Five intrepid New York metro area winos gathered this past Saturday for a reverent JayDay salute to the eastern seaboard's most punctual Friendly Lenin, Jay Miller, on the occasion of his coming of age.
We're meeting at Inside at seven o'clock, and of course when Lisa and I arrive at 6:55 Jay is already there, settled into a corner table, reading a book and occasionally glancing at his elegant timepiece. We make our apologies for only being five minutes early, and settle in for a long midsummer's eve of overconsumption.
Jay's already started on a Dirler Riesling Alsace Spiegel 1998, and we join in. Reticent aromatics, smells like a lemon-drizzled beanbag chair on a stone pedestal, vinyl and minerals with a citric accent. There's a touch of sweetness, pillowy yellowfruit and medium acidity--the overall mouthfeel is rounded and supple, enough so that at first I wonder if there's enough structure. But with air the nervy core emerges, supports the softness amiably in the middle, then re-emerges as a lemony zing on the finish. Very nice.
I happily present a Huet Vouvray le Mont Sec 1996 and goddamnit, it's sherried and quite cooked. I'm pissed because it's Jay's birthday and here I've brought Huet sherry. I sink into sullen silence as I mentally track where and when I bought this (2000, Los Angeles), how many other bottles I have still in storage (3) and whether it was cooked when I got it or somehow I cooked it myself (not sure). Damn damn fuck me damn crap why didn't I bring the sweet one? Nobody else ever brings sweet wines damnit, why didn't I know better? Crap double crap. I've let Jay down, and that hurts, people, that hurts.
As I'm stewing in my stewed Huet juices Jeff Grossman arrives, followed closely by Joe 'Swinging Bachelor' Dressner, who takes a puzzled look at the full table and says "What, everyone's on time tonight?"
"In honor of Jay," I explain. Dressner seems to accept this, and begins pulling bottle after bottle out of his bag as we watch in growing astonishment. "It's like a clown car..." says Lisa wonderingly. And so it is.
First clown up is a Jean Marc Grignot Savagnin Arbois 'Baby Bleu Marine' 2004. I'm assuming the producer is a huge Jan Michael Vincent fan, and who among us isn't? At any rate, the wine is a cloudy pale lemon-straw color. There's a gently sweat-socky quality to the aromatics, quiet funkiness over lemonstony mushroom- and hay-laced fruit. Taut and nervy, lean and vividly acidic, all stones and earth and lemonfunky action. Pure and focused wine that takes a walk on the severe side and leaves me a little breathless.
Next clown is a Jean Marc Grignot Vin de Table Francais 'les Mouches Ont Pied' NV, which, as the story goes, is the fabled white poulsard, the result of a science experiment in poulsard rosˇ gone horribly, horribly wrong. I point out that this is exactly how white zinfandel got its start; the only response is a studied silence. Anyhoo, it's much gentler than the savagnin, medium cloudy straw-tan color, friendly lemon-strawberry-canteloupe hints flicker up my nostrils. Tastes lean and bright but happily velvet-skinned, whispery calm and shy. A candied ginger note rises up to mingle with the melonstony fruit in the midpalate, then lingers longest on the finish. Pretty, small wine, offbeat and cheerful. Despite much discussion on the matter, no one can quite figure out the whole 'the flies have feet' idiom, though, so we decide to move on to reds.
Starting with a Mugneret-Gouachon Nuits-Saint-Georges les Perdrix 1983. Medium pale ruby color, browning well in from the rim. Gently barnyardy, tea and leafy-compost notes mingling with muted redfruit and crushed brick minerality. Others are put off by the initial funkiness, but I don't mind it much. A small, light wine that's fading gently away, there's still pleasure to be had if you are the type to find fruitiness to usually be a flaw. The acidity is light and bright, the mouthfeel rather watery in the middle, some pleasant tertiary flavors, moss and leaves and tea and preserved cherry. It comes together about an hour after the bottle is opened, but by the end of the evening has faded and turned brown and gone belly up.
Here's a Philippe Pacelet Pommard 2004. Translucent light garnet color. Gently truffle-spicy aromatics, muted plum-berry redfruit base, flickery traces of beet and treebark. Small, aromatic, delicate pinot noir, almost ethereally pretty and perfumed. Rather low acidity, but the lightness of the wine belies it, gives it a sense of balance. A smooth, velvety wine that hasn't much mouthgrab, but has some charming smallscale expressiveness.
We're told this is made from 'pinot fin,' which apparently doesn't mean 'the end of pinot as we know it,' as one might expect, but is instead the name of the heirloom pinot noir grape of Burgundy, before awful evil fakey-spoofey robot killer-clone grapes took over the place and ruined it for the pure of heart.
