Lisa's birthday was rolling around again, as it is wont to do.
I was afraid. I was very afraid.
You see, I made a mistake about seven years ago , left the preparations too long and things kind of... well, they fell apart. This was bad. Boy was it bad, and although I think I recouped much of the damage the year immediately following with an extravaganza featuring dinosaurs, a surprise party and Jerry Lewis, I know these are dangerous waters that have swallowed many a careless traveler.
So following a Monday private soft-shell crab and sundae-fest, a small group of co-conspirator drones and workers assembled on Tuesday June 13th upstairs in the tiny Tropical Room of Manhattan's fabled La Rochetta restaurant for a night of festivization and excess to pay homage to our queen bee, she of the relentless and all-seeing finger.
Many sacred bottles were brought in with many bows by dutiful supplicants, and of this much shall be spoken in due time. But first the weary travelers gathered in council and told of tastings past and tastings yet to come. It had been almost three long passings of yellow face since I had seen the likes of Andrew Scott-Munro, Jeff Connell and the irrepressible Bradley Kane, and that plus four or five hours since Oleg and Inna O. had sat down with us to drink the sweet red fruit of the vine, so there were many tales to tell, and the hallways resounded with our mirth. The WLDG's own SFJoe, fresh from a birthday of his own, bloomed in the warm tropical air, as did Brian My Vinous Godfather and .dotted One who Walks Far with Riesling in Hand.
Together we toasted the best thing to come out of the otherwise feeble year of 1968. My luve is like the one rich, rich berry on the stressed vine of that bleak vintage.
Let's pop a Pierre Matrot Puligny-Montrachet Les Chalumeaux 1991 and get the ball rolling. Let's see, what's going on here... medium lemon-gold color, slightly dark. Flinty lemon-cream nose with some hazelnutty notes, kind of odd... is this a bit damaged? Kane makes faces and moans theatrically, but you'd pretty much expect that with any chardonnay. Tastes tangy, crisp, slightly creamy mouthfeel with nice backbone, but there's more almondy nuttiness along with a toasty-flinty note. Finishes with a pleasant medium-long tangy-lemon hum, but something seems a bit off.
We begin the festivities with a full room, and gradually more and more people arrive, until we're practically sitting in one another's laps. Hey, we're all friends here, right? More bottles, lads, more wine!
Why not try a Coche-Dury Meursault 1997? It's a medium lemon yellow color. Mmm, smells nice, much more open and bright than the shut down '96 version that we had a few months back--bright, velvety yellowstone-creamy fruit, vanilla, rich and beguiling, very nice to smell. After a few fairly lukewarm experiences I finally begin to see what all the Coche fans go on about. In the mouth it's surprisingly crisp and structured, nimble and racy, yet there's velvety-smooth tangy-tart fruit to clothe the bright spine. Tastes buttery-lemony, with custardy hints that evanesce like dim stars if you try and focus on them, but reappear when your attention is elsewhere, then flow into a long lemon-cream finish. Bright, nimble, young.
Domaine Weinbach Riesling Clos des Capucins 1997: Pale straw-gold color. Smells limestoney, with lychee hints, honey and vinyl (what Jennifer once called 'hand soap'), yellow apple, a fairly floral-stony nose that (once again) suggests a bit of gewürziness. Tastes fairly open and easy-drinking, smooth and rich and accessible. Perhaps a bit short in the structure department, but amiable and quaffable.
Oleg and Inna have to run off to some business dealie, so Brian pulls bark on a Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grands Échézeaux 1969 so they don't miss out on the fun. I hold my glass up to the light, and it's a muddy medium ruby color, flecked with little dark specks and ambering at the rim. I stick my sniffer in the glass and make a little involuntary bleating noise of pleasure... I'm a sucker for older, faded burgs... shake it off, shake it off... there's so much going on here, simply listing the parts won't do it justice, but what the hey: the first nosal impression is of a rich, muted red core of dark cherry-cranberry-beetroot accented fruit around which is nestled a slightly looser, red-brown penumbra of earthiness and mushroomy, orange rind and clovey-spicey hints, feathering, leathering and browning outwards. Glorious, simply glorious to drink in the the complexity and delicacy of these aromas. A sip, and it's a soft, light, earthy wine, still red at the core, with surprising strength amidst surprising delicacy. It's a bit faded, and the nose is a hard act to follow, but it's earthy, feathery and crisp, with a light finish that calls a post-holiday pomander to mind. Exquisite to smell, very nice to taste. I save a good portion of a glass and throughout the night it is passed around and smelled to the accompaniment of widened eyes, dreamy smiles and small moans.
The previous wine having missed the exact celebratory vintage by a year, we open one that hits the chronological bullseye, a Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja Gran Reserva 1968, pausing to give telepathic thanks to Mike Conner, who smuggled this bottle and a companion northward for me last November via the underground wine railroad. Light garnet color, quite translucent. Smells complex, delicate; layered earthy-muted cherry & berry fruit mingles with sweet coconut, tobacco and baked carrot/yam rooty dark orange hints. Not as leathery as the '78 we had a few times a while back, no zhopa or sraka to speak of, and we are uniformly astonished to see Kane going for a second pour and not yowl anything about the legendary graveyard of the sitcom horses. Light in the mouth, delicate but quite flavorful, with a soft earthy-cherry finish. Can hold its head up well in the august company of the DRC.
Babcock Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Ynez Valley 1992: Medium garnet color. Pleasant light nose, pizza herbs and cloves in a base of sweet cherry-plum. Crisp enough, nice balance, all the flavors are well integrated, it's a bit unfair to have this pleasant little New World pinot after the DRC and the Tondonia, but whaddaya gonna do? Still, it's a smooth mouthful that is drinking very well right now.
