Jay Miller needed space in his fridge. The hot New York summer was coming fast, and there were too many damn bottles to fit!
What to do, he asked himelf, what to do?
Aha! he thought--I'll invite a large group of garrulous, predatory drunks over for Mother's Day cheesy poofs and casually leave a few Screwpulls and many bottles laying around. That should do it!
And so it was that Lisa and I arrive chez Miller under the ominous directive to bring ONLY ONE BOTTLE EACH UNDER PENALTY OF TORTURE to find our host scuttling about the kitchen, conjuring up diverse wonders for our amusement and edification. There's Elyse, there's Jeff, Jim and Jay and Josie, soon joined by Jack, Jerry and John. No, no, I just made those last three up. Really it's Manuel, Asher and Marni.
All right, where to begin? The Nigl Riesling Senftenberg Piri Privat 1999 seems a good choice. Bright, stony nose, white honey and yellow apple scents with a beguiling chlorophyll-clover streak. Almost completely dry, medium-crisp, tangy yellow rocky fruit, striking cohesiveness and balance, a marvellously focused ballerina with enough flesh on her bones to keep you coming back for more. Beautiful, a fine accompaniment with Jay's delightful onion tart.
Next up is an Albert Mann Tokay Pinot Gris Hengst 1999. By garn, the obligatory corked bottle. Best to get it out of the way early, I suppose. Elyse tries to get Manuel to taste it, he actually gags. Loudly. She is dismayed. He explains that it's much like an allergy for him. She is still dismayed, crushed by the capriciousness of the cork gods.
Viña Tondonia Rioja Reserva (White) 1987: Manuel mentions that Victor-sama has referred to this wine as "American oak soup," an opinion with which he vehemently disagrees. So vehemently, in fact, that he cheerily vows to "Kick his ass and eat his head." This being an idiom that many of us are unfamiliar with, Jim takes advantage of the silence to observe "How... Goya." At any rate, the wine smells of sweet vanilla, honey and coconutted flint over a white-rocky vein. Medium weight, creamy, a little limpid and lifeless in the piehole. With air the vanilla fades and a gingery rainwater-mineral streak comes to the fore. Still, there's a flatness to the middle of this wine that leaves me cool to it.
I notice that the conversation in the living room has turned towards the Manhattan Roommate From Hell story. Lisa is holding forth on the subject of her personality-impaired cousin with whom she was required to live for an unfortunate six weeks. It's a good story but one I know well, so I drift back towards the wines.
Here's a Domaine de la Moussière Sancerre 1999: Airy-chalky nose, light citric lemon-lime notes. Tastes straightforward, "good sauvignon fruit," nicely balanced acidity. Quite decent, not terribly complex but very pleasant and well made, a foursquare Sancerre.
Here come Jay's specialty cheesy poofs, all too easy to gobble down. Must... resist... the call... of the... cheesy poof....
Joseph Drouhin Clos St. Denis 1993: Smells lightly beety, cherries and stones as well, but there is a sense of aromatic reticence. Crisp, hard, shut down, not telling much, sleeping quietly, do not disturb.
La Pousse d'Or Volnay En Caillerets Clos des 60 Ouvrées 1999: Here's a youngster, smells ripely beety-cherry-blackberried, lightly laced with clove. Easy, ripe and smooth, short on structure but pleasantly fruity-friendly. A loosely wrapped undemanding wine that finishes with light tannins, a good early drinker.
Bernard Morey Chassagne-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes 1990: Pale medium-light ruby color. Smells airily spicy, cinnamon and cloves over a base of truffley-earthy cherry fruit. Tastes ethereal, light and cohesive, an elegant wine with small amplitude but good intensity. Smooth, layered and self-assured, a lovely little wine, drinking very well. Remind me again why anyone plants chardonnay here?
