With a sickening clatter, the bottle of Scott-Clark Chenin Blanc 'Acorn' slips off its shelf, bangs off the top of my storage unit and is momentarily airborne. My first instinct is to make a grab for it, but there are two other bottles coming fast after it and I only have two hands, so I can only watch as the Acorn crashes heavily into an innocent bottle of Bosconia '95, spreading redness outwards like a scene from The Shining, the pungent aroma of berries and American oak suffusing my conservatory.
The first bottle of wine that I have ever broken.
I lift the bottle of chenin out of the crime scene and examine it; seems intact, no sign of cracking. It could've been worse, I tell myself. The Bosconia is replaceable, the Acorn is not, unless I want to pay auction prices. My paleolithic rug is not happy, but I manage to roll it back before the red tide does more than seep lightly into the fringe.
I'm hoping this isn't a bad omen for the impromptu Hawaiian jeebus that is supposed to be happening very shortly. Lisa and I have been cleaning furiously, and it's my overenthusiastic dusting that has dislodged the murderous chenin and sent it on its path of destruction. To steady the jangled nerves we start hitting the bubbly, a Gruet Winery 'Millennium' Albuquerque Sparkling Wine 2000. Quite toasty-smelling, flinty burnt-brioche hints, vanilla and light buttery pear. Frothy and bright, it's got a creamy, substantial mouthfeel (blanc de blancs?), more poached pear fruit in the middle, good acidity. Pretty good, a weighty but smooth wine with a toasty finish. Not subtle or terrifically complex, but a nice combination of flavors in a well-made, cohesive package, very drinkable. Good on New Mexico!
Then the phone rings. It's Kane, who has taken a wrong turn somewhere and is lost. He keeps calling out the names of streets I've never heard of, and I am unable to do much more than say, "GO WEST! GO WEST!"
The second I'm off the phone with Kane it rings again, this time Jay Miller, who is in front of our building but doesn't know our apartment number. Then Kane calls again, still lost. Andrew Scott and Jennifer Munro arrive, Dressner calls from downstairs, bubbly is poured, Kane calls again, the cat runs behind the living room chair and hides, I'm becoming overheated in the blue blazer I'm wearing over my aloha shirt, there's no food set out on the table yet, Kane calls again, it's all starting to veer out of control until Andrew Scott takes matters into his own hands and says "I'VE GOT CHEESE."
Phew. Saved by the truffled Gouda.
So we finally get Kane pointed towards us, the irate phone calls cease, we begin to put out our Hawaiian dishes that can't possibly be matched with any wine, and things start to move according to plan, winewise. I've managed to get the next two bottles switched in a double-decanting accident, but everyone is clearly warned so that no chicanery is suspected.
First, a Pegasus Bay Riesling Waipara 2001. Very vinyly nose, lots of beanbag chair overtones here, underneath that there's flirty yellow apple and whiteflower notes. Lightly off-dry, it's an ethereal wine, soft and whispery, the only assertiveness being a light lemony streak that surfaces briefly in the middle, then fades apologetically. Quite pleasant in its quiet, girly way, an easygoing and honest young riesling.
Next, a Selbach-Oster Riesling Bernkasteler Badstube 2001. Damn fine, an assertive, grab-you-by-the-balls kind of wine, with high highs and low lows, as well as a full, muscular middle. Finishes lemony-tart. Good stuff, needs time, goes not very well at all with the lomi-lomi salmon (cold chopped salmon salad with tomato, onion, other stuff).
Kane finally manages to make it in the door. I take his jacket and hand him a glass of bubbly. He settles in, offhandedly mentioning that he had trouble parking and had to "give five dollars to a crack whore to watch his car."
This stops the conversation in its tracks. "Sorry, what was that?" I ask, never having noticed a brisk flesh trade outside my front door.
"Yeah, she said she'd be mine for twenty dollars, so I gave her five and asked her to watch my minivan," Kane explains.
I call over to Lisa, "Dear, have you ever noticed any prostitutes, drug-addled or otherwise, wandering around in our neighborhood?" She hasn't. Neither have I, and I've been here sixteen years. "Are you sure you didn't bring one with you?" I ask, wondering if Kane has finally let his hyperactive fantasy life completely overcome his always-tenuous grasp on reality.
