Last Sunday Lisa and I were fortunate enough to attend a benefit for the Free Kay Bixler Foundation at Manhattan's trendy Restaurant Inside, the occasion also serving double duty as a celebration of the internet resurrection of famed neo-Luddite Andrew "Bucko" Scott, resplendent for benefit night in his Birkenstocks and spats.
We sweep onto the premises laden with bottles and stemware, only to find the entire back of the restaurant swarming with winegeeks, both old familiars and new faces. There's Jeff Grossman and Manuel Camblor, Brad Kane and his lady friend and her gal pal, whose names I get but immediately forget, there's Jeff Connell and Josie Castrodad, of course "Bucko" and main squeeze Jennifer Munro Clark; there's Al Fenster and wife Gail, more winegeeks, is that Thor and Theresa in the far corner? No, no, just Bruce Fogelberg and Sue Ng, shooting the breeze. Still more, so many winegeeks, just winegeeks everywhere.
Jay presses a welcome glass of H. Billiot & Fils Champagne Brut Millésime 1996 into my thirsty hands. Quite toasty-biscuitty smelling, the aromatics dominated by bakery aromas. Tastes rich and taut and very focused, almost aggressively so. Quiet yellow apple and lemon crispiness mingles with the toasty flavors, all supported by a bright acidic core. Very nice bubbly, refreshing and complex, still needs time to loosen up a bit.
I still haven't gotten all the details of Kay Bixler's confinement. I ask around, but all I'm told is that "She's in Guantánamo--she got on the wrong plane, and now she's been declared an enemy combatant!" This sounds very strange and alarming to me, if true; I resolve to delve into it more deeply later on.
Pascal Cotat Sancerre Chavignol les Monts Damnés 1997. I posted on this one just a few weeks ago, this bottle is very similar, perhaps a touch more honeyed. Waxy-floral aromatics, quiet chalkiness and grapefruit-lime citricity clothed in a light honey-peachy skin. Elegant Chavignol, lightfooted but substantial, soft-edged and hummingly pure. Connell raises an eyebrow, "This has improved a great deal since release." He didn't like it back then? "Out of balance." Hm. Just needed time, I guess.
We're trying to open some reachable bottles, but no one at our end of the table has a corkscrew. We ask Kane to send his down, but he's fiercely protective of it, only giving it up very reluctantly. "Don't lose it!" he pleads "So-and-so gave it to me!" (He says a name I don't recognize, some winemaker or rapper or something.) Throughout the meal he will periodically beg to have it back, and we will claim a) to have no knowledge of its whereabouts, b) to have already given it back, or c) the waiter took it.
Lucien Crochet Sancerre le Chêne 1999. Flinty-limey smelling, minerally undertones. Tastes bright, clean and racy, the crisp stony-citric flavors dusted with a light spicy toastiness. A bit watery in the middle, but all in all very decent. This is foursquare Sancerre, but suffers from coming after the more subtle Chavignol.
Here's Dressner with his friend Bonnie and longtime companion João Roseira of Quinta do Infantado, who is still sporting the snappy close-cropped 'do of a year ago. It's a nice look. Dressner waves a bottle at us: "Wine from the nicest guy on the internet!" We peer at it and groan. Yes, he's taking one more shot at trying to inflict Loring pinot noir on poor innocent New Yorkers. We wave him off, and he wanders down the table in search of a more receptive audience.
Clos les Hautes Bretonnières Muscadet 1995. This bottle does the damnedest thing, pouring out alternately musty and non-musty glasses. Kane gets the first bad glass, and it alternates around the table. I, of course, get a musty one, but Jeff Grossman (who is next to me) shares his: it's a crisp, minerally wine, just starting to loosen up, I don't know, I can't figure it out. Pass. We argue about it being corked, but no one can figure how a wine could be corked in only half the glasses. Extremely peculiar, puzzlement and consternation all around.
