A minyan of orthodox Caprinians gathered one recent winter evening at Angon, in Manhattan's historic East Village district, for a reverent celebration of Robert de Callahan's long awaited passage into manhood.
Mistress Carolyn, goat wrangler extraordinaire, is our hostess this evening. I don't spot her immediately upon our arrival, but as I'm busy gladhanding the assembled geeks I catch sight of an unfamiliar face and attempt to introduce myself. Of course it's Carolyn, who has cunningly chopped off most of her hair in a successful attempt at disguising herself from me. I've french-braided my unruly brunet locks with similar intent, but making my entrance alongside the easily recognizable Lisa has foiled that plan. We greet the assembled geeks with the traditional thrice-hearty baaaa, and take our seats.
Indian food is always a tough match with wine, and part of the fun is to see how the geeks have approached the challenge. Except SFJoe, who in his freewheeling fashion just announces "Oh, I just ignored the food!" Of course, if you have the culinary stature of an SFJoe, you can break the rules with impunity (SFJoe is the only person I know who would have a friend named "Corinne the Mushroom Broker.").
We start the ball rolling with a Treana Marsanne-Viognier Central Coast Mer Soleil Vineyard 2001. Woof, a big floral beastie, tropical-flowery and alarmingly flavorful, not to mention broad, clumsy and spiritous. The label says 14.8% alcohol, so we're in SavenniŹres country, without the focus or finesse. Strangely likeable for all its flaws, a good match with the overspiced papadum--once you have both in your mouth it's hard to tell why your palate is burning, a confusion that necessarily turns in the wine's favor.
Next up is an old friend, a Nikolaihof Riesling Wachau Im Weingebirge Jungfernwein 1999. The virgin wine, still somehow unsullied a few years after the fact. I spot the familiar bottle and blurt "Hey, I almost brought this!" It's true; only the realization that my few remaining bottles are stored off site prevented me from toting this along as well. Anyhoo, this has calmed down considerably in the last few years--the light vinyl is there, but the tropical lilikoi-lime-peachiness has quieted down, the acidity that had seemed sufficient now seems a little shy. Maybe it's time to drink these up, as the vivacity has come down a notch; it's not quite as girlishly compelling as it was a few years ago. But then again, who among us is? Still, there's noticeable sugar here, so Brad de la Kane begins the inevitable WINE OF THE NIGHT jabber that he launches into whenever he happens across a table wine with palpable sugar. This matches nicely with the spicy subcontinental fare and is really quite delicate and pure, but I miss the just-blooming peacockery of its youth. Or peahenery, I suppose, in this case.
I confront Jeff von Connell with the notion that every time I've seen him over the past year I've been told he's leaving town the next day for the wild Northern frontier for good. Is he still a New Yorker now, or what? Or is he perhaps a double agent sent by the repressive junta up North to steal the secrets of our way of life? He reassures me that he is still kosher, at least for a few more days when he closes the sale of his apartment, which he apparently traded for the contents of Marc Ollivier's Winnebago, sight unseen. I decided it's best to not make a scene at this point by reporting him to the homeland security rat line. You know, just for old times' sake.
Here's a Domaine Richaud Cairanne 2001. Creamy smelling, pineapple, vanilla and flint notes. Tastes smooth and pleasantly rich, with moderate acidity. I'm not normally a big fan of white Rh™nes, but this is lovely, elegant and poised, with a lightly viscous mouthfeel, a pleasant waxy-oiliness. Dressner mopes that they can't move it, that it's on sale now at closeout prices. I take heart at his misfortune and pen 'buy more CHEAP' into my notebook. Sadly, by the time I get home it's been smeared and is completely illegible--I can't even figure out the name of the wine--so a golden opportunity is lost.
Carolyn says that she likes to read all the overeducated, zany goings-on here in therapy but has never had the cojones to chime in or even register, fearing mistreatment and mockery. I point out that she's similarly overeducated and zany and would fit right in, but she doesn't seem convinced. Well, I say, I guess it can look pretty insular and rough-and-tumble if you're more familiar with environments that aren't so insular and rough-and-tumble, or if you're just a regular person instead of one of the elect.
SFJoe is baffled by this fearful attitude, "I think we're a bunch of fuzzy teddy bears," he says. "No, really," he explains to blank stares, "Why people run screaming from the place is beyond me." I nod agreement, "Sure we are," I concede, "I was just being faux-conciliatory by saying what I think I heard someone else say they heard someone say on one of those other boards that everyone is always going on about." This concession is greeted with remarkable equanimity, or perhaps bafflement, the two look very similar sometimes.
What's this, a celebratory fizz! Let's toast our horned Cousin-Leduc Saumur Brut NV. Friendly, biscuit-chalky, frothy. 'Very nice' is what I remember, my notes are stained with what looks like vindaloo and give few hints.
