LOU TURNS THE WORM



I am suffused with dread, dread for the week I have ahead of me.

I've snapped half a molar off and am lined up tomorrow to have it rooted, ground and capped (at a new dentist, having had insurance SNAFUs with the old one yesterday), the day after which I've got a come-to-jury-duty-or-we'll-throw-you-in-jail summons, which means I'll have to work all night in excruciating pain, then show up at 8 am without sleep for eight hours of sitting around in uncomfortable folding chairs. Plus, I've got that annoying itch in the back of my throat that's always the first sign that I've got a case of avian flu coming on.

Things are not coming up roses, unless we're talking dead stinky black ones.

So it's a dread-soaked trip on the subway to the sadly irrepressible Bradley Kane's swingin' bachelor pad for a night of anesthesia and Kesslers. Yes, Lou and Bettylu are in town and Kane is cooking

A white wine was apparently corked before I got here, so that goes into the database, which has hit a rough patch lately that has pushed this year's total up towards the 8% mark.

The other Cerdon de Bugey, not the Renardat-Fâche one. Lightly sweet, paler and a bit rounder than the normal kind, but otherwise cut from the same cloth--charmingly fizzy, sweet strawberry soda goodness.

Here's an old friend, a Francois Cazin Cour-Cheverny Cuvée Renaissance Vendange Manuelles 1996. Medium-light straw-gold color. Smells rich and vivid, hints of vinyl and lamp oil over lemon-wax and raspberry. Tastes much looser and fleshier than it did six or seven years ago, still brightly acidic but more velvety skinned than before. Just a hint of sweetness, great sustain and length, a wine that has lost nothing of its tensile strength but has gained a good measure of complexity. Finishes with a raspberry-mineral hum, vivid and lip-smacking. Still very young, but coming into its own wonderfully. Great wine, a delight. And wonderful with the risotto, which, despite Bettylu's assurances, does not come in the form of foam. Lisa asks Brad if he has a seltzer bottle with which we could remedy the situation, but he demurs.

Kane has some leftovers for us, he tells us, and goes into the kitchen in search of them, muttering something that sounds like "the gay wine."

"The wine is GAY?" I exclaim, dumbfounded. "How can that be?"

It is in fact a Marqués de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Rioja Gran Reserva 1970. There's a whiff of sherry on the nose, tea and bark over leathery preserved cherry fruit. Tastes lean, tart and slightly decayed, quiet hard brickfruit in the middle segues into a tarry-licorice finish. Decent, in a shrill-and-over-the-hill kind of way.

Someone voices a quiet wish that we had a Rioja Guru of some kind close at hand to explain this wine to us. What would Rajah of Rioja Gerry Dawes make of it, or Joe 'Magister Hierarchicus Vinum' Perry? There is much speculation.

Domaine Peyre Rose Coteaux du Languedoc Clos Syrah Léone 1995. Lisa throws the yellow flag: corked. Brad bemoans Garnet's return policy (this is well past the six-month cutoff), the bottle is taken out and dispatched swiftly and humanely.

On television the Angels are get beaten on by the White Sox. Kane is annoyed that Lisa and I have taken up the Halos' holy cause ever since they eliminated the Team-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named from the playoffs in the last round. In that, at least, they surely served divine purpose and answered the prayers of all right-thinking fans.

Kane is trying to remember the name of that blond guy, the gay blond guy from Queer Eye... Carson something....

"Carson Kressley is GAY?!" I exclaim, dumbfounded. This gets a general laugh, so, suffused with the positive reinforcement of a cocaine-addled rat, I continue to say the same thing every time a proper name comes up throughout the evening. It amuses me to do so, although by the eleventh or twelfth occurrence everyone's laughter seems a bit perfunctory.

Château Calon-Segur St. Estèphe 1982. Quiet mineral-cassis, pretty smelling, lightly cedary. Tastes softish and well developed, medium bodied and calm, lowish acidity, red at the core and feathering out at the edges. "It tastes like Bordeaux" opines Lou. Yes, yes it does, easygoing straightforward claret, giving the lie to the prevalent notion that the '82 Bordeaux were blowsy California wannabees across the board. Good on the resourceful folks at Calon-Segur for making the most of a challenging growing season.

Kane, hovering like my mother used to, admonishes me for not eating my vegetables. "Don't you like broccoli rabe?" he asks pointedly.