Here's another go at the Louis Jadot Bonnes Mares 1985, and this bottle comes off more restrained than the one at the recent Bonnes Mares diagonal, less robust. It has a lovely old-sandalwood and leather streak floating lightly over the muted earthy cherry-berry base. Tastes lithe and flavorful, still not the most focused of Bonnes Mares, but less primary than the last, more layered and spicily complex. A thoughtful wine, asking questions that I cannot answer.
Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses 1986: Aromatically light but complex, tobacco and pine needles over a base of smooth berry-cassis. Tastes subtle, delicate and satiny, the closest I've seen an older Olga Chinon come towards light gobbiness. Turns late towards dark tobacco, some fine firm tannins make their presence known but don't impede the flow of the finish. Lovely. Using my rarefied powers of prognostication, I foresee that this is something like what the '97 will become down the road a decade or two. The structure is there, it's just hanging back quietly under a warm velour blanket of fruit.
A quick change of pace to a Château L'Arrosée St. Emilion 1990. Here's a young studmuffin--dark black raspberry nose laced with coffee, cinnamon and smoke. First sippage brings a rush of hard, chewy smoky-berry fruit, then the midpalate unclenches and turns meaty and rich, more dark berry underpinned with graphite and rocks. Coiled and smug, flashes of potential amidst the primary smoky-redness, with a long, lingering espresso-laced finish. Rich, impressive.
Tony has made the mistake of laughing loudly at Lisa's Manhattan Roommate From Hell story and coyly claiming more experience than he dare reveal on the subject. This of course ensures that the rest of us begin to press him to share with us any possible deeply personal and embarrassing anecdote that he might have up his sleeve. Having thus painted himself into a corner, he hems and haws exquisitely before giving us the Cliffs Notes version of a tale that is simply too shocking and seamy to grace the pages of a family wine bulletin board. Suffice it to say that two strong men fainted dead away and had to be revived by judicious administration of the TCA-tainted pinot gris.
In the mayhem that follows this debacle, Jeff attempts to bring order by offering up a Mystery Wine. A noseful of menthol. Then more menthol. Then a hint of blackberry and Band-Aid brand bandage strips that puts me in mind of an over-the-hill tannat. Then more menthol. Strangely monoaromatic--Manuel grimaces, "Smells like a koala's underpants." Tastes tired and thin, leathery dark blackberry fruit tinged with vanilla, tannins and wood on the finish. Seems to be over the hill syrah of some kind, clearly new world but it doesn't seem like it was ever ripe and jammy in the California fashion, so I guess Oregon or Washington. Turns out to be Sean Thackrey Syrah 'Orion' Napa Valley 1990. Frankly, I'd also have guessed that it was about ten years older.
Out of the frying pan into the fire, with a Martinelli Zinfandel Russian River Valley Jackass Vineyard 1997. Smells darkly zinny, slightly burnt raspberry-black cherry fruit with a hint of VA, jammy and odd but not unpleasant. A sip, and things go south very quickly. There is an initial warm rush of dark candied berry, but then the train jumps the tracks and plummets into the ravine. Jammy fruit crashes painfully into spiky acidity, a substantial alcohol burn, then bitter burnt notes. As it heads towards what might generously be deemed a finish the sensation that this has been steeped in charcoal briquets becomes persistent, then on top of everything else some puckery-astringent wood tannins kick in. A mess, even worse than the painful 1996 version. An ugly, garish wine.
I meander back over towards the Roommate From Hell conversation just in time to see Lisa leap to her feet and bellow "WOMEN PEEING ON TOILET SEATS--WHEN DID THIS BECOME A THING?!" Aha, I think, conversation befitting the last two wines. Not mentally prepared to face this, I scamper back over to the bottle table in search of blissful oblivion.
Torres Penedes Gran Coronas Black Label Reserva 1978: Medium ruby color, faded to brick at the rim. Warm, light nose--stewed tomato, old burnished wood, worn leather. Elegant and faded to sip at, brownish corona around a loose still-red core, straightforward flavors. Not terribly complex but sweetly ethereal and easy to like. Even in its dotage it still has stories to tell.