Storr's Petite Sirah Santa Cruz Mountains 1991: There is a brief moratorium on the mention of anyone who uses more than two names at once while we taste this wine, which is a deep muddy garnet-purple color. Plum, earth and grapiness on the nose, fairly reserved, dark, more earthiness. Tastes dark and silky, purple plumskin mingles with dark red berry in a fairly well-balanced earthy base, with some light tannins coming through on the finish. Not a lot of striations of flavors, but a very decent, balanced PS, and (as I said about the '96) if a PS can ever be called elegant, this is the one.
At this point the waitstaff makes us armwrestle for the one and only filet mignon they have available, and I win. In your face, losers! The steak is mine, all MINE!
Château Cantemerle Haut-Medoc 1989: Medium-dark garnet color. Smells of sweet cherry-cassis, rich and ripe and dark red but a bit uniform. Tastes soft, a bit low-acid and round, turning dark and tarry through the midpalate, then slightly bitter on the finish. Unusually soft and creamy-round, not really something I usually look for in Bordeaux, but pretty decent stuff if you like a mellowerlot style.
Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas 1998: Medium garnet color. The rich upfront black cherry fruit smells a bit candied, a bit Robitussiny-medicinal. Tastes odd, candied and darkly fruity up front, then comes unglued in the low-acid, creamy-ripe midpalate and just stops cold with a flash of alcoholic heat. Lisa observes "If I want a nine-dollar zin, I'll have one." Not good, O best beloved, not good at all. Kane begins to sing its praises, but is immediately subjected to the ritual pelting with fistfuls of garbage and broken crockery amidst the traditional chants of "Kane is wrong! Kane is wrong!"
We of the Contingent are nothing if not bound by ritual and tradition. Dissent from the correct and time-honored forms of acceptable taste will not be tolerated, as it tends to adversely affect unit morale and cohesion. Once this insurrection is firmly dealt with, we are free to proceed to the next wine.
Domaine Rabasse Charavin (Corinne Coturier) Cuvée d'Estevenas Côte du Rhône Villages 1997: A cult Côte du Rhône! We stand in unison to do the obligatory cult wine hokey-pokey, then settle, a bit out of breath, to eagerly await the revealing of the culty goods. The wine is a medium ruby-garnet color, dead center red. Rich, bright nose--red cherryfruit, smoke and gravelly notes with a hint of menthol. I don't detect any gobs, but that could easily be an oversight on my behalf, as my gobometer has been a little unreliable lately. What I do detect is a well-built medium-bodied wine whose balance is impeccable. It's got plenty of bright fruit, but it's so nicely honed you'd almost think it wasn't a dense, full-flavored wine. Yet it is, lithe and concentrated, a plucky little acrobat of a wine dismounting into a long cherry-dark finish with a half twist and sticking it cold. Graceful, cheerful.
Château Cos Labory St. Estèphe 1996: Medium-dark garnet color. Smells graphitey and smoky over a base of dark cassis-berry fruit, not lush, but fairly rich and silky-smelling. A taste, and again, I am struck by a nicely balanced wine. Crisp and young, but not wrapped up too tight, the flavors are a bit monolithic now, but the wine has nice structure and seems promising.
Lisa has begun telling body-double stories, and the crowd, that had been slowly falling silent during the Alyssa Milano anecdote, has, by the time the telling of the Jennifer Lopez fiasco comes around, been reduced to utter deathly-quiet attentiveness. You could've heard a cork drop.
And drop it did, the cork of the Château Latour Pauillac 1966, but nobody notices, and it's not until my favorite final line "...and the whole time they were supposed to be shooting from behind!" comes around that ears and eyes begin to reorient themselves in a vinous direction. The wine is a medium-dark ruby, bricking only slightly but with a deep dark core. Gorgeous, rich nose, full of rich red and black fruit, tobacco, plum, graphite, cedar and dark toasty notes that .sasha likens to roasted walnuts. Never having roasted a walnut I'll have to take his word, but I can see what he means. Lisa takes a sniff and says "Call me in an hour, I'll be in my glass...." Tastes dark and rich, a bit brooding, turning towards deep bass tones on the finish. This wine is showing some development, but clearly has many years ahead of it. Square-rigged, classic structure, yet plenty of lush, layered richness to flesh out the sturdy spars and masts, a stately three-decker of a wine under a full bloom of sail.
A pause while we make sure everyone is on the same wavelength with this last wine.
There is no dissent, although Brian feels it has shown better. He is gently encouraged to recant with hisses of "Shame, shame!" and the proper unanimity is restored.
Well, it looks like we've gone as far as we can go out on the red limb, so we adjourn to whites with our various postprandial activities, trying a Domaine du Closel Savennièrres Clos du Papillon 1996, which is a pale straw-gold color and smells chalky-minerally, lemon and rainwater with hints of underripe pineapple, a quiet but firm nose. Tastes rich and strong and fairly tight, more minerals, seems to be a trace of sweetness. Very nice, needs time.
Finally, we assail a Domaine Bourillon-D'Orleans Vouvray La Coulée D'Or Trie de Nobles Grains Moëlleux 1989: Pale gold color. Smells brightly fruity, lush apricot-hay-pineapple, honey and honeysuckle notes, happy and slightly extravagant in my noseholes. The first impression is that the wine is smooth and creamy-soft, then you notice the acidic structure momentarily hidden behind the lush fruit and moëlleux-plus level of sweetness.
Amazingly, there wasn't a corked wine in the bunch tonight. I held my breath for a few of them (wishing fervently all the while for a good screwcap), but we managed to dodge the TCA bullet once more. Frankly, I think it's as afraid of Lisa as the rest of us are.
That's that. We clear out and scurry-saunter home, wonderfully elevated.
I'm safe for another three hundred and sixty-four days.