(I'm also crossing my fingers that he hasn't mortally insulted that nice Mrs. Jameson who lives on the corner and is often out sweeping and chatting with passersby.)
"Let me get this straight," says Andrew. "You gave someone five bucks and told them 'Here's my car, I'm going to be gone for a long time'?"
This does seem to be the case, at least in Brad's mind. No one is quite sure what to make of this anecdote, but it becomes the source of much merriment as the evening progresses.
Back to the wine, with a Domaine du Closel Savennières Clos du Papillon Cuvée Speciale 1996. This bottle doesn't sing as clearly as some that I've had, but this is one of Closel's finest efforts, brightly substantial chenin, mouthwateringly crisp and weighty, a big wine that's light on its feet. There's textbook Savennières earthiness underneath, wax and white honey-lemon above, all in a beautifully poised wine that has always been supple and never had the youthful severity that can make some big, young Savennières more of an intellectual experience than a pleasure to drink. Hold, drink, whatever, it's a real dreamboat of a wine. Andrew has brought the aforementioned truffled Gouda as a partner for this, and it's a great match.
Dressner reminds me rather pointedly that Mme. de Jessey was traumatized by my unvarnished criticism of the '99 Closels. I hang my head in shame and point out my long track record of enthusiastic support for the Domaine (not to mention my failed attempt to secure a case of the '89 Isa by promising Dressner a heavily discounted crack whore), but I am nonetheless disconcerted. Verily, the critical voice sometimes forgets the full scope and breadth of its effects on those who are critiqued. I see now that with great power comes great responsibility, so I promise myself that I will henceforth not shoot from the hip as much as I have in the past. My peace being made, we move on to the next wine.
Domaine du Closel Savennières Clos du Papillon 1989: This wine is markedly cooked, probably by being placed in hot 'export only' ovens at the Domaine, a practice I've heard is quite common among the perfidious French.
Ahhh, hang on, that's not what I meant. Did I say that? No, no, no. I'm sure it was cooked AFTER it left the domaine, probably by someone who is not French and may even have never heard of France. Yes, that's more what I meant I thought I said. Meant. Said. You know.
Um, moving right along, here's a Pierre Overnoy Arbois Pupillin Poulsard Cuvée Yaniger 2000. The new 'clean' cuvée that followed upon the heels of the near-bankruptcy at Overnoy because of scathing internet word of mouth. It's a medium-light cloudy ruby-brownish color, like freshly-made iced tea. Leather, muted cherry and yam, a touch of spearmint up high, just a trace of light earthy-animal notes below. Bright, light and almost crisp, it's a charming wine but where's the funk? Without the richly horsey and animalish notes it seems a little inconsequential, a divertimento. Almost tanninless, the spine is only the light, feathery acidity; it seems like a red white wine, rosˇish tendencies are noted. Sold its soul for an extra Stooge, tsk, tsk. Goes quite poorly with the lau-laus (steamed ti leaf-wrapped bundles of spinach, butterfish, pork, chicken, rock salt).
Domaine G. Roumier Chambolle-Musigny 1995: Light, pretty aromatics--truffle, dark earth and bright cherry. Tastes tight and lean and taut, focused down to a pure pinpoint of pinot. Lovely, but needs lots of time.
So anyway, Jay Miller, being a man of deep abiding rage and eternal thirst for revenge ("Miller" means "One Who Crushes Things Between Stones" in Middle English), has brought a wine that he swears will be his vengeance upon me for previously inflicting a Martinelli zinfandel upon him. Determined to manfully accept my comeuppance, I take a hearty pour of Château Monbousquet St. Emilion 1995 while he chortles maniacally. I swirl, take a sniff, have a sip....
Miller, you inhuman bastard.
Smells smoky, toasty--judiciously wooded, then just as judiciously overwooded, then wooded some more, just for good measure, then put in small high-toast barrels, then put into even smaller high-toast barrels, and finally ladled into tiny high-toast snuffboxes. There's glossy candied red-black fruit underneath the carpentry, traces of graphite and pipe tobacco and cedar. It smells oafish, but not appalling. But it's the taste that brings this wine firmly into agent-of-vengeance territory. After an initial innocuous glossyfruity rush, weird charred, black-rubbery flavors emerge in the middle and persist, dominating the finish. Frankly, it tastes like there was a tire fire in the vineyard while the grapes were being harvested. I'm not spitting tonight, but for this I can make an exception. Boy, this was a pretty ugly wine on release, but it's gone solidly downhill in a fairly short time. Viniferacide.
