SO HOT



New York in summer turns into a swamp of sticky-wet heat, sidewalks steaming like pizza stones long after sundown.

Lisa's birthday, we're stuck in the subway coming back from the latest Mets disaster, she has to head to La Rochetta, I'm sent home to collect the wine. Every travel disaster known to man afflicts me, and I finally arrive an hour late. Apologies, explanations, perspiration.

Looking sweatily around, I see Manuel 'Manhattan Mauler' Camblor and significant other Josie, Jennifer 'Metuchen MBA' Munro and significant other Andrew, Jay 'Burgundy Boy' Miller and significant otherless Bradley Kane. I wave feebly.

Camblor pours me a Château de la Maltroye Chassagne-Montrachet La Romanée 1998, and it's not helping my mood a bit, a whiff of matchsticky sulphur, gobs of vanilla-toasty oak and a celery-stick undercurrent. "No... wait!" he says, "this crap might just blow off--this is supposed to be good..." The sulphur does indeed blow off, but I'm not sure it's an improvement, as the oak steps up to take its place. Quite crisp and well spined, but the pear-apple fruit has had the life sucked from it by the vampiric wooding and just lays inertly in my mouth, whimpering softly. Poor Manuel is disconsolate. Someone cries out "This wine is possessed by the devil!" and I can't disagree.

I'm grumpy and sweaty and casting my eyes around for something decent, half-listening to Manuel relating a real-life anecdote, the punchline of which is "Watch where you're going, wiggle-tits!" Josie pipes up, "No, no, I think it was 'jiggle-tits,'" and much earnest debate on this important matter ensues while I grab a Clos de Coulaine Savennières 1999 and pour myself a generous glassful. Here we go, this will do. A lighter style of Savennires, white coral and quartz on the nose, yellow pollen, a hint of sweetness. Not very concentrated or self-important, a light, bright wine that washes the dust away with a flirtatious wink.

Kane is haggling with the waiter about the air conditioning while I attempt to catch up on an hour's worth of tippling. Here's a Lorentz Riesling Altenberg de Bergheim 1983, with a keroseney nose, hints of cooked lemon rind and beanbag chair. Dry, slightly tired, fruit seems to have faded into brownness and left the stage to the stern structure. More petroleum products on the finish. Over the hill, move on.

If the Lorentz is over the hill, a Georg Breuer RŸdesheim Riesling Rheingau Estate 1995 is still standing at the bottom looking up. Light vinyl and honey on the nose, tastes lean and tart and thin, all structure, no fruit. Not much going on.

What else? Oh, here's a cult wine, a Thomas-Labaille Sancerre Chavignol Les Monts Damnés Cuvée Buster 1999. A beauty; airy-rainwatery-chalky nose, lemon-limestone clothed with a peachy softness and a light honeysuckle florality. Not as deep and elusive as the chameleonic 1998 Buster, but easier to enjoy at the moment, bright and alive in my mouth, silky and crisply seductive, just begging to be slurped down. A slightly more effusive take on the regular Monts DamnŽs. Pretty stuff, ideal for a hot summer's night. Andrew wants to know why all Busters are white wines. I suggest he pose this question to someone in the know like Jeff Connell, and he agrees to do so at some future date.

Jay Miller, still pissed off that I've been putting words in his mouth, decides to break out the reds. "Do you think I'm nathan vandergrift," he says, "to just mouth any words that come to you?"

I point out that he's doing just that right now and he stops and fumes, addled by the seeming paradox, finally muttering "Burgundy... Burgundy..." under his breath while reaching for a De Montille Volnay Taillepieds 1976. I take a sniff... it's an aromatically smooth wine, muted bricky fruit with a mushroomy patina. Tastes a bit faded, pleasantly forest-floorish, but rather loose and not terribly complex. Still, it's got two or three good notes and it plays them competently.

A younger sibling, a De Montille Volnay Taillepieds 1997 is off at the other end of the spectrum, aromatically tight, cherry-smoky and closed. Tastes tart and red, knife-hard and tightly wrapped, not giving much up at this point. A tightwad.