Domaine Roulot Meursault les Tessons Clos du Mon Plaisir 1995. Very nice, for chardonnay. Has that round pear-apple-butterscotch thing, but also good supporting acidity, a good tight lemon-yellowfruity core. Opens nicely over an hour, turning velvet skinned but also retaining a happy snappiness and lightness of foot. A chardonnay I could drink a few glasses of--maybe this grape has a future after all?
Kane is continuing his campaign to unload as much of his vast stash of cooked Savenniàres as he can. A few more specimens forcibly inflicted upon us:
Domaine du Closel Savennières Cuvée Speciale 1995. Deep amber-gold color, reddening angrily at the rim. A good whiff of Madeira right up front, stewed yellowfruit underneath, this bottle is cooked beyond recognition. Kane, god love him, keeps claiming that it's not cooked, that this is the normal aging curve for this wine. Some would say that this consistency in the face of all reason is a virtue, some would. He keeps claiming to have notarized documents from Mme. de Jessey swearing to his correctness in this matter; frankly it's a bit shocking, and more than a little sad.
Domaine du Closel Savenniières Clos du Papillon 1995. Less utterly fried than the last, not quite as red, but still markedly heat damaged. The wine is still alive, but it's taken a few slugs in the gut and doesn't seem like it has much left to give. "With this one," says Connell, "you can still taste the wine underneath the heat damage." He's right, but I don't have the patience to go hunting right now.
Hey, I've got a few bottles of cooked '90 Closel Vieilles Vignes left, remind me to bring a couple the next time I visit Brad. I'll insist they're perfectly fine, it'll be a gas.
Oh. Except he'd probably believe me.
Burgundy hour begins with a Simon Bize Savigny-les-Beaune Aux Vergelesses 1993. Medium to medium-light ruby color. Quiet, perfumed nose, hints of dark cherry and truffle, smells ethereal. Tastes quiet as well, medium-light bodied, lean and crisp at the core, with satiny edges. The finish closes down with some rather aggressive tannins, but what we have here is a pretty, perfumed little wine.
Kane squinches up his face "Ooh, acidity problem." I threaten to beat him with my shoe. I don't think he hears.
Joseph Drouhin Gevrey-Chambertin 1988. Medium ruby color, just a touch of amber at the rim. Smells lightly minty up high, warm bricky-cherry fruit in the middle, dark truffley forest-floor notes down deep, wonderfully complex nose, a pleasure to smell. Tastes lean and lithe, a middle-lightweight wine whose flavorous interest doesn't quite match its nosality. Still, it's no slouch, a very decent little Burgundy with a lot of nosefun to give. Would probably bloom a bit more with food, but I don't have any at the moment.
Dominique Laurent Gevrey-Chambertin Lavaux St. Jacques 1995. Medium-dark garnet color. Juicily aromatic, cherry-beet underlain with dark smokiness. Very rich and vivid-tasting, concentrated and broadly flavorful, has a bit of a reduced quality to it, finishes with a sandpapery (wood?)tannic assault. The overall impression is of a brawny but coarse young pinot that probably needs a few years to come together. This one splits the faithful, with Dressner and Connell giving it the thumbs-up, me, Jay and Andrew not nearly as enthused. We look for Camblor to break the deadlock, but he's off campaigning at the other end of the table and momentarily unavailable for comment.
Someone had claimed that Callahan was going to emerge from hiding to attend the benefit, but there's no sign of him. "He's here after all!" someone shouts, pointing at the wall over my head. I crane my neck to look, and indeed there's a totemic horned animal head on the wall over me. I feel blessed, in a strange way. "I think that's a gazelle," says Kane. "Not a goat at all." Goat, gazelle, whatever, it's a fine thing at any rate.
Clos de la Roilette Fleurie 2000. Beautiful. Strawberry-raspberry and earth, composed and self-assured, it doesn't have the focus of the 1999 or the heft of the 2002, but it's lovely and complete tonight. There's not a lot of amplitude here: the wine doesn't have deep dark depths or soaring heights, just langorous midrange composure, gentle purity.