Andrew looks downcast, "I've got a whole CASE of this crap that Kane sold me five years ago," he mutters. "I keep hoping if I ignore it it'll just disappear."
"Sell it on Winebid!" chirps Brad, "This has POINTS, and there's people there who'll buy any swill with 'points'!"
"Yeah, yeah..." says Andrew, unconvinced. "I couldn't do that to some poor guy I never met, that would be... that would be..." he shakes his head and stares down at his red shoes, unable to finish the sentence.
I try to salvage some dignity by pointing out that this wine, ugly and absurdly overoaked as it is, isn't quite the equal of the Martinelli in terms of actual ghastliness, a point that is readily conceded. He counters by saying that one would expect a certain amount of wretchedness from a Martinelli zin, whereas the St. Emilion appellation might at least give one hope of something drinkable, so in that sense this wine was transcending its qualitative origins while the Martinelli was merely living up to or enlarging upon its own. Touché, Mr. Jay, touché.
His sweet sweet vengeance complete, Jay opens a Compañía Vinicola del Norte de España Viña Real Gran Reserva Rioja 1988 by way of a peace offering. Light leather and barnyard hints over muted shoyu-laced redfruit; cedar, preserved cherry and crushed brick all intertwine, soothing and earthy to smell and turning truffley on the finish. Silky and smooth, it's got a light, mouthcoating feel, supple as a well-worn silk scarf. It's a cunning little vixen, shy and alluring, not showing itself all at once, making you pay attention and come back to it again and again to unfold its layers. Beautiful stuff. Kane makes squinchy faces, a sure sign of quality.
Dressner, after gesticulating wildly and knocking the already-loose arm off my totemic Hakaider figurine, goes into the conservatory and collapses into a heap. We put the war on TV to see if that will cheer him up, but he seems pretty out of it, plaintively asking everyone who comes in, "Do you have five dollars? I'll watch your minivan for you...?"
While he's out of the room we rifle his bag and find some unreleased wines, first an Eric Texier Côte du Rhône Brézème 2001. Medium dark purply-garnet. Now we're back in syrah country, pepper and smoked meat, heavier on the iodine and violets than previous vintages, dark smoky blackberriness. Taut and crisp and nervy, a bright young syrah that needs time to rest, the antidote for gobs. Very nice, more in the model of the firm 1999 than the shrill 2000.
Okay, here's my take on the entire history of the Texier Brézème, suitable for clipping and a convenient size for carrying in your wallet:
1998: Pretty darn good.
1999: Shit, this kicks ass!
1999 MT: Shit, this kicks ass too!
2000 VV: Slaps you silly, but you come back for more.
2001: Hey, doesn't suck!
Don't forget: you heard it here first.
While Dressner sleeps we manage to pilfer another unreleased Texier wine, an Eric Texier Châteaneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes 2001. Sweet, smooth strawberry-raspberry aromatics, dark earth-and-something undertones. Tastes powerful, focused and strong, with firm acidity, yet with that grenache fleshiness serving as a pillow. Matte mouthfeel, slightly gritty tannins, a wine to chew on like an old favorite bone. This may be the best Châteauneuf in the long and storied history of the Texier empire. It has a lovely balancing act going on, crossing a highwire over the intersection of Firm Avenue and Gob Street and tipping its hat in both directions. I don't usually find much point in aging Châteaneuf, but this has an interesting sternness around the heart and I'd be curious to see where it goes over the next decade.
Here's a thing, a Catena Alta Malbec Mendoza Angelica Vineyard 1999. Medium dark purply-garnet. Lots of sweet toasty oak to smell here, touch of horsiness to the ripe camphor-laced fruit. Big purple-black fruit, lots of toast and creaminess, woody but darkly fruit-bomby as well, finishing with a dark espresso-laced buzz. Simple and obvious but not unpleasant, with decent acidity and a limited sense of freakishness--the clumsy and overenthusiastic wooding is offset by the happily rough-hewn chunky fruit. A decent burger wine, goes moderately well with the Kal Bi (Korean-style shortribs). I would pay $8-$10 for this, he says, not knowing how much it really costs but suspecting it's a whole lot more.