Hey, here's the van der Dressner clan, Joe and Denyse and young Malmoëlleux. They're on their way to a friend of Malmoëlleux's birthday party, but are apparently lost and unable to contact her, so they decide to stay and hang with us for awhile.
Let's try a Lucien Boillot Bourgogne 2002. Well hello, this is a friendly little wine. Uncomplicated and happily fruity, a smooth and puppyish little pinot that slaps you on the back and pumps your hand vigorously, hail wino well met! Loose, simple and pleasant, with year or two bottle age this might gamutate to the level of a decent Fleurie or Moulin-‡-Vent.
"Anyone with the first name 'Lucien' is guaranteed to make good wine," says Dressner thoughtfully. We mull this over, nod agreement.
Carolyn, bless her heart, mentions that she found the rant that I posted when our old feline friend Olivia died to be rather affecting. A memory floats unbidden back to the surface: I promised at the time to go 1500 posts without doing it again, and here I am at 3000, having kept my promise to the community. I actually felt a little strange at the time about posting something so self-indulgent, but I figured years of contributing ultra-galvanizing wine writing gave me a brief license to beg the group's patience for a moment with non-wine-related cat-death content. "Oh," she says, "I don't really read the wine stuff, I just skip over that." Yes, a good strategy, most of the wine stuff is pretty lame. We toast absent friends.
Next up are three top cabernet francs, the glory of their times.
Pierre-Jacques Druet Chinon Clos de Danzay 1995. Light, bright aromatics, earthy cran-cherry, mushroom, hint of pine. Tastes lean and easygoing, medium acidity and lightly fleshy sod-laced redfruit. Never the most tightly-wrapped of Druet's '95s, this is taking a slow turn towards charming, secondary goodies beginning to sprout. I spot what looks like another copycat importer label on the back of this bottle, but Denyse assures me it's an authorized beta version of their logo, before they'd settled on the one they have now. Phew, for a minute I was afraid we had another case of logocide.
Young Malmo‘lleux wanders out into the night in search of her party. "You know," says Dressner, "five years ago I'd have worried about letting her leave at ten at night in the East Village," he looks troubled, "these days, it's safe." I see what he's getting at, and decide to poke at it. "Yup, law and order, Giuliani time, cracked some heads, cleaned the place up." He eyes me uneasily, torn between fatherly instincts and revolutionary reflexes. "Yeah, I guess so... I guess... I...." he trails off.
David Lillie meanders in from somewhere. Where'd he come from? Probably some tasting thing or wine thing at Chambers. He's a professional wine guy, you know. He picks up the bottle of Cairanne, "Wow!" he says, "I hear this is on sale for $7.99 at Astor!" Robert laughs aloud.
Wow indeed. I sneak a glance down at my watch: damn, Astor's closed now. Note to self: head over there tomorrow.
Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny le Bourg 1997. Smells warmly cassis-cranberried, ripe and smoky. Smooth, velvety, medium-crisp and dense, a robust wine with no hard edges. Resisting this Bourg is futile. I've not had it since release; it's still a baby, but the new woodiness that was so overt has receded to a quiet toasty background hum, assimilating just as Callahan assured us it would. Damn, he's good. It's no wonder he's been elected Doghead fourteen years running (if you don't count the strike year).
Callahan's caprine brow clouds over, the room darkens. We look around for the source of his wrath, and there it is--Kane is not tasting the Bourg properly! "You're not paying attention to it!" Callahan snaps.
"I tasted it," Kane protests.
"No," says Callahan, "you just did this" he raises his glass to his nose, makes a squinchy face, "and threw it out. Listen to the wine, Braaa-aa-aa-d!"
Kane, chastened, agrees to taste the wine again, properly. Posterity does not record his further reactions.
Clark-Scott Cabernet Franc Finger Lakes 'Bluegill' 2002. Medium-pale garnet color. Lightly smoky-funky note, I'd swear this wine saw some wood, although I know that it saw none. Hint of volatility and dirt, a bright, light little wine that has no heft whatsoever. Winsomely underripe and cheerfully cherried, it isn't quite the equal of the Clos Rougeard. You know, I'd never noticed that, if you're drunk enough, 'Bluegill' sounds kind of like someone mispronouncing 'Bourgueil.' Funny, the things you notice if you're drunk enough, isn't it?
We discuss who's more interesting in life than on the internet. Doghead insists everyone is more interesting in real life, but SFJoe and I argue that we're exceptions to that rule, being more interesting on the internet than in person.
Callahan waves a cloven hoof dismissively at these notions, accusing me of not having a wacky internet character, or any internet character at all, which momentarily flummoxes me. "I am the narrator," I aver, "I am Boswell."
"No, you're not," says Robert.
"You'd probably have to be stepping out a bit more," says SFJoe.