I decide I'm old enough and tipsy enough to tell the truth: "No sir, I do not like broccoli rabe. I do not like it on my pate, I do not like it with my mate..." here my Seussian invention runs dry, but the point is made.

He's taken aback. "But I've been making it for you all these years, and all this time you've never said you didn't like it!"

He's got me. "It's true," I confess, "It's my secret shame, my double life. You can't imagine the lengths I've gone to to keep it hidden. And now... now... everything is come undone... changed, changed utterly...." I'm trying to think of something cleverly Yeatsian to get me out of the corner I've painted myself into, but nothing comes so I fall back on the old improv standard and dissolve into tears.

"You know, they used to spell it with a 'P'," says Lisa, cutting through the shocked silence, "then the PC crowd decided the notion of rapist vegetables was too threatening." Everyone chews on that notion for awhile, the tension dissolving as quickly as it came.

Andrea Immer is GAY?!

Château Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1985. Medium ruby, bricking well in from the rim. Smells a bit funky, tree bark and crushed brick over quiet leafy-cassis. Tastes pleasant but a bit wan, placid in the middle and brief on the finish. This has shown better, but it's layered and pleasant, if faded.

"You've ALWAYS disliked it? ALWAYS?"

"Let it go, Brad."

Turley Cellars Zinfandel California Old Vines 2003. I can't believe I brought a Turley zin and everyone's drinking it. What has the New York scene come to in these latter days? Really the only wine on the table that has the guts to match with Kane's flavorful, tender shortribs, and match very well it does. Amazed I am, and know not what to say. We stopped buying in quantity a few years back, so most of the ones we drink now have some age on them, and the youth and fresh berryness of this one is a bit startling. Also, the older bottlings of the Old Vines version used to be more restrained. This one, with its 16-17% alcohol, is bigger and more over the top than the mid-to-late 90s versions. Nice to see they're still out there pushing the envelope. Who better to carry the monster zin flag?

"What bitter vegetables DO you like? How do you feel about kale?"

I can't help it, I snap. "I don't like ANY bitter vegetables. I don't like ANYTHING BITTER. Bitter BAD, sweet GOOD!" Château Rabaud-Promis Sauternes 1988. Rich butterscotch, vanilla and orange rind aromatics, just a hint of botrytis. Tastes broad and developed, big and sweet and unsubtle. Nummy, nice. I like this a lot, maybe more than the others. Why? Because it's tasty, and sweet, and nummy.

Claude Kolm is GAY?!

La Pierre de Coulaine Savennières Doux 1997. Kane holds a glassful up to the overhead light: it's a medium-dark gold color, brownish at the core, ambering out from the center. Flat-tasting, sweet and viscous, orange-and-earth laced flavors. Still alive and tasty enough but strikingly advanced, slipping gently into oblivion. Drink very soon. Very very soon. No, no, sooner, sooner! Oop, damn. Too late.

"Time to go find any bottles I have left and drink 'em up," says Kane.

"Probably just a shut down phase," I opine... (wait for it).... "Shut down like a coffin lid." Polite applause.

"Oh wait," says Lou offhandedly, "I have a gift for you." He wanders off towards the foyer.

A gift? For me? Did he mean me? Was he talking to me? I look around, but no one else is listening. Maybe he meant me...?

Lou returns, presses a familiar fat-bottomed bottle into my hand. "Enjoy!" I scrutinize the label, yes yes, it's the very first Turley petite sirah, the '93 Aida! "Wow! I've only ever had one chance to taste this, and it was corked!" I burble.

"I can't vouch for the cork, but the storage has been perfect."

It's like Christmas in October!

Santa Claus is GAY?!

Inspired by Lou, Kane presses a bottle of Eric Texier's botrytis sweetie into my hand as I go out the door. Why is everyone giving me wine? Is this the new jeebus trend, to offer gifts of bottles all around? If so, I'd like to be informed of it beforehand, as I brought nothing for anyone this time and am feeling a little sheepish about it.

From that Sunday night everything suddenly begins to go right:

When I go in for that root canal my dentist tells me he's misread my X-Ray ("It was hard to tell from that angle.") and that I don't need a root canal after all, just a crown, which is accomplished with the aid of the first Novocaine I've had in 26 years. It's better than I remember.

Jury duty is dreary but over unexpectedly soon, with me not getting picked for anything at all. Free for another three years!

Both Lisa and I get over our cases of bird flu quickly. Indeed, we suspect that it's merely a light touch of bird cold.