Here's a Roumier Chambolle-Musigny 1983. Quiet, warm nose, soft and smelling of muted cherry, cola and tree bark. Tastes a bit sweet, feathered at the edges and lightly fleshy, not a whole lot of spine. A strange package, but it rather grows on me. Kane is carrying on loudly about it being cooked--everyone looks at him wonderingly, exchanging worried glances with one another. Andrew puts a brotherly hand on his shoulder, says "We're here for you, Brad," and he quiets down.

Kane, having been tortured with pinot for as long as he can stand, passes around his kind of wine, a Hacienda Monasterio Crianza 1995. There are general groans of dismay. It's a darkly berry-plummish wine, ripe and smoky-oaky to smell with hints of curry powder in the black fruit, maybe cumin or coriander. Anyway, it's a decent but quite obvious wine, routinely robust, generously oaked and a bit hard, with a tarry finish. Camblor calls Kane a "nincompoop."

I open a Chêteau Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 1982 and pass Kane a glass, only to have him say "Uh, oh." and pass it immediately towards Jen and Lisa, our TCA canaries, who recoil in horror at one sniff and throw their yellow flags immediately. Kane attempts some levity, "Hey," he says, "maybe the wine is corked because of poor storage ha ha ha!" There is a perfunctory chuckle, but I'm pissed because I'd been looking forward to this one. We almost always have at least one corked wine, why couldn't it have been that Spanish thing instead?

A Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella 1986 is rather startling after so many Burgundies, darkly berryfruity and plush-smelling, brown sugar and raspberry-currant. Tastes big and almost zinny, dark ripe berry fruit, concentrated and still quite primary, with a smoky-licorice spine. A happy wine, but a fairly simple one that needs time.

A last pinot, a Domaine Confuron Nuits St. Georges 1997 smells good, cherries, cloves and minerals. A sip gives a nicely tart thrust of coiled red fruit, but the upfront rush hangs in space and drops into a hollow midpalate, hard and lean. Some time and air do flesh it out marginally, but this just seems too young to drink.

Finally there is a very special birthday wine for Lisa, hand-imported from France, a Chêteau Pierre-Bise (Papin) Anjou Gamay 1999, the cultiest of the cult gamays. From the other end of the table I hear Jen involuntarily squeal with delight. Bright strawberry-plumskin nose, dark red and light red fruit happily intermingling with a wash of gravelly rocks. Quite crisp, the lush red fruit has a spine of steel to hang its hat on. A beautifully balanced wine that is deceptively light in the gob, this hasn't the pure size and over-the-top ripeness of the 1997; it's more a wine to put away for a few decades, then drink on your deathbed.

Hard act to follow, so we decide against opening the bottle of Lisa's old favorite Harlan Estate Proprietary Wine, saving it for a time when it wouldn't be overshadowed, and move right on to some sweeties.

A Chêteau Sigalas-Ribaud Sauternes 1983 is a dark gold-amber color, cooked into submission, the flavors flattened and pressed into caramel-apple flatness and butterscotch with orange rind. Next.

Here's a Domaine des Baumard Coteaux du Layon 'Paon' 1995, a refined apricot-botrytis nose, touch of slightly underripe pineapple. I've always thought this a very decent base-level Paon, balanced and medium-sweet, not overenthusiastic, not at war with itself, with a smooth glyceriney mouthfeel and serene chenin fruit. Mellow, crisp and smooth.

Not mellow at all is the Muller-Catoir Scheurebe Haardter Mandelring Auslese 1998, a wine that figuratively explodes into my nostrils in bursts of white grapefruit with pineapple accents, exotic and exciting to smell. With air more fruit salad emerges--lilikoi, guava, mandarin orange, wheee! Crisp and bright in the piehole, desserty-sweet but nimble as a bunny, with a whiplike spine and velvety-ripe tropicality. A wine that has us figuratively jumping up and down excitedly despite the heat. Jay Miller actually gives the impression of doing a jig, although he's sitting down and not moving much at all.

With that we adjourn, some to the suburbs, some to air-conditioned apartments, Lisa and I to a piano bar in Chelsea-Clinton. But that's a story for another day.




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