Fear. Disorganization. Breath coming in shallow gasps.
How could I have forgotten to buy cream? Why didn't I get one more papaya? The hallway smells like catbox, and not in a good-sauvignon kind of way. My god, I've forgotten to take the compromising pictures of Lisa off my screen saver, and I've got two pounds of shrimp to clean, and the dough is taking too long to rise because it's too damn cold in the kitchen, and I haven't vacuumed and I still have to take a shower and people are arriving in forty minutes! AaaAAUUUGH!
For reasons that at the moment seem increasingly remote and perplexing, I've volunteered to serve as the host for this weekend's 'Everybody's Out of Town' Jeebus, the heir to the 'Let's All Show Up at Eden's House and See If We Can Make Her Cook for Us' Jeebus, which in turn was the heir to the 'Kane Has Yet Another Dead Savennières He Wants to Inflict on Us' Jeebus. It has somehow slipped my mind that Lisa is going to be in Atlanta at some AMA shindig, so I'm on my own. You see, I've inexplicably overestimated my organizational skills, and the gaping fissures in the facade can be hidden no longer.
Uxor Ex Machina: Miraculously, Lisa, sensing the desperation in my voice, has raced to the airport to grab an early flight home. She arrives minutes before H-Hour, just in time to interrupt me in the act of racing from room to room chittering like a gibbon. She gently redirects me to the kitchen and takes over the tidying duties, allowing me to take a step back from the gauzy edge of hyperventilation.
The doorbuzzer shrieks, the cat bolts under the bed, why here's the ever-punctual Jay Miller, taking punctuality one step too far tonight by arriving early. I resist the urge to bite his leg like an angry badger, and instead jam a flute full of Domaine du Clos Naudin/Foreau Vouvray Brut Reserve 1995 into his all-too-punctual hand. Haven't checked back with this bubbly in a few years, let's see... breathe, don't forget to breathe. Medium-light straw-gold color, finely and effusively fizzy. Lots of chalk and lemon-quince in the nose. Tight, almost puckery acidity, deep mineral-laced flavors, a lovely combination of substantiality counterbalanced by fizziness, still fairly young and taut, but very pleasing. Probably needs another decade before it begins to really hit its stride, but it's deep and bright and young tonight.
The buzzer wails again, the cat streaks under the sofa, and here's the reclusive Andrew Scott-Munro and longtime companion Jennifer Clark-Munro. Andrew's got his red party shoes on--looks like it's time to party like Thomas Hardy!
When it's time to relax, one wine stands clear, the Clos de la Coulée de Serrant Savennières-Coulée de Serrant 1995. Medium-light gold color. Richly aromatic, wet wool, quince and a good dash of honey, along with some lightly oxidative apple-juicy notes. Tastes muted, flavorful and quiet, with good heft and bright acidity but with a flatness in the middle, a dried-flower-infused baked-apple streak that leaves it lacking vibrancy. A broad, sprawling wine that has decent cohesion but not exactly laserlike focus. This seems to be aging with the peculiar rapidity that we saw recently in the '96 as well. Drink up.
If it's Coulée time it's time for itty-bitty pizzas with prosciutto and yellow pepper. I hand the tray to Andrew to serve, he takes them in, passes them around, then claims he made them himself and just heated them up now. As goat is my witness, he'll pay for this, and dearly too. As soon as I've got the bisque ready, that is.
Francois Chidaine Montlouis Clos Habert 2002. Pale lemon-straw color. Just a shade off dry, sec-tendre. Really lovely stuff, a bit quieter now than it was on release, not so happily orange-creamy. We debate the wisdom of aging this wine, so delightful now. It hasn't the blazing purity and sheer tensile strength of the '02 Huets, the whiff of the immortal, but it has more grace and charm in its youth, and similar completeness in a smaller amplitude. I am entranced, and unilaterally declare it the wine of the vintage, at least tonight, in my glass. Jay just smiles and says "Ooh, the '03 is such a waste of time!"