Anyway, here's a Mongeard Mugneret Échézeaux 1995. Medium ruby color, beginning to brown lightly at the rim. Smells gently earthy-herbal, mud and forest floor, gentle mossiness mingled with crushed brick. Slightly faded, rather softish in the center but nicely expressive, small and layered dreamy-tasting wine. Rather brief, not much finish. I would say drink sooner rather than later, I would.
I engage Jay in a drunken debate about the big questions in life--the nature of happiness, the obligations we have to our fellow man, the right of self-determination versus the freedom to navelgaze, why Hinayana Buddhists don't like the term, whether it's noble or vain to retreat from the world into a monastic existence that may or may not include old Burgundy, how the notion of preparing to help others by helping ourselves can stretch into a lifetime of doing nothing at all at in rarefied mostly comfortable settings, all the usual stuff. I'm curious about his spiritual searching, so different from my own blandly pragmatical outlook, and am probably trying a little too hard to poke at soft spots, but I'm genuinely curious, and it's nice to talk about something other than terroir or Hugh Jackman for once.
The token new world wine is the Belle Pente Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Murto Vineyard 2003. The bottle makes the rounds:
"Not as bad as you'd expect," says Jeff.
"Not too bad," says Dressner.
"Pretty decent," says Jay.
With these ringing endorsements buzzing in my ears, I assay the wine. Medium garnet color. Calm smooth aromatics, toasty cherry-blackberry fruit with a suggestion of mossy earthiness. Tastes velvety, a plush-skinned pinot with moderate supporting acidity. There's a kind of satiny-smooth ripeness that doesn't assist an impression of complexity--it comes off as simple and rich rather than layered and complex, but there's fine cohesion and balance, the wooding is restrained enough, there's some finesse here. Yeah, for new world pinot it's pretty nice. That is, it runs well for a catcher.
Yet another pinot fin, this time a Philippe Pacelet Gevrey-Chambertin 2004. Translucent light garnet color, smells beguilingly mushroom-truffle-clove spicy, aromatically small but very interesting. This is a little more focused than the Pommard, a little more expressive, but is cut from the same cloth. A netsuke of a wine, all intricacies in miniature, truly a pleasure to contemplate as it goes down.
For reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, the table has settled into playing the "How did you two meet?" game, which always gives Lisa and me trouble. She's attempting to field it this time but soon begins flailing and trying to drag me in, a tactic I steadfastly block. When she gets to the part about my ex cutting the crotches out of all her jeans and leggings it becomes clear that we've wandered into the tangled thicket of too much information, but from here there's no going back, so I sit back and watch her try and extract herself from this particular tar baby while sipping a Joseph Drouhin Bonnes Mares 1990, apparently the wine that got Jay up and running, geekwise. Smells gently earthy-truffle-cherryish, touch of rootbeer, light roasted beet streak down deep. Tastes composed and elegant, with slightly roasty-earthy flavors and a spiky quality to the midpalate acidity. Seems ripe and on the fleshy side but also rather inert, not saying much. There's a certain layering of flavors, but the wine isn't terribly complex, especially after the more expressive Pacelet. Still, not bad at all for a 1990 Burgundy, rises above its humble origins.
I look over and see Lisa still flailing, sinking deeper into the hash of our tangled torrid past. So hm, what's next? Let's see, here's a Montevertine Vino da Tavola di Toscana 'Il Sodaccio' 1985. Here's a change of pace after all that pinot, both finned and non-finned. Medium dark garnet color, just a hint of brown at the rim. Smells of dark berry-cassis laced with walnut and saddle leather. Comes at you with a wash of slightly developed earthy-cherry fruit, some rather spiky acidity wells up in the middle, but there's plenty of flesh to cushion it. Lacks focus, bit watery in the middle, but smooth and chewy and subtly plush, a friendly, slightly sloppy little wine that's in a good place now.
Lastly we've got a Domaine Bernard Baudry Chinon 'Franc de Pied' 2002. "They had to yank up the vines," says Dressner. "Phylloxera got them." Bummer. Gently funky, barnyardish notes at first, then muddy boots and cran-cherry. Smoothly earthy, medium-lightbodied, on the firm side but with a certain feathery softness at the edges. A small, pleasantly turfy wine with a sweet patina of funk. Nice.
There's some disappointment that the five of us have only managed to make it through a dozen bottles, but we can rationalize by telling ourselves it's summertime, so we're taking it easy. Jay has to leave early to get home on time, so we bid the birthday lad farewell and gather up the glasses, corkscrews and other detritus of an evening well spent.
I've gone the whole night without once calling Jeff 'Jim,' but as we're saying our goodbyes on the corner of 4th street and 6th Avenue I call out to him "Be sure to say hi to Jeff for us!" He waves cheerily and says "I'll say hi to Jim for you because I'm actually Jeff!" and I cringe inwardly and stay cringed all the way home to Roosevelt Island.
Well, at least we got Jay birthday-drunkish.