Jay ties his tongue in knots trying to pronounce 'Roilette,' he and Connell go back and forth a few times: "Rrwohhyette?" "Rrwhalette." "Rrwhoylette?" "Rrwhalllllette." "RRrrwhahyette?" "Rrwhalll-lllette." Jay finally settles into disgruntled muteness. Connell then explains that one should not follow his lead in pronouncing João "Wwhow."
Domaine Robert Groffier Chambolle-Musigny les Sentiers 1988. Medium-light garnet color. Bit o' earthy-gamy funk upon first nosage, then peppery muted cherry fruit. Tastes tart and hard, a tight little wine that's not in the giving vein tonight. Rather aggressively acidic, I wonder if this will make Kane shriek something about army ants eating his tongue? No, I guess not. Shame.
I have no idea what's going on at the other end of the table, where the Dressners, the Fensters and the Kanes are congregating. Every time I look down there João Roseira is standing on the banquette, clambering about monkeyishly, what's he doing that for?
Pierre Overnoy Arbois Pupillin Poulsard 1993. Cloudy medium-light ruby color, full of chunky sediment, ambering at the rim. Earthy and funky, yam and squirrel fur and crushed-brick redfruit. Smooth and yammy-rooty tasting, earthy and supple. Medium-light bodied and laced throughout with luscious decay. This has calmed and smoothed over the last two or three years and is drinking very well now, unless of course your name is Stuart, Stewart or Yaniger. In which case, stick with the 2000.
With no other poulsard to be found we're forced to turn to Burgundy, namely a Joseph Drouhin Beaune Clos des Mouches 1983. Medium ruby, ambering at the rim. Hints of horehound and mushroom, earthy muted redfruit. Tastes lean but layered and supple, a feathery-complex mouthful that keeps opening up in the glass and in my orifices. Wonderfully developed and quite ready to go, although much more genteel than the Overnoy. Jay apparently brought this by accident, but it was a lucky mishap because the wine is subtle and charming, really pretty and borderline exciting.
Dressner wanders down from the other end of the table. "Look!" he says, dropping a bottle onto the table, "It turns out people brought two bottles of the very same Savigny-les-Beaune!" He turns and saunters off nonchalantly and yes by god, it's the same Bize '93 Savigny, a full bottle.
Andrew and I eye each other. "Is anyone else suspicious of this?" he asks. I nod vigorously.
We stare at the bottle, uncertain.
All right, let's give it a try and see what we've got.
Simon Bize Savigny-les-Beaunes Aux Vergelesses 1993 NEW SUSPICIOUS VERSION. It's certainly a shade or three darker than before. Smells more--whoa, damn, smells blackberry-plummy, very ripe and three-noteish, about as subtle as a tire iron to the knee. Plum-blackberry-toast flavors, tastes big and inky-ripe and tongue-numbingly "fruity." It does smooth out with air, turning glossy and nearly entirely featureless, wine obsidian. This is more like the Bize Savigny's evil twin: someone yelps "When did this turn into shiraz?" When Dressner dabbled with it, that's when. Some malfeasance is clearly afoot here.
Jay plucks at the top of the bottle, "Didn't the other one have this same rip in the neck label?" But it's Jeff Grossman who puts the pieces together: "Hey," he says, "that LORING PINOT, whatever happend to that? How come that's not on the table anymore?"
Confronted with overwhelming circumstantial evidence, Dressner confesses. "I just couldn't get anyone to try it, no one would touch it, I had to do something, I poured it into the Bize bottle, no one would taste it otherwise...." he buries his head in his hands. We shake our heads at the sad spectacle of yet another man reduced to base chicanery by overripe California pinot.
The humanity, oh the humanity.
Here's a big bottle of Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1994 (magnum). Smells quite cinnamony, like Big Red chewing gum, earthy matte cherry-berry and saddle leather underneath. Tastes soft and chewy-fleshy, rich and limp, with a light metallic tang and coarse tannins on the finish. Some good qualities, but generally disjointed, squishy and not very pleasant. Kane, bless his heart, keeps loudly declaring this the WINE OF THE NIGHT, something he invariably announces about whichever wine he's hauled along for himself to drink. It's rather endearing, really.
