Ow, my head...
What day is it?
Although the details are only slowly and blearily coming back into focus, a gathering of some of New York's most happily dissipated wretches assembled last night at historic La Rochetta, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, for an impromptu session of startling feats of consumption, with the ostensible excuse of welcoming myself and the stern but lovely Lisa back from our holiday sojourn in the tropics.
This rogue's gallery included Jayson Cohen and his new bride Laura, the WLDG's own SFJoe and friend Henry, Jennifer Clark and her new bride Andrew Scott, the irrepressible Bradley Kane, Bernd Eschgfaller, Mike Bassman, Oleg (and much later Inna) O., and the newly-reformed prince of goodwill and harmonious thoughts, Robert Callahan.
After a I conducted a brief Spectator-signing session (for a very nominal fee), we settled in for a long winter's evening of vinous delights; or more properly an avalanche of bottles, one after the other, snowballing down on the head of your humble narrator with no end in sight. I did my best with the slow palate that was my birthright, but my impressions are fractional, scattershot and spotty, and I know I missed at least three or four of the swarm, so others may have to fill in a few blank spots.
In the spirit of the event, I wore my finest new pineapple-bedecked aloha shirt, so it seemed fit and proper to start with a bottle that we had lovingly brought back from the islands, Tedeschi Vineyards 'Plantation Red' Ulupalakua 1997: Grown on the island of Maui on the slopes of the dormant Haleakala volcano, this wine (yes, it's made from grapes) is Tedeschi's top-of-the-line Hawaiian red, running about $16.50, and it makes its presence known immediately in the form of a very odd, slightly barny-stinky nose, with strange hints of flowers and very old, slightly moldy orange rind flitting about to tickle the nasal passages. It's medium-light garnet in color, so it looks like wine, but everyone keeps asking if I'm sure it's made from grapes. YES, IT'S MADE FROM GRAPES. I swirl, and enjoy the peculiar aromas emanating from my glass. Well, maybe 'enjoy' isn't quite the right word... experience? At any rate, it tastes thin and a bit tart--sour cherry, charred wood and dry tannins with a bit of a bitter streak, short and ugly.
You've never seen so many glasses so vigorously rinsed only one wine into a tasting...
Next, for a small contrast, was Raveneaux Chablis Les Clos 1991, and this was showing very well (and no one had to ask if it was made from grapes or not): Lightly velvety flint and tropical-fruit hints on the nose, complex and pretty, almost seems to be a hint of botrytis to me, but that notion is shot down in good order. Nevertheless, this is very nice, not steely at all, but a bit round & fleshy, nicely balanced in the mouth, more tropical fruit and a light butteriness. I don't know Raveneaux's wines, but this seems to me almost more of a white burg style than traditional Chablis, velvety-smooth with a delightfully long finish.
Now I and my slow palate begin to grow alarmed, for it has become apparent that Callahan, who arrived toting a mysterious box, has actually brought an entire CASE of wines, and is starting to send them briskly around the table with a gleam of his pre-reform manic glee in his eyes.
Domaine du Closel Savennieres 1998: Chalky-lemony hints on the nose, tastes crisp but not sharp with a nice minerally base behind the fruit. Elegant, bright Savenni*res.
B. Morey Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets 1998: There's a little burnt-matchy hint to the nose here, but it isn't terribly bothersome. Sprightly, smooth and a bit soft, although crisper than the Raveneaux, with a bit of overt oak that doesn't quite fit into the mix. I'm not quite connecting with this. Perhaps needs time to settle a bit? Still, pretty nice.
Is there another Morey wine? Too many bottles... I can't keep up...
Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Leistenberg Riesling 1988: There is müch müttering down the line that this bottle is fairly cooked, so in my vinous triage I give it short shrift: Light gold in color, honey, green pea hints (?), more honey...
Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Auslese 1998: Beautiful. A mountain stream running over the rocks, with two flowers decorating the scene.
Terre Rouge Viognier Shenendoah Valley 1998: (Callahan takes a whiff of this and exclaims "Ah! Winemaking aromas!") Very peculiar candied nose--if they ever made a pineapple-flavored cotton candy, this is what it would smell like. Tastes like it smells--candy-fruity, creamy-pineappley and florid, with a touch of sweetness and a real good alcohol burn by way of a finish.
