So I arrive in the Lair of the Foodies in Soho staggering under the weight of various bags of bottles and stemware and am greeted by the urgent demand "Did you bring dessert wine?!" I could only stammer that I hadn't, so I'm immediately packed off into the cold to hunt down the one wine shop in Manhattan that is allowed to be open on Sunday and bring back sweeties therefrom. I wave forlornly to Lisa, who has already been here for three hours scorching lobster shells and performing various other mysterious ablutions.
"I'm cancelling, goodbye!" I call out as I go out the door. My last sight is of of a stricken Jay Miller gazing after me, lemon zester clenched in white-knuckled hand.
Heartened thus by my feeble jape, I head out with a spring in my step and soon return bearing strange dessert wines from sundry local climes. But more on that later.
Anyway, here I am at the third annual Foodie Thing, which I believe goes more properly under the name 'Food Lovers' Discussion Group Thing.' I've not eaten all day in anticipation, for I well recall the sense of despair that overcame me last time as I realized I was quite full by the time the second soup course came 'round. Not this time, bucko.
Speaking of which, there's Jay "Bucko" Miller chatting with Elyse Fradkin and our host, the ever-effervescent Corinne Colen, Mistress of the Culinary Loft (which also goes by the name 'that Foodie Place'). There's the always felicitous Eden Blum, as well as some unfamiliar faces--Elyse's friend Craig and Corinne's friend Dolores, hardcore foodies all.
We'd been told earlier that the theme was 'game,' but I think the theme went out the window with the blizzard of last-minute cancellations that seems to plague the metropolitan area these days. Jay, knowing our fear of foodies, promises only good foodies this time, no evil foodies allowed. We waffle, but at last he falls to his knees and begs us to come and be warm bodies for a few hours. Who could resist such an impassioned plea?
"Not us!" I say aloud, answering my own rhetorical question.
Several of the guests turn and blink at me quizzically, but I pretend to be saying something to myself about wine and intently pen a few crosshatch patterns in my notebook until I feel their gaze drift elsewhere. Left to my own devices, I grab a glass of H. Billiot & Fils Champagne Brut Millésime 1996 and suck it down, then quickly have another, ignoring the minor spectacle of Jay igniting his cookbook. It's a medium straw-gold color, smells lightly biscuitty and quiet, traces of apple and ginger. A sip, and it's intensely fizzy, with yellow apple flavors but green apple acidity lightly dusted with bakery aromas. Rather aggressive in the piehole, it's a tightly-wrapped glass of bubbly, a little intense for me right now. Quite a contrast from the more easygoing '95; let it sleep.
Next up is a E. Barnaut Champagne Rosé Authentique NV. This wine is a startling shade of magenta. The notion is floated that the color might affect the perception of the wine--"Close your eyes," suggests Eden. "And think of what?" muses Elyse, "Cherries...? Or England?" Smells juicy and lightly berried, watermelon, cherry hints. Tastes rounded after the sharp Billiot, with large-bore bubbles accenting the berry-citrus flavors. Rather limpid, the red and yellowfruit flavors that come at you at first just roll over and cease somewhere in the middle, finishing with a light cherried bleat. An odd wine, too strange to figure out on short notice. I don't really like it, but I don't really dislike it either. Incomplete.
We start with Craig's pasta and creme fraiche. Craig seems unsatisfied. "Bit chewy," he says, and it is a bit chewy, but it's still awfully good, straightforward and flavorful. We try to match it with a Williamsburg Winery Governor's White 2000, but the midnight bell has tolled, the Governor does not call, there is no pardon. The Governor's White is most fatally corked.
Instead we open a Dönnhoff Riesling Oberhauser Leistenberg Kabinett 1999: Mmm, airy-minerally smellies, flickers of honeysuckle, lemon and chalk. Tastes loose and lightly creamy, spreading slowly across my tongue. I could quibble about the diffuse quality, the lack of focus, but I'm enjoying it too much to bother. A pretty, easygoing wine that just begs to be sipped and savored.
While trying to explain the concept of ''corked" to the incredulous foodies the topic of individual sensitivity to TCA and Elyse's sensitivity to some herb or other brings on a discussion of cilantro-aversion, and leads from there inexorably to the scourge of Aparagus Pee. Dolores claims that approximately two-thirds of the population has this particular chemical sensitivity. I am relieved to be in the minority.
We've brought two chardonnays to go with Lisa's seabug bisque, one from the New and one from the Old World.
Scott-Clark Cellars Chardonnay California 'Pigeon' 2000: This vintage of the Scott-Clark luxury cuvŽe has always been a problem child. Smells like three day old apple-pear compote, spicy but a little sickly-sweet smelling. Has a flattened out, baked quality to the midpalate fruit, seems to have gone belly up, resembling nothing so much as an older Beringer Private Reserve with a strong streak of leesiness in place of the aggressive wooding. I'd been holding out hope that this would come around with time, but I'm not optimistic about my remaining bottles. Scott-Clark's motto is 'minimal process,' but this probably needed major process merely to make it drinkable.
Domaine de Roally Mâcon-Village 2000: Now this is chardonnay done right. Richly smelly, ripe spicy yellow apples, figs and a light mineral undercurrent. The flavors swirl up in the middle in a bright flourish, then flow onwards, turning towards pear jam on the finish. Wonderful, supple and lightly creamy. I make a note to buy more of this before it disappears from local shelves. Sadly, I lose the note soon after I write it. Has anyone seen a note about Domaine de Roally laying around on the floor? It might actually say "goyard" or "BUY BUY BUY" on it...?