Borgogno Barolo Riserva 1952. Corked. Ugh. Jeff, grief-stricken, curses the Portuguese. We shush him. Fortunately, João is too busy clambering around the banquette and swinging from the light fixtures to take notice. Dude, what's up with that?!
Ooh, here's the vaunted Newport steak, so let's try a Casa Ferreirinha Barca-Velha Douro 1991. Dark garnet color. Smells of dark cherry and blueberries, dark and rich, laced with a lightly dirty herbiness, traces of oregano and African violets. A sip, and here's rich, elegant blackfruit right up front, a warm wave of dark juiciness that tantalizes, then retreats, leaving a more structured, elegant midpalate with just a hint of rustic roughness that that adds the air of a roué. Long, tinkling finish. This wine has impeccable balance--I think the dark saturated color has misled me into expecting a blockbuster, but this is a supple, elegant wine, albeit a rich one. Delicious, absolutely delicious, young and fresh but with the complexity of a decade in bottle, the rare crossover wine that's robust enough for the goblovers and restrained enough for the dirtsuckers. I don't know this producer, but this wine kicks serious ass. The hint of rough edge in what is a smooth, elegant wine gives it more character. I'm sorry, am I babbling? The more I drink it, the more it impresses me. This is that rarest of creatures: god wine. Cue the (R.) Strauss.
Tought act to follow, Vinum Cellars Petite Sirah Clarksburg Wilson Vineyards 'Pets' 2002. Blackberry-grapey smelling, touch of mint up high, dark and tarry at the root, maybe a hint of leather in the mix. Not freakish, just dark and simple, ripe and honest petite sirah, rough-edged and purple. Yeah it's good, straightforward wine, but I've still got the hum from the Barca-Velha in my mouth. Okay, refocus.
Andrew mentions that he'd like to see Lisa's thong underwear; this being at least partially his night, she takes him outside to show him, but soon returns looking cross. Apparently Andrew doesn't know a thong when he sees one, or at least is unaware of the variety of styles and shapes covered under the thong rubric. "He thinks every thong is a Brazilian String!" she declares indignantly. Andrew slinks back looking sheepish, "I don't know, you're probably right, what do I know...?"
Lisa goes on sternly: "Not every thong is a g-string, although I'll have to qualify that by saying that g-strings are in the thong family, a kind of thong. But the two are NOT the same thing." We nod, chastened and enlightened, better men for this knowledge.
Jočo has most munificently brought along a Quinta do Infantado Douro Dry Wine (Barrel Sample) 2003. Black-garnet color, purpling darkly at the rim. Black ink really, monstrously concentrated and impenetrably dense. I mix some water into mine, the only way I can drink the stuff. I just don't know what to make of it; vandergrift once said of a Turley petite sirah "this tastes purple!" Well, this tastes black. Very impressive; a menhir of a wine. Is there a mailing list for this? I briefly consider mobbing Jočo as if he were the Portuguese Elvis, but decide I'm too drunk at this point and would probably make a mess of it.
Bodegas y Vinedos del Jalon Viña Alarba Pago San Miguel Calatayud 2001. This seems to be the Alarba prestige cuvée (*cough*). Big generic red wine, grenache-o-riffic. Foof. Frankly, it tastes just like the cheap stuff, only more concentrated. Bring on the RO machines, suck out that water! Camblor, bless his festering black heart, has brought this for me because he's pegged me as a serious admirer of the whole magnificent Alarba line. Remind me to honor him with something from California's Big Point Valley appellation next time I see him, will you please?
"WINE OF THE NIGHT! WINE OF THE NIGHT!" Kane is hooting at the other end of the table. We peer blearily in that direction, but for god's sake he's still waving around the bottle of Vieux Télégraphe. "WINE OF THE NIGHT! WINE OF THE NIGHT!" You've got to admire the lad's pluck.