I see Andrew surreptitiously sipping on something red and scold him for this peremptory move, as the upcoming soup needs whites. He squirms a bit, then follows me into the kitchen apologetically and offers to help serve the turkey bisque. He carries the bowls in, and from the other room I hear him claiming that he made this soup from an old family recipe. I wonder that I've fallen for this chicanery once again, but I have no time, must squeeze limes, trip over cat, chop peanuts.
Once more the buzzer goes off, once more the cat rockets across the apartment, leaving a minor trail of destruction in her wake. Kane, who can always be counted on to come up with amazing stories about his journey across the river, crosses the threshold and claims to have been eavesdropping on some of my neighbors having sex. We're happy that he's happy, although this seems a rather feeble effort to me. Wouldn't it have been more interesting if they'd asked him to join him or turned out to be minor celebrities or Satanic cultists or something like that? Perhaps all of the above? I briefly consider sending him back outside until he can come up with better material, but it's getting on in the evening and I've got pots to stir and parsley to chop, so I let it go.
P. Cotat Sancerre Chavignol les Monts Damnés 1997. Quiet chalk and lemon-drop aromatics, bright acidity, rather plush lemon-grapefruit-peach flavors, all rather calm and relaxed. Smooth and deep and calm Chavignol, broad-beamed and wonderfully changeable with air. I posit aloud that, of all wines in the world, Chavignol is the most chameleonic with aeration. I don't wait around to see if anyone argues, who has time?
I continue my tradition of making dishes that are unmatchable with any wine with a lime-infused green papaya salad. I sample it with several of the whites, but none work. Job well done--unmatchalicious!
Hey, Andrew's drinking a mystery wine in a carafe. What can it be, this wine that Andrew is drinking? This wine that I've saved to spring on him because one late night two years ago he blearily mentioned that he'd like to try it?
Mystery Wine That Andrew Is Drinking. Pale garnet color. Smells light and spicy, peppery-floral strawberry aromatics. Tastes light and friendly, loose strawberry-plum flavors, quiet earthiness, a charmingly lightweight wine with a brief, shy finish. Very pleasant to drink. Andrew is puzzled: "Is this homemade wine? It has a homemade wine feel to it." He guesses gamay first, then reverses himself and says grenache (actually he guesses El Niño '02), which Jay vetoes. No further consensus, although everyone agrees that they like it. (Edmunds St. John Gamay Noir El Dorado County Witters Vineyard 'Bone-Jolly' 2003)
Lisa, in a true show of wifely magnanimity, pushes me into the living room and takes over the shrimp-shucking duties herself. I'm just tipsy enough to attempt a mental formulation of some variation of 'I'm not a shrimp-shucker or shrimp-shucker's son...' but my brain can't quite untangle the necessary threads and HEY LOOK, Jay's got a '72 Burgundy!
Joseph Drouhin Beaune Clos des Mouches 1972. The wine that singlehandedly transformed me into a winegeek was a '72 Burgundy, so I'm always sentimentally partial to the vintage. Hazy medium ruby at the core, bricking out to a light amber at the rim. Smells soothingly decayed, muted mushroomy-cherry fruit with hints of sage, honey, leather and a flinty/gunpowdery note up in the high register. Tastes thin, layered and leafy, preserved cherry fruit laced with honey and underbrush, coming to a dusty-sweet finish with a light dried orange zing. Past its best days, but still quite charming and talkative.
Jennifer seems hypnotized by the 'Visualizer' function of my ITunes setup, with its swirly lights and pulsating colors. I watch her closely, ready to administer Burgundy at the first sign of drooling or inordinate pupil dilation.
