evening, but the details are unclear and I feel it would be a breach of etiquette to pry further. The dog is a toy Yorkshire terrier, quite light-bodied but very demonstrative; nimble, with a strong spine and well delineated hints of earth and wet fur--a small-scale success. I have been instructed to refer to him as "Mr. Badger."
The following is a wine that I can personally assert was not present, despite anything you may have heard to the contrary. Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1993 catches me napping: a rich, restrained nose with a strong gravelly-graphite streak under earthy dark red cassis fruit, this wine intrigues me with its rocky layers under dark redness. Crisp and grabby in the mouth, with some interesting complexity and balance; as it slips towards the finish line some light oregano hints join the graphite streak and strong fine tannins well up and bang around. I like this much more than I had expected to; it has balance and strength in good proportion, and although it's got some hard tannins there is plenty of other stuff going on to make up for it. Don't be in a hurry with this one, it may have some interesting times ahead. Very good, balanced Napa cab that would have gone very nicely with "M. Armande's" bloody-rare grilled steaks if it had in fact been present.
Instead we drink a Storr's Petite Sirah Santa Cruz Mountains 1996, and it's a dark wine, smelling of rich darkly ripe blackberry-plum fruit laced with espresso. "M. Reynard" takes a sniff and immediately declares that it makes his knees hurt, but I'm more forgiving of large new world wines than my associates, and it seems a big, exuberantly tarry-smoky wine to me, rich and dense and purply-black, nicely integrated into a chewy package that has cheerfully rough edges. I'm fond of Storrs's petite sirahs, but the smokiness, the not-quite-jammy ripeness and the lack of discretion put the europhiles off their kibble.
They come right back, though, with yet another of the wines that have lately been the subject of advertising hype in the mass media and elsewhere, a Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny Le Bourg 1997. This is the big brother of the Poyeaux that I had a few weeks ago under less sensitive circumstances, another product of the quasi-legendary Fréres Foucault, but the pendulum swings in a new direction as this comes off as being more new-oaky than its sibling, with vanilla and toasty-char notes hanging out across the dance floor from the dense rocky red tobacco-edged fruit; too young and shy to boogie just yet. There is an aura of strength and coiled tensile power here, but it's not nearly as friendly in its youth as the Poyeaux. This Bourg needs time to assimilate, after which resistance will undoubtedly prove futile. Drink May-October 2026.
The cabernet franc diagonal continues with a Standing Stone Vineyard Cabernet Franc Finger Lakes 1998: At first this wine has no perceptible nose; later on I realize that's a blessing, as gradually the scent of boiled cranberries makes itself known, with a slight green streak that has "M. Reynard" crying out "Stewed celery, by cracky!" to which "Mme. Reynard" responds "Have you ever stewed celery in your life?" Underneath that is a balanced, tangy wine, with tart smoky cran-cherry fruit that is entirely one-noteish but by no means unpleasant. There's no complexity, but apart from the nose it's almost drinkable.
Next up is a Château d'Oupia Minervois Les Barons 'Stained Label Cuvéee' 1998; I am told only a few cases of the top-of-the-line Oupia SLC make it to these shores, so I pay close attention. I sniff at it: the nose is light, quiet suggestions of dark earthy raspberry but not much else. Aromatically a little inert. I taste it, and it's strong-spined and lean and a bit hard in my mouth. There's dense, racy fruit here in a lean-bodied base, but it's tart and stern at this point, and it finishes with a flurry of tannins. Closed and aggressive, too young and tight to drink now. I fear I won't live long enough for this one to come around.
I pause to marvel at the hand-etched bamboo toothpicks provided as souvenirs--each one bearing a pertinent message along its length to the guest to whom it is given. I peer at mine and read in tiny, tiny print the legends "Look before you leap" on one side, and "He who hesitates is lost" on the other. I have no idea what this means, and I probably shouldn't be telling you anyway, it's just that I've had a few glasses of wine and I'm feeling chummy. That's not bad, is it? I mean, you still like me, don't you?
I um, that is... I ...
You do, right?
No, no, don't even answer--it's just the wine talking. I've probably had enough.
Theoretically speaking, of course. Duty requires me to soldier on.
Anyway, here's a Château de Pez St. Estèphe 1990: Medium-dark garnet color. There's a hint of herbaceousness, lots of graphite-backed blackcurrant underneath, silky-smelling and smooth. A sip, and it's a rich, crisp wine with some pleasant layers of flavor, not deep or dense but nice stuff. We pause for a moment and reflect on the pleasure that a good claret brings with it.
After the Bordeaux of course is the traditional Beaujolais chaser, a Domaine du Vissoux Fleurie Les Garants 1999. There are whispered rumors that Jeff Connell has been trashing this wine all over the internet, ruthlessly calling it 'simple,' but frankly I don't give them any credence. Smells sweetly strawberry-plummy, with dark tarry undersmells. I taste it, and there's a good thrust of rich fruit through the midpalate, a prettily balanced wine with a dark core of silky-smooth strength and a bit of fruity babyfat.
Suddenly looming out of the crowd is a familiar figure, a man who works with Lisa, whom I shall refer to as "Jeffrey Vandersomethingorother." He seems to have a bone to pick with my tasting notes, snatching my notebook and claiming loudly to all who will listen that I plant subliminal and not-so-subliminal sex talk in them. "What's this?" he crows excitedly, poring over my scrawly handwriting, "...'a good thrust of rich fruit'? ...'squeezes your glands'? ...'too young and tight'? ...'a bit hard in my mouth'? My god, man, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!"
I attempt somewhat haltingly to explain that the cited phrases are examples of perfectly innocuous winegeek jargon, but he'll have none of it, and I sense the crowd beginning to turn on me. Things are taking a quick slide towards the ugly when just in the nick of time something terribly dramatic and even quite shocking happens that saves me from a sound thrashing at the hands of an outraged citizenry and involves keeping several of the attendees up way past their bedtimes; I'd normally be more than willing to give you, dear reader, all of the pertinent details of this exciting twist in the evening's drama, but I think you are aware by now of the need for discretion and will understand if I ring down the curtain and allow the principals to flee the stage unmolested. Really, it's better for everyone that way.
Remember though, let's just keep this whole evening's events between ourselves. You understand? Otherwise the fallout could be substantial. I'll deny everything, of course.
You didn't hear it from me, right?
We understand each other, don't we?
We do, right?
I'm just making sure.
It's just that it's hard to be certain. You know how it is.
Fine. We're set.