Lisa's lobster bisque is wonderfully rich, absolutely arthropodelicious. About four tablespoonsful does the trick (perfect for a multi-course dinner). The Roally cannot be pronounced, but is a wonderful match.
Now we've got a Louis Bernard Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Blanc) 1999, accompanied by Eden's striking mushroom-onion tart. The wine has subdued aromatics, creamy-floral, waxy yellow and white flower notes. Rather neutral in the tarthole, a substantial wine with good heft but just not a lot going on. Good acidic spine, nice weight and balance, but very little in the way of flavor. The tart deserves better, so I go back to the Roally, which kicks ass, and the Dönnhoff, which fondles ass.
Dolores asks Eden where she trained. Eden blushes girlishly and claims to be self-taught.
Now is the very ducking time of night, with Jay's citrus-roast bird coming to the plate. Jay flutters between wanting to serve the breasts and thighs or legs and bills first, finally announcing "You can serve yourself the duck buffet-style, choose your own pieces..." I sing out "Can I get it in regular or extra-crispy too?" and chortle heartily at my own bon mot (foodies just love it when you make jokes like that; it makes them feel appreciated).
Clape Cornas 1983: The Cornas seems at first to merely be a little shy and flat, but after about an hour the TCA has started to emerge more clearly. Shame.
Ogier Côte-Rôtie 2000: Medium-dark garnet color. Smells quite ripe, blackberry and red plum with a dash of toastiness. Tastes fleshy and supple and glossy, a slightly candied feel to the fruit. Balanced and smooth but lacking any discernable character--I would never have recognized this as Côte-Rôtie. Not at all bad as wine, but disappointingly generic.
Ah, now here's the stuff, a Château Musar Lebanon 1991. Medium cloudy ruby color. There's a healthy dose of volatility, as per required Musar specifications, but underneath there's leathery cran-cherry smellies, crushed brick and hints of earth, sweet and spicy-smelling in the manner of an old leather satchel. A sip, and the muted red fruit spreads slowly outwards with a vanguard of forest floor and fallen leaves, layered and feathery and turning bricky-yamsterish on the finish. Elegant and on the light side, speaks in low soft tones but has a lot of interesting things to say. Corinne's bison stew (she calls it 'ragout,' but if you ask me that's far too wimpy a word to apply to bison) goes wonderfully with the Musar. She is tickled pink. "I lovvvvve my wine! I just LOVE it!" she coos.
Jim Barry Shiraz Clare Valley 'The Armagh' 1995: A side note: this is a wine that Lisa and I enjoyed at our very first geek event amidst a host of other Aussie shirobelisks; since then we'd been afraid to open another one, our tastes having strayed a great deal from the path of shiraz. Would it seem like a huge ungainly freak to us now, or would our early impressions still hold true? It's time to bite the bullet and find out. I pour some into my glass and take a sniff...
Smells of India ink and plum and blackberry suffused with woodshop aromas and coconut, like fresh-cut lumber rubbed down with suntan lotion and plum jam. "Tastes like purple... purple coconut," mutters Eden. Smells of sawdust, tastes of coal dust. The wine is well balanced for such a big thing, crisp and not spikily acidic, but the flavors are profoundly disagreeable in a wine-jerky kind of way. Lisa likes it marginally more than I do (she can actually finish a glass), but she too is dismayed. Ah, the folly of youth: where is the shiraz of yesteryear? Anybody want to buy some of this, this... um, "flavorful" stuff?
Jay stands, proclaims a Four Cheese Course. We wait expectantly, but only two cheeses are forthcoming, one of which Eden examines closely and yelps "This cheese is corked!" Jay attempts to explain that he had been trying to say "For a cheese course..." or something to that effect, but nobody's buying it and the chant slowly arises: "Two more cheeses! Two more cheeses!"
But instead we're treated to Dolores's ethereal chocolate-cranberry mousse; light and elegant, with a good bit of bite from the tart cranberries offsetting the creamy mousse and dark chocolate. Now we need the sweeties that had been the subject of my earlier quest, so we open a Knapp 'Ruby Port' Finger Lakes NV (500 ml.) Smells vaguely of cherry-cassis and plaster. Tastes thin, watery and pallid red stuff with a bit of sugar. Vapid wine, priced significantly higher than good ruby port from actual Port houses. What, as the kids are fond of saying, is up with that?
Elyse has made some dark chocolate cookies in the shape of mooses and ducks; they seem rather plain at first, but their straightforwardness is soon revealed as a purity that you don't find much in today's cookies, burdened with frills and excess as they often are; they are ur-cookies, something you'd expect to find in an Amish bakery or in the kitchen of a monastery in the Pyrenees. I eat as many as I can until there are no more.
Standing Stone Vineyards 'Vidal Ice' Icewine 2000 (375 ml.): Smells like pineapple-tangerine candy with an underlying Saran Wrap streak, and high notes of muscatish spice. Simply flavored, candied and sweet, but with a crisp acidic spine, well balanced and that pleasant spiciness. Has no subtlety and hints of bloppiness around the edges, but keeps itself immaculately groomed and impeccably dressed, a social climber of a wine. A big step up from the "port," but again, with a price level higher than that of great-growth Sauternes or Vouvray mo‘lleux, I don't foresee too much of this making its way into my cellar. What in the world are they thinking up there in the Finger Lakes?
So. That was pretty damn fun.
Okay, I can't really think of any way to tie this all together neatly. Can we just end this here?