Clark-Scott Cabernet Franc Finger Lakes 2004 (tank sample). Medium to medium-light garnet color. Pure, taut, the cran-cherry fruit has a youthful candied sheen to it. Medium-light bodied, unoaked in the style of Jo‘l Taluau, a precocious young cabernet that veers towards cranberry tartness on the finish. As usual, a good buzz brings out all my ultracrepidarian tendencies, and soon I'm offering up drinking windows, predicting aging curves, dropping winemaker names and just generally bullshitting in the time-honored tradition of wine blowhards everywhere. Whee! It's dizzying, it's so much fun, everyone join in!
But first more Burgundy, a Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St. Jacques Vieille Vigne 1999. Where the Drouhin was a dry-lipped elderly gentleman, this is a strapping youngster. Light spiciness to the darkly cherried aromatics, cinnamon & horehound hints. Medium-bodied, rather loosely wrapped in an easygoing way, but the flavors are pure and expressive, finishing with a persistent cherry-plummy tang. Yes, it's kind of half closed now, but what's showing is charming and honest. With air and time the sense of looseness in the middle recedes, the wine gains focus and substance. Very nice, very nice, this is what I drink with the kal bi ribs and feta shrimp that is finally ready to serve. I let Lisa do the honors, wanting to get credit for cooking at least one dish tonight.
Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1994. Medium-dark red, bricking lightly at the rim, and full of sediment. Smells of Band-Aid brand bandage strips and muted earthy raspberry/saddle leather fruit, touch of horsiness. Middling acidity, there's a spine in there amidst the fleshy ripeness. Dark and smoky up front, blowsy and rounded in the middle, licoricey on the finish. Seems like it's probably about as good as it's going to get, maybe even on the way down. Drink up.
For some reason we get onto a discussion of movies, and the name 'Ben Affleck' comes up. I note that he and Julia Roberts are my two Third Rail Performers, and much thoughtful and amusing discussion on this and related topics ensues.
Château Beaucastel Ch‰teauneuf-du-Pape 1994. Medium cloudy ruby-brown color, this ain't right. Smells bricky and stewed, lots of tea. Yup, it's cooked wine, stewed and baked flat. I drift off into a reverie about Kane manfully insisting that the proprietor himself told him that all his '94s taste like this, but it's a passing fancy and soon goes.
Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Estate 1998. I think I get the slightest hint of corkiness here, but can't find anyone else to agree with me--it's just this persistent cement note that I don't like, but I guess it'll pass muster. Still, I'm wary. Medium-dark to dark garnet color. Smells like foursquare California cabernet: blackcurrants, dark espresso streak, whiff of cedar, that cementy note up high. Tastes smooth and soft and velvety, a juicy wine without a lot of mouthgrab. Decent enough, although rather blander and squishier than I'd have expected from this producer. I don't know, I think there's something wrong with it, judgment withheld.
That's all. We finish up with a lovely selection of local cheeses. Oh, and a few sweeties, first a Weingut K. Neckerauer Riesling Pfalz Weisenheimer Hasenzeile Beerenauslese 1994. Oh, a weisenheimer, eh? Nyuck nyuck nyuck. Medium gold-amber color. Caramelized sugar on the nose, touch of botrytis, apricot, marmalade. Tastes quite crisp, medium-sweet or maybe just a shade sweeter than medium, medium-plus. Tartly acidic and gently decayed, pleasantly developed but not terribly complex. Kane complains that it's not more botrytisy and I argue with him for form's sake, but he's got a point, something that would be overlooked if there were more going on.
Last up is a Navarro Vineyards White Riesling Anderson Valley Late Harvest 1998. Whoo, ripe pineapple-vinyl-mango-lilikoi aromatics, tropical fruit salad city. Quite sweet but not at all goopy, there's middling acidity, not as much as I'd like, but the wine is far from flabby. Actually, it tastes rather restrained compared to the boisterous aromatics, and it's pretty smooth and drinkable, if rather diffuse. Not bad at all, really. I could drink this, it's kind of fun. A pleasant pairing with apricot tart.
Ook. Never again, at least not without the proper support staff. Maybe if I could get SFJoe to be my prep cook... yes... yes...