I need a smoke. And some real conversation. Fortunately, Denyse Louis is here and we go into the Fumidorium and enjoy a hearty walk through flavor country while discussing issues of great importance: world peace, world war, the Ivory Coast, the C™te d'Ivoire, anti-Americanism, anti-Frenchism, anti-smoking fascists, lots of antis.
Okay, nice work. Now we can return to getting drunk in good conscience.
We bring out two desserts, a Medieval apple tart that Lisa made, and a fruit tart that we coerced Kane into bringing, and suddenly they're both gone. Where did they go? Were they eaten, or was there a food fight of some kind?
Here's a Huet Vouvray Le Mont Moëlleux 1953. Medium gold-amber color. Smells wonderfully layered--pollen, leather, wax, caramel and lemon tea all flicker in and out of my nostrils. Tastes lightly sweet, just past off-dry, with a bit of caramelized flatness lurking like creme brulée in the middle, but plenty of vigorous lemon-marzipan-leather flavors as well. Long waxy-caramel finish that leaves you tasting amber honey and beeswax. A beautiful if slightly weary wine, suffused with character.
Jennifer has brought a half bottle of Dönnhoff Riesling Niedesheimer Hermanshohle Auslese 2001, upon which one of those "points" critic guys has apparently bestowed "one hundred" of the "points." But, she is quick to point out, "I only brought a half bottle, so I really only brought fifty 'points'."
General merriment ensues, polite applause, she takes a bow. "Thank you, everyone. That was my joke for 2003, now I can relax." And she does just that.
Oh, the wine. Mmmm, smells lusciously tropical, an island fruit salad of mango, guava and lilikoi with an underlying minerality. A sip, and it's quietly stony and tight in the piehole at first, but blossoms in the middle, the rich fruit and medium-light sweetness opening up just enough to let you see the potential here. A smooth, harmonious wine of great character with a sense of fun. Fine, fine stuff, despite the whole "points" silliness.
Kane and the other Manhattanites are departing, we wish them luck in not finding his car up on cinderblocks and remind them that there is room here if they need to crash. After ten minutes when they haven't returned we figure it's safe and open a Dow's Porto 1983. I've written this one up many times, but this may be its best showing yet. Earthy and darkly cocoaberried, the dark smoky brambliness that has been only hinted at in past showings is now more assertive, giving the wine a bit more scope and weight. It's still just past medium sweet, with dark red clay, a touch of fruitcake and bittersweet chocolate notes on the finish. Not a profound porto, but awfully charming now and seemingly developing a little more oomph.
So that's it. It seems the smashed Bosconia was more good omen than bad, giving its life to christen the festivities.
Oh wait though, I did forget one little episode: Jennifer Munro has a Mystery Wine that she wants to inflict upon us. We indulge her.
Mystery Wine: Medium ruby, slightly hazy. Light hint of volatility, muted cherry-leather fruit laced with earth and traces of cedar and orange rind. The initial impression is of tart cherry fruit, but it quickly veers towards a more bricky, earthy midpalate. Tastes crisp, balanced and rather rustic, flavorful and honest wine with a sense of elegance but also a bit of a rough side, some rather aggressive fine tannins. Strikes me as a carefully made country wine.
Guesses are all over the place, from Bordeaux blend to Bruce Schneider cabernet franc to quotidian Portuguese table wine to "something Spanish." It reminds me a little bit of a Buttafuoco I had last month [please insert your own joke here]. Hedging my bets a little, I guess that it's a "Some weird rustic southern Italian or Greek grape." It is finally revealed as... as...
As what? The label is perfectly inscrutible, not a word that I recognize. It's Greek to me. In fact, it's Greek to everyone because it's Greek. I have no idea what the specific wine is, but I was closest to being right. What do I win?
You guessed it, a five-dollar crack whore!
Thank you, thank you, I'll be here in the Walnut Room all week, tell your friends to come on down, don't forget to tip your waitress...