Yeah, I guess so, okay whatever, frickin' literalists. "The voice comes through!" I stammer, "The narrator insinuates his persona through the narrative, allowing the audience to sense a character gradually, not be bludgeoned by it in the manner of the traditional internet wine boob." The fact that I've put this much thought into it worries me deeply, not to mention the fact that here I am quoting myself too much, intruding on my own narrative, and I grow silent from here on in.
Heh hehuhuh hn hn. I said "boob." Heh hhehh hnn hhuhuh...
The subject of MP3 players comes up, and Lisa and I both jump in feet-first, singing the praises of our IPods, which are really cool. Lisa tells the story of her having some software problems with her first Pod, but then when she took it into the Apple store, they just gave her another one! Dressner, troubled, confesses that he stole an IPod last week--"What, a ten-gig? Twenty-gig?" I demand. "No, only five gigs," he says. "Pffft," I explain.
A duet of birthyear wines, first a Lopez de Heredia Viña Bosconia Rioja Gran Reserva 1964. Medium to medium-pale ruby, bricking at the rim. Quiet, expressive aromatics, beguiling to smell, evocative of old houses, storage closets, attics--cedar and balsamic hints, traces of espresso grounds and old saddle leather, dried cherries in mud. Tastes muted and pretty, vibrant at the core, feathering out to soothingly loose edges. A sip, and it's a placid little wine, light and calm everywhere but at the core, where the acidity is bright enough to keep the mouthfeel lively. But the muted bricky redfruit that wraps around the center settles on my tongue like an early snowfall, quiet and calming. Lovely, not vivid or knock-you-down complex, just charming.
I'm not sure why, but Kane is making faces and moaning something about graveyard dirt. I choose not to engage, but he's sitting next to me, so he's hard to ignore. Still, I manage.
Next is a Lopez de Heredia Viña Bosconia Rioja (Crianza?) 1964. This second bottle has no reserva designation on the label at all, so 'tis widely assumed to be a Crianza. It's more advanced, balsamic and cedar hints, a touch of scorched shoyu, muted cherry fruit laced with crushed brick earthiness. It seems a little more tired, flatter in the middle, leafier; impaired but still rather charming in a somewhat broken-down fashion. Kane is whining and groaning theatrically, rolling his eyes and making gagging sounds, but you know how he is. Sure, it's not as fresh as a daisy, but I'd drink it any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
The two birthday cakes (carrot and chocolate) read "Happy Birthday Doghead" and "Happy Birthday Goatboy." As we sing the traditional invocation of happiness, I can only wonder at the baker's thoughts when this order was phoned in. Then again, Manhattan bakers are probably like LA coroners--they've seen it all.
Huet Vouvray Le Mont Moëlleux 1971. Medium gold color, just a hint of ambering towards the rim. Richly aromatic, calm and mellow smelling layers of lemon-quince, flint and pollen notes down deep, flecks of orange rind up high, traces of hay-botrytis spiciness above that. Tastes medium sweet, there's a weight to the midpalate of this wine that gives it more substance than the demisec version but also keeps it more earthbound, chunkier. But oh, the finish is ever so delightfully flickery-ticklish on my tongue
Lisa claims to be able to mimic my tasting note style to a T, to the point of finding some old notes she'd written and not being sure if they were hers or mine. SFJoe claims that everything good he's written he stole from me. I fess up that everything good I've written I stole from Callahan, and so we're back at the fundamental source once again.
Huet Vouvray Clos du Bourg Moëlleux 1ere Trie 2002. Medium-pale lemon-straw color. Smells bright and rather shy, quiet lemon/underripe-pineapple yellowfruit, minerals, paraffin, not much botrytis in evidence. Tastes pure and crystalline, taut and finely-honed. I've grown used to drinking the last round of 1ere Trie wines, the '97s, and this is racier than those: not as sweet, less botrytis. Atypically delicate Bourg, more in the mold of the '96s, but even sleeker, like speed-skating a frozen lake on a breezy day.
Kane grouses that the '02 Foreau moëlleux is "better," by which I suppose he means sweeter.
One last Huet-based toast to Robert's coming of age, and then it's time to frappé la rue. We all mill about, not eager to disband just yet. I wander out into the street leaving my bag behind, but a drunken revelation that I have nothing in my hand prompts me to race back into the restaurant and collect if from under my chair.
Relieved, Lisa and I amble towards the subway, but Carolyn pulls me aside and presses something into my hand. I stare down: a plain white envelope stuffed with twenty-dollar bills.... What the...? She leans in close, whispers "For the writeup... Make it an exclusive."--none of that Florida Jim stuff." She give me a meaningful look, puts a finger aside her nose, nudges me in the ribs, and winks broadly. I swallow hard and nod, and just like that she and Robert are gone, the trip-trap of receding heels and hoofs echoing off building facades.
"I will," I say to their retreating backs, "I will...."
And I do. Well, until now.