A waiting list we'd signed up for ten years ago and forgotten about finally comes up with a potential apartment for us.

After five years of working in the twilight zone of the night shift, a series of curiously coincidental and pleasantly farfetched circumstances propels me overnight out of the netherworld and into normal daytime working hours. I blink like a dazzled vole the first day, but by day two I'm already the recipient of my first office flirtation in five years!

Lisa passes her immunology & two other i's exam, her largest and least friendly block this year.

Everything having (against all odds) finally come up roses, we plan a celebratory evening at Jersey City's famed Madame Claude Café, but Lisa has a last minute study crisis and has to bail. So it is that I meet up with Jersey Wine Kingpin Jay Miller, Apprentice Chick Sommelier Eden Blum and Eden's arm candy, Scott.

A bit of festive fizz to kick things off, a Sergio Mionetto Extra Dry Sparkling Wine NV. Fizzy, friendly, touch of bakery over yellow apple, very lightly fizzy, touch of apple juice. A prosecco-style wine with extra-special non-prosecco heirloom grapes added or something like that. Gentle, supple and uncomplicated, nice fresh stuff.

Something to match with the chopped liver plate, a Prince Poniatowski Vouvray Aigle Blanc Vin de Tris 1989. Quietly sweet-smelling honey-pollen aromatics, hints of chalk and Earl Grey tea. Demisec sweet or perhaps a bit more, on the flaccid side but with enough complexity to maintain interest. Well, some interest anyway, as the flaccidity expands in the limp midpalate. Finishes with a nice chamomile hum. Decent, but not particularly compelling Vouvray, could use a bit more focus.

Jay, determined to find a white Bordeaux that he enjoys, has brought along a Château les Queyrats (Henri Dulac) Graves Grand Vin Sec 1969. Turns out he'll have to wait for another day, as the wine is well past whatever brief prime it might have had. A good whiff of old cheese is the first thing I get, followed by lemon tea and leafy pond water nuances. Tastes thin and hard, all structure, finishes lemony-leafy with a hint of quay rat. The bottle has a white tag on a string hanging from its neck, which gives it an appropriate mortuary look.

Here's a Lustau Almacenista Manzanilla Amontillada Solera NV. Nutty-almond aromatics, hints of orange rind and iced tea. Angular tasting, tart and slightly sour. Not bad, I guess, for sherry.

Marquis d'Angerville Volnay Taillepieds 1993 Wait, where's the Drouhin? We've been gypped! Light ruby color, smells of soft cherry and earth, cola. Tastes equally light, a vague little Volnay that slips gently past my tongue without leaving much of a mouthprint. Decent.

Jay passes verdict on his salad: "The cilantro is not obtruding." The rest of us try to make sense of that, fail.

Hans Kristian Jorgensen Cortes de Cima Vinho Regional Alentejano 2002. I've been a big fan of this producer's folk tales since I was a wee lad, so I'm eager to try the wine. Blackcurrants and sandalwood on the nose, tastes softish and velvety-plump, fleshy and gently spineless. Actually tastes pretty good, gentle earthy redfruit, but could use a bit more mouthgrab. Still, I go back for another pour.

Château Montus Madiran 2001. Medium-dark garnet color, smells darkly blackberried, berries and tar, new-spaded sod, licorice. Tastes borderline-intense and rough edged, matte smoky-dark flavors supported by solid acidity and tannins like a swarm of angry hornets. Not actually oversized, just good-sized, chewy and gruff, hairy-chested wine.

Mattias the proprietor sends us cognac and, for reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, baguettes. The rest of the evening is a warm blur, but I do remember a couple of sweeties.

Marc Bredif Vouvray 'Nectar' 1996. Gentle-tasting, moëlleux-sweet, not as sweet or as crisp as I'd have expected, although the name might've tipped me off. Calm, soothing Vouvray, flavorful and quiet.

Bodegas Antonio Candela e Hijos El Remate Dulce 'Bellum' 2003. Smells of baking chocolate, dark leatherberry and cardamon-cumin spiciness. Medium-plus sweet and well balanced acidity for an '03, relatively restrained. Dark and viscous for all its lightness, finishes very bittersweetly chocolatey. Interesting wine, a bit in the mold of a Banyuls, with a gritty-matte mouthfeel, a pleasant roughness.

Gah, what a roller coaster of a week. Curious how momentum can turn on a dime, isn't it?




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