Now the talk turns to the late eruption of weirdness on the board, the postings under phony names, the fact that the signs apparently point to someone or ones in New York being involved. We eye each other nervously. A few misguided souls, knowing on the basis of my notes that I've got too much free time on my hands, point fingers in my direction, but I assure them they're most assuredly WRONG. Finally, Andrew produces Internet Identity Worksheet Form-750 (Sample question: "3. BRAD KANE: a.) real person, b.) virtual entity, c.) wrong, d.) Elián González..." and so on) and we all fill them out, with Robert finally confessing that yes, he's c.) a mineral. I expect Andrew is tabulating the results even now.
I think Joe's friend Henry is starting to wonder what kind of odd crowd he's fallen in with, but he maintains a cheerful demeanor nonetheless, manfully resisting the urge to flee.
We continue with some reds.
Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny 1996: Richly colored, young garnet with purply tones; smells are a bit tight, but yield to swirling to reveal smoky berry fruit and tar. Upon tasting, my first impression is of a young, rich and aggressive wine, smoky oak nicely integrated with dark tart cherry-berry-earth fruit, hung on a coiled springlike spine of bright acidity and aggressive fine tannins. My second impression is the same as my first. I don't have time for a third. Vivid, if a bit young for drinking right now.
Lewis Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 1992: Small nose. Kinda tangy. Some red fruit. This is roundly derided, but I find it less offensive than simply noninteresting. Kane likes it, however, and manages to give Lisa some of her own medicine.
Baudry Chinon La Croix Boisée 1997: Purply-garnet--a rich smelling wine, cherry-berry and smoky tea-like hints emerge with very little coaxing, and it tastes nice, too--very nicely balanced, smooth and richly redfruity with a touch of roundness to the mouthfeel that I like. Young and fairly straightforward but quite approachable, this is nice enough that I start asking about pricing, which seems to be in the low $20s, which would make it a pretty nice buy.
Quinta do Mouro Estremoz 1996: Medium garnet in color; first whiff gives me a hit of slightly candied chocolate-cherry fruit, a soft, velvety nose like a chocolate labrador retriever. Dark blackberry-cassis mingles with a nice dollop of smoky oakiness and not much of a finish, but there's some nice balance here. Others like this more than I do.
Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Rouge Cot 1998: Kane hated it. Callahan loved it. The circle remains unbroken.
Château Langoa-Barton St. Julien 1970: Ruby-colored, slightly fading to orange-amber at the rim. On first whiffage there is a slight bit of funk that, despite what Joe says, blows off a bit, leaving behind a hint of heat damage that doesn't bother me too much. This has a fairly light but pleasantly layered nose--cooked tomato, very muted cassis and dry oregano predominate. Pretty and light, a smooth, quiet medium-to-light-bodied wine that is faded but still kicking, with just a ghost of fine tannins remaining. I quite like this.
Château Batailley Pauillac 1983: a pale wine, medium-light ruby, just a bit faded to brick-red at the rim. Oh, here's a nice nose--rich, classic cedar-tobacco and very quiet cassis. A real pleasure to smell, but a little less of a success in the mouth; a bit soft and limp, with some surprisingly assertive fine tannins. Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh--it's still a very sound wine, but after the promising nose, I expected a bit more oomph when I tasted it. Still, it's a very decent wine, with a joyful nose.
La Jota Cabernet Frank Howell Mountain Napa Valley 1991: Nose more of smoke than fruit--there's some light hints of cherry and tobacco in there, but where's the taste? I can't taste anything but some charred-smoke flavors in a liquid suspension. Where are the grapes?! This is not good.
The next wine was presented in a decanter as a Mystery Wine, except by the time the bottle circumnavigated the table and got down to me it had already been identified as a Côte-Rôtie. (I'd have known anyway... no, really...): Gentaz-Dervieaux Côte-Rôtie 1990: Mmmm... rich bacon & eucalyptus & black raspberry aromas caress my shnozz lovingly, more of the same in the mouth. Not a colossus, more medium-weight, but the flavorful tart fruit sings on a nice clear note for a good long while. A beauty, and my favorite red of the evening so far.
A Lane Tanner Pinot Noir 1990 passes on the right and is lost forever at the other end of the table. Lisa says "it's... light." This is Joe's wine, and he's NOT HAPPY that I miss it...