Felipe Rutini Apartado (Argentina) 1999. Raspberry reduction sauce. Tiring. Bleh. Make it go away.
Kanonkop Stellenbosch 'Paul Sauer ' 1997. I have a soft spot in my heart for my South African fan base, but I unwittingly assume from the Kanonkop label that this is pinotage. A quick pour dispels that notion, and a close parsing of the label reveals no cepage, despite the extended Ridge-style listing of cap-punching regimen, oak treatment, etc. Whatever it is, it comes off as a Bordeaux-style wine, smelling very cabernetish, dark cassis and green pepper hints, lightly herbaceous, hints of cedar and toast. Tastes young and rather closed and lean, not much distinctiveness here, generic Bordeaux-style wine with a bit of potential, fine aggressive tannins choke off the finish. This, I suspect, needs more time to sleep.
Domaine le Briseau Coteau du Loir 'Jules' 2002. I posted on this last week, go read that if you want to know what it's like. This is the frickin' twenty-fifth wine, and I'm starting to feel the urge to break some furniture or some heads. Where's vandergrift when we need him? One personal note on this: the word 'Briseau' is very sexy when spoken by a Frenchwoman. Why this should be, I don't know; but then again, why ask why? I'm annoyed that I'm at the opposite end of the table from Bonnie, the only Frenchwoman present that I know of. Are any of the other women French? They don't answer, only stare at me uncomfortably. What's the problem, ladies? Damn.
"WINE OF THE NIGHT! WINE OF THE NIGHT!" My god, Kane is still carrying on with the Vieux Télégraphe. Sadly, we haven't any tranquilizer darts close at hand, otherwise we'd bring him down and truss him up like a muskox, then poke him with sticks till he squealed like a raped Ned Beatty. Whee, what fun!
Quinta do Infantado White Dry Port NV. I pour this, but only sit and stare at it for nine seconds before I have to pour it out to get some of the next wine. Slow the frickin' bottles down!
Which is in fact a Huet Vouvray le Mont Moëlleux 1985, so you see the logic, nothing against JoČo and his dry white port, he'd probably do the same. Anyhoo, it's a pale straw color. Smells pale yellow and vivid, chalk and lemon and rainwater. Tastes medium-sweet and nervy, a taut wine, startlingly young, this could easily be the 2002. Damn, I've had maybe a half-dozen bottles of this and none have shown close to this young, but this one was hand-imported from Vouvray; another reminder of the importance of good storage. Infantile, not even the beginnings of development. Hold and hold some more, then leave it to your kids in your will, with the caveat that they hold it as well.
Quinta do Infantado Ruby Port NV. Yup, it's good. Kind of loose and red-clayish, medium sweet and charmingly easygoing, oh I've gone through more of this than any other single wine, maybe even twelve(!) or thirteen(!!) bottles, so it's obviously a winner in my book. The current release doesn't let the franchise down, I'd buy more if I wasn't ashamed of the possibility of having someone notice that I'd had FOURTEEN BOTTLES of the same wine. Talk about a happy rut!
"Nobody likes port anymore," Dressner declares grumpily.
"I like port," I volunteer.
"Oh sure, YOU do, but nobody else does. It was very popular for a while in the nineties, with the cigar thing, but nowadays...." he trails off sadly.
I'm not sure how to respond to this; both 'more for me,' and 'maybe the prices will come down and I'll be able to buy Niepoort again' seem callous. So I don't say anything, just sit there swaying gently, brow knitted.
Quinta do Infantado Ten-Year Ruby Port NV. Much like the above, only richer and deeper. Whatever, I don't know. Never mind.
Lisa says that Kay is probably doing well at Guantánamo. "She's probably on top of all the piles," she opines. Dressner laughs until he's beet red, then declares this the bon mot of the night. Andrew says "I don't know, I think she'd be the one giving the thumbs-up sign."
Connell shakes his head sadly, "It's not funny. It's a tragedy. An American tragedy."
And so it is.