Bang, the doors of the uptown number 3 express train slam shut with Lisa on one side and me on the other. She turns, realizes that I'm not behind her, we stare at one another for a frozen second, then she is swept away uptown with the directions and I'm left standing on the platform with the wine.
This night is not exactly starting off swimmingly.
I'd already been nervous at the thought of having to listen to Kane expound on his crackpot theories about Ridge wines all night long, now I have the added strain of having to locate one small angry woman in a city of six million. Naturally we take different tacks: I assume she'll head for 86th street, our final destination, she assumes I'll wait patiently at 14th St. for her to return and pick me up. We both assume wrong.
Much relatively nonzany confusion ensues.
Thus it was that we stumbled into the Geyserville jeebus at Manhattan's historic Restaurant Les Routiers frazzled, out of breath and half an hour late. I am amazed to see the newly postparturitical Marni and Asher Rubenstein, having dropped young Samantha Jewel off at home then headed out for a night of well-deserved boozing. Someone pushes a glass of Jacques Selosses Blanc de Blanc NV into my hand and it's its usual reliable self, biscuitty and focused, light in frame but substantial in flavor and mouthgrab.
In attendance is the usual ragtag collection of ne'er do wells, layabouts and slugabeds, the aforementioned Asher and Marni, the effusive Marty, pink with a light case of Organizer's Flush. To my right is Paul North, there's Greg del Piaz, Michelle and the irrepressible Bradley Kane. I want to warn Greg not to sit too close to Kane, but then realize that it's better him than me. Across the table is Yaacov Barsaleh and Lori, Jay Miller and Tony Fletcher. I wait for the standard-issue shirt and hair commentary then grab a seat next to Lisa. Is one not supposed to sit next to one's spouse at these things...? Ah well, if no one else tells Miss Manners I won't either.
I've missed a few whites and I know it; this gives me a feeling of being behind before I even begin, and my mood threatens to begin a downward spiral. I squeeze the last few drops out of a bottle of Dirler Gewürztraminer Saering 1998 figuring that if a gewürz can't halt the slide nothing can. It's got some pleasant if light aromatics, white coral and lychee. The flavors are broad but not deep, a wine that's light on its feet but leaves very little impression other than: "Hm. That's not bad. What else ya got?"
What else is a Koehler-Ruprecht Riesling Kallstadter Saumagen Spätlese Trocken 1990 Smells of lamp oil and yellow apples, a little faded, yellow-brown aromatics. Tastes much like it smells, gasoline and last week's golden delicious, squeaky-dry and on the hard side. Not bad, but seems tired. The inevitable 'Why age riesling?' question arises, but no definitive conclusion is arrived at.
Asher passes me a glass of Ridge Vineyards Mataro California Evangelo Vineyard 1991 . All right, here's a pleasant meaty-animal funkiness over leathery dark black fruit that turns truffley with air. Interesting, say I to myself, not at all what I myself would have expected from a ten year old California monastrell. Light and silky in the piehole, elegant and earthily smooth, a wine with a tight core of reserved nimble fruit that blooms into a softly tanninless tuning-fork finish. Small in scale and sweetly decayed but very well built and cohesive--the word 'Burgundian' flits about the table, but to me and myself the funkiness is more reminiscent of an older Southern Rhône. Very nice, quite surprisingly elegant and nimble.
Rutherford Hill Zinfandel Napa Valley Mead Ranch Atlas Hill 1978 The date on the label is scuffed beyond recognition, but I'm assured it is indeed the 1978. I stick my snout into the glass and holy cats there's a big wallop of bricky cherry-cassis fruitcake-spiced fruit coming right at me. The first rush of fruit is chewy and leathern, then the crushed-brick fruit hardens and darkens in the midpalate, retreating into itself, then flows into a tarry-berry finish with a flash of slightly gritty tannins. Big and chewy, startlingly fresh at first, after an hour it gives a quiet gasp and goes belly up in the glass, turning flat and raisiny. Still, its last strut was a wonder there for a while.
The word reaches me that there was a corked Champagne before we arrived; I cut another notch in the tainted wine stick that I habitually whittle during these events. Seventy-eight and counting.
Someone is sending bottles around the table at a maniacal pace, two approaching from my right and one coming in from my left arrive precisely at once. I cast about frantically for extra glasses; Asher sees my distress and thoughtfully slips me one of his. After perusing and signing the boilerplate No Breakage agreement I'm ready to go.
Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel California Geyserville 1984 Interesting clarettish aromatics, leather, old pipe tobacco, faded earthy cassis-berry fruit. A sip, and it's still alive but rather wan, faded and a bit dilute in the midpalate. Rallies somewhat with a quiet tarry-spicy finish, but is on the downslope.
Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel California York Creek 1984 Riper-smelling than its cousin, more black-cherried and less faded. There is an upfront rush of warm tangy red fruit which hasn't got a lot of oomph; it ebbs and spreads diffusely through the midpalate. The acidity is somewhat low but the cherried tang of the fruit helps out in the structure department and gives a bit of a finish. There's life here, but the wine is well past its best.
Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel California Geyserville 1983 Corked. A suggestion is run up the flagpole that someone return it to Garnet and say "I bought this here thirteen years ago and it's corked, I'd like to return it for a refund...", but no one salutes. I'm almost relieved this is tainted, as it gives me a moment to breathe before the next wave of bottles hurtles towards me. Notch seventy-nine.
I snatch a bite of my pumpkin risotto laced with chunks of grilled duck breast, really tasty, then aack here they come again, sweeping in from both directions...
Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel California Geyserville 1985 Much less tired than the '84, there is a pleasant earthiness to the muted black cherry-raspberry nose. Aromatically velvety, smoothly red and sweet smelling. Tastes ripe and satiny, sweetly two-dimensional. The fruit has hit a nicely developed stage but is quite uniform in its taste--there isn't any layering to speak of, just a pool of warm red earthy fruit. An agreeably inert wine, supple and easygoing and finishless. Very genial, but drink up, it's going nowhere better from here.
Others like these first few wines more than I do. Or do they? I don't know, maybe they don't.
Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1991 This wine has always been an odd duck among its brethren. Perhaps it's the low percentage of zin (somewhere around half) and the extra shot of carignan, but I've always found the dark earthy qualities accented on this wine like on no other Geyserville. Smells wonderful, dark blackberry-raspberry fruit limned with violets and black pepper, a high note of mint. Difficult-to-identify spicy notes flicker, asking to be identified but receding rainbow-like when focused on. Tastes rich and mouthfilling, a dark wash of that same red-black fruit surges at me, staying focused as it opens and striates in the midpalate and turning plummy-espressoed on the finish. A very impressive wine in the peak of life. The oak has integrated completely, the wine is a balanced whole, richly flavored and as long and dark as Judge Thomas's bellweather performer. Two and a half hand-carved mahogany Prongs inlaid with ivory on their bases and set on a green baize cloth-covered table somewhere in the northern half of the Appalachian Trail.
Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1992 Back to our regularly-scheduled zinnishness, this smells of sweet ripe black cherry-raspberry fruit that has a candied cast to it but is quite luscious. The wood here hasn't been absorbed as completely as in the '91--something like 90%, as there are noticeable if light traces of that spicy toasted-vanilla-coconut woodiness that will become our constant companion tonight as the wines get younger and younger.
Jay Miller expresses an uncharacteristic fondness for the 1992 over the 1991. I stand and denounce him to all as a traitor to his Burgundyboy heritage. Shocked, the room falls mometarily silent, but Asher breaks the tension by identifying Jay as "A jovial Ming the Merciless" and soon the amiable good fellowship that characterizes all dealings here in New York is restored.
From that slim jumping-off point the conversation drifts into an examination of the kind of behaviors we would eschew were we supervillains; i.e., instead of devising a fiendishly elaborate Rube Goldberg device to purŽe Mr. Bond and then leaving him alone with it, simply shoot the guy. I'm not sure what this topic has to do with anything, but at the very least it hands me a title on a silver platter.
Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1993 Aromatically this seems like a smaller-scale version of the '92--younger, a bit woodier, a bit less well integrated. Tastewise it almost matches the '92 stride for stride until a hint of sourness arises in the midpalate and turns into astringency that mars the finish: an automatic half-point deduction, at least from the Russian judge. Very decent, but doesn't juggle chainsaws and do backflips like the previous two.
Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1995 Always a silky, calm wine, this is an exception to the ten-year rule, never seeming to have gone through the open-and-shut phases that have affected the '93, '94 and '96. Sweet-smelling red berry fruit with spicy-toasty-espresso hints, lower in acidity and fleshier than any since the '85 . The slight tarry harshness on the finish that was this wine's only problem has been subsumed over the past couple of years by warm inviting fruit. May not last as long as some of the others, but delicious and easygoing now. There are two bottles of this, and both are pretty much emptied by the end of the evening.
Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1996 A puzzle; rich and vibrant on release, it snapped shut so definitively about a year afterward that I've been afraid to try any more since. Still closed, sniffing a bit gives me light hints of vanillaed red and black fruit, coconut, sod and pepper. Tastes hard and glossy, dark and tannic, it has rolled up into a ball and is gnawing on its tail, giving nothing away now. Has it closed down for good? Will it emerge from its shell sometime around 2006? Stay tuned.
Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1997 Plenty of coconut-vanilla-toasty wood here, plenty of rich raspberry-blackberry fruit, plenty of everything. A bumptious wine, young and unrefined and going in several directions at once. The fruit has calmed slightly since release, losing its sheen and acquiring a weighty matte density. Desperately in need of time. Four straw Prongs wrapped in new denim with red bandannas wrapped around their points.
Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1998 The quiet, sensitive sibling between two lumberjack brothers, this is not a wine to age but is light and pleasant now. I didn't buy much of this wine, but I always find it charming when it's in front of me. Drink it while your 97s and 99s are sleeping.
Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1999 An impressive infant, much like the '97 only more so. Chunky big fruit and big coconut-vanilla wood racing in tandem, holding hands but not getting any more intimate than that at this young age. Impressive concentration and strength come through the roughness, Hercules in his crib. This has a long interesting road ahead of it.
Finally, to keep us liquored up during the argument stage of the evening, there is a trio of sweeties...
Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume 1991 Medium gold color. Light apricot and pineapple over a slab of white rock. The fruit here has a pressed quality to it but the wine is compact and balanced, on the lean side for a Baumard but very pleasant.
Domaine des Baumard Coteaux du Layon (Paon) 1990 Medium-light gold color. Plumper than the QdC, more botrytised. Smells of pineapple, peach and spicy botrytis. Has some babyfat but enough acidity to get away with it. A big wine without the focus of the QdC, there's some heat on the finish that distracts a little but it's hard to stay miffed when there's so much else going on. Very nice.
Château Rieussec Sauternes 1990: Normally glorious, this suffers for coming after the two chenins, seems oaky and clumsy in comparison, vanilla and butterscotch dominating. This is a better wine than it seems tonight.
There is a brief round of applause for Marni having made it through the entire tasting with her white blouse utterly unstained by red wine; those who had wagers on the matter complete their transactions, then we all scatter to the four winds and three subways.
So um, who's up for Monte Bello?