Ochoa Navarra Gran Reserva 1987: Light stewed tomato and muted berry at first, with air the nose gets wondefully spicy, a mŽlange of tree bark, baked yam, dried flowers and fruitcake. Redder and livelier than the Torres. Light, elegant and layered, turns barky on the finish. Very nice.
B. Levet Côte-Rôtie La Chavaroche 1998: Big, red nose, berries and violets, hints of smoked meat. Sweetly berried up front, big and densely berried in the midpalate with a turn towards dark smokiness and gravel, tarry and tannic on the finish. Well balanced but a little chunky, a overmuscled infant, simple now but with potential. Good, but a little tiring, seems to be trying too hard.
With this, the last of the reds, Jay announce that it's time for a palate-cleanser, and produces from under his apron a brace of tiny soupbowls filled with chilled Cerdon de Bugey-laced strawberry soup. A coup de cuisine!
I seize the leftovers of the Alain Renardat-Fâche Vin de Bugey Cerdon NV. Yes, it's yet one more note on the internet's champion most-notated wine. I believe this pushes it over the 300 mark, upwards of 350 if you add in non-www proprietary fora like the AOL boards (not that I do--I'm really a web formalist at heart). Anyway, it's its usual self, nimble and lively, a touch of sweetness, a melding of earth and strawberry. Juicy, sluggable stuff.
There is a sudden hush, and I realize that the latest Angeli cult wine has arrived, a Marc Angeli Rosé d'Anjou 2001. The crowd is silent as it is poured reverently into small glasses. It's a pale orange color, smells of light vanilla, ginger, cola nut and orange rind, spicy and fun to smell, with a light baked yam earthy streak underneath. A sip, and there's a sweetly candied thrust of orange-tinged bosc pear fruit. Very prettily balanced, with a bit of creamy heft, densely flavorful but quite light on its feet. Pretty good, kind of a CreamSicle of a wine. Others are turning backflips over this; although it's nice, I'm not quite sure why, perhaps it's mere label cachet. But then Jay pairs it up with a salty goat cheese, and it's a profound match--the sweetness and the briny salinity doing a tango on my tongue, so maybe this is one cult wine that lives up to its hype.
We go right from cults to classics with a Huet Vouvray Le Mont Moëlleux 1985. Honey and white flowers, lemon-tea and toasted almonds. Medium sweet, nicely concentrated, good heft in the mouth, not perceptibly nobly rotted. It's rich, flavorful and impeccably balanced, but I've always been a little ambivalent about the '85 mo‘lleux, the first made in almost a decade. These are fine, rich wines but have never showed extraordinary complexity and seem almost free of botrytical influences. I know, I know, we've all been spoiled by the '89s, '95-'97s, etc., but I can't escape feeling that these are solid, well-packed and complex wines that don't quite sing. Of course they're still babies; I'll check back in a decade and see if they've begun to slip the surly bonds of earth and head skyward.
Marni blushingly confesses that the strawberry-Cerdon soup has her rather more than tipsy. "Don't tell on me!" she begs me, slurring her words ever so daintily, "Whatever you do, don't put that on the internet!" I assure her that a gentleman would never do such a thing; she is mollified.
The evening is winding down, but there's time for one more curiosity, a Fassati Passito del Santo Vino Liquoroso NV. Deep brown-amber color, smells of raisins and beef stew, traces of caramel and orange rind. Quite sweet and viscous, brown-sugary with that persistent beefy note. Too borderline goopy--not unpleasant, just odd.
Jay takes inventory: at last, his remaining bottles will all fit into his fridge! Thus it is time to bid us all a fond adieu. As we gather our belongings we realize that Tony is dead asleep, breathing gently. This is taken by all to be the one true sign of a successful jeebus, and we leave happy.