Prieuré de St. Jean de Bebian Coteaux du Languedoc 1995: Blackberry-raspberry, leather & a nice hit of oak are what I smell, but something seems a bit off--they come to me more sequentially than in unison. It's a big wine, with lots of flavor, but the impression of disjointedness only increases when I taste it--the fruit and oak and an odd bitter streak just kind of bang around against each other and don't come together, and the bitterness wins the footrace to the finish. Odd, and not up to the lovely velvety-soft '89 that Oleg brought to one of our earlier offlines.
Alban Vineyards Syrah Edna Valley 1996: Opinions on this wine varied, from Callahan's "Yuck!" to Oleg's "This isn't syrah!" to Joe's "This hurts my nose just to smell it!" I tend to agree with Joe, as the nose is brutally toasty-oaky, with a band-aidy undercurrent that hits you like a dental drill right between the eyes. In the mouth it starts out with a nice attack of rich smoky red fruit, but within a second or two the fruit segues into a weird, extremely bitter aftertaste, leaving me a little breathless. Freaky.
And now for the flying Chapelle twins...
La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion 1996: A deeply-colored young wine, with a smoky, stony, redfruity nose with dollops of vivid cassis, round and soft-smelling. Soft and rich in the mouth, smooth and tongue-coating, until some strong tannins kick in. A bit low-acid, maybe a touch fat, but pleasantly so, and there's some good rich fruit here, drinking pretty well right now, but it might be a bit too soft to age for a long time.
Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle 1992: A quiet nose, earthy-roasty-raspberry with a hint of mushroom, leaning a bit towards the earthy-carroty side rather than being redfruity. Crisp-tasting, but not showing too much, seems a bit closed. Bit earthy, slightly tart... I dunno. It is not in the giving vein.
Druet Bourgueil Vaumoreau 1988: Oh no, it's too late, the sweeties are coming!
As a matter of fact, one of the bottles is already empty, so I hijack Kane's glass for a sample...
Domaine des Petit Quarts Bonnezeaux Vendage Grain par Grain 1997: Holy cats! Gold, deep gold. A whiff of this blows the doors off my mental Cadillac--just a Poltergeistish blast of pineapple-apricot, amazingly concentrated and dense. Whew. A taste, and whoa Nellie, it's crazily dense, absurdly sweet and shamelessly concentrated. This is a brazen hussy of a wine, sweet as all hell but with a sashaying backbone of acidity that drives me crazy. It takes me over the top like the waves at Pipeline, but I don't mind eating sand all that much when it's as golden and sweet as this.
Whew. I need a smoke.
Clearly a mistake to have that first, but it was now or never.
Domaine des Petit Quarts Bonnezeaux 1985: Well, this loses something by coming after the vastly more colossal Grain par Grain, but it's very decent and it has some nice secondary notes that the first lacked--light gold, hints of tea and honey, seems a bit thin in contrast to the GpG, not as sweet, quieter, more mellow and crisper. I don't take to it much, but it's my own damn fault.
Domaine des Petit Quarts Le Malabé 1997: What few senses that remain to me pick up a nice, rich mineral-citrus-pineapple nose, not nearly as lush as the GpG, but bright, vivid and sweet-smelling nonetheless. Tastes veer more towards pineapple than apricot, and the relative restraint allows a nice rock-candy element to show through. This has good balance--it's still pretty sweet and bright, just on a smaller scale, not so over-the-top. Another very nice sweetie.
The hour grows late, and the women are starting to bail on us, one by one. There is one last treat remaining, and out it comes to grease our paths back to our respective beds.
Moët & Chandon Nectar Imperiale NV Demi-Sec: Wow, those bubbles are huge suckers, kicking and squirming and banging in my mouth as they effervesce on my tongue. Beautiful big-bubble mousse, a toasty, honeysuckley-sweet nectar fit to end an evening of excess. Oleg, driven mad with lust, seizes the bottle and empties it in one moment of demi-insanity.
With that grand gesture, the evening ends.
We drape a napkin over Callahan's inert form, instruct the wait staff to clear his airways every half-hour or so (we left a BIG tip), and go on our respective merry ways, drunker but wiser.
I hope everyone else made it home, or at least somewhere warm and out of the snow.