What you've heard is true: tonight there is much joy in Geekville, for the Wine Buyer has organized a mini-jeebus on the theme of "Wines that Brad Kane Might Love Were He Not Brad Kane." WIWPs from all over the tri-state area converge on The Wine Buyer's luxurious upper west side digs, bearing bottles of pinot noir, cabernet franc, chardonnay and various combinations thereof sure to strike the right note of pleasure with the hypothetical anti-Kane.
The Wine Buyer has put Yixin and Bradley to work in the kitchen, slicing pineapples and celery root, preparing the requisite feast of tan, beige and écru foodstuffs. After mumbled greetings and the promise of free wine from Yixin should I get a haircut, Lisa and I manuever ourselves past them and into the living room, where Jay Miller presses a glass of Messmer Muskateller Burrweiler Schlossgarten Gutsabfullung Kabinett 1999 into my hand. It smells lightly of lychee and yellow apple candy with a light lipsticky hint. Zippily acidic, crisp, simple and friendly enough to wash the road dust away. Yixin, already pregnant with opinion, suggests that "It's nice if you like fifty-year-old prostitutes," which stops the conversation dead as the assembled geeks attempt in vain to parse the metaphor.
There is a peculiar glyph in the middle of the producer's name that is much wondered at as the bottle is passed. After some internet research it turns out to be a distinctly Teutonic way to make a double s. The Wine Buyer explains that alphabetic obscurantism is a verifiably positive form of social expression, and, by a vote of 8 to 4, we give the Germans a pass.
Dressner is here stag, as his far better half (who, as he points out, is in fact French) felt obliged to stay home and tend to young Malmo‘lleux's high fever. Dressner himself feels no such compunction; in the cutthroat world of wine importers there is precious little room for the milk of human kindness, and he has important ITB business with The Wine Buyer. But first he scowls at me accusingly: "This isn't going to end up on the internet, is it?" He looks around as if to set a couple of Mona Moore's security goons on me to snatch my notebook, but he is without his pincurled attack dog tonight and all he can do is snap his fingers menacingly at me until I back off.
Retreating to the other side of the living room I find Dr. Jayson Cohen looking slightly perplexed over a glass of Clos des Allées Muscadet Sevre etc. etc. 1999. I pour myself some and my brow knots quizzically as well. It's very pleasant, but last year's Best Muscadet In The Whole Wide World is not quite its usual self tonight; more pleasing than thrilling, not as dependably nervy, more blunted, a lazy pilot whale instead of its usual sprightly porpoise.
Jay, having just returned from a Lucid Dreaming Conference in Hawaii, complains that he's gotten his wires crossed at some point and mistakenly had one of Kane's naked women dreams. Kane protests that his naked women dreams invariably involve Alyssa Milano--the conversation, believe it or not, goes downhill from there and I will spare my discriminating readers the rest of it.
As usual, I take refuge in alcohol, namely a Jordan & Jordan Riesling Scharzhofberger Spätlese 1993. Nosally speaking it's got some vinyl beanbag-chair character, flecks of lemon, not a whole lot going on, rather flat-smelling. A sip, and there's some light sweetness and a flattened-out, oxidative mouthfeel. A pleasant lime-rind streak emerges in the midpalate to mingle with some leftover minerality, but the wine seems mostly faded and on the downslope. Someone questions the storage, I report that it came from the personal collection of a stellar internet wine personality who has a husband named after a Norse god and thus should be above suspicion. Yixin, still quite ripe with opinions, styles it "shitty Scharzhofberger," but he's just playing his adorable WIWP cantankerousness to the hilt; it's not that bad, merely well over the hill. Naturally it sparks up the usual Bixlerian argument that aging riesling is usually a losing proposition; hard to refute on this evidence.
Growing restless, the crowd moves on to a Gaston Chiquet Blanc de Blancs d'Ay Champagne Brut NV, and this seems to be a winner, happily bubbly and biscuitty/bosc-pearish in the nostrils. Yeasty-toasty at first, in the middle the minerals and tart pear fruit comes to the fore and wave shyly. I actually enjoy this more when all the bubbles have effervesced out of the wine, as it has a stony Chabliseque air about it and the biscuitty quality fades into the background. Quite nice, defying the odds of being a) fizzy and b) chardonnay. Five crudely-carved granite Prongs rolled in a mix of breadcrumbs and white flour, then baked for fifteen minutes at 350 degrees, allowed to cool, dusted with talcum powder and placed on a small, smoothly polished cherrywood base.
S.A. Prum Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr 1983: This bottle, another of Kane's label-free flood victims, is oxidized beyond recognition. When I ask who the producer is, Yixin passes the word to me, pronouncing 'S.A' in the German fashion "ess-ah." Kane, confused, keeps correcting him ("ess-AY") until Yixin shouts "S. A! S.A.! ESS-AHHHH!" so forcefully that I look around to see if Brownshirts are at the door.
Brad has another older riesling without a label, but it turns out to be even more damaged. Dressner, irked at not being invited to Kane's theme tasting (to which everyone will bring one bottle of '89 Chave), wonders aloud if there are any other wines coming that have been dredged up from a stream in New Jersey. A pert retort is forestalled by the arrival of Laura, fresh from doing something or other wherever it is she does her things she does, whatever they are. She wants to know what's good to drink: "Er...the Champagne?" is the best anyone can come up with. I think Yixin actually spits, but perhaps I was simply dramatically extrapolating from his facial expression.
We soldier onwards with an Etienne Sauzet Batard-Montrachet 1996: Smells of vanilla and toast over a minerally cream-soda base. Rather tight and ungiving, it doesn't say much, despite its impressive focus. On the lean side, there is very nice balance and sustain, but the barrel treatment seems to have pummeled the vivacity out of the fruit. In other words, it's a very sophisticated, elegantly woody chardonnay--if that's your bag more power to you.
The Wine Buyer's splendid whole roasted Arctic char needs a white other than a woody chardonnay, so an emergency Puzelat 'Le Buisson Pouilleux" Touraine 2000 is pressed into service from our generous host's own private stash. I frighten myself by reflexively taking notes on this, a wine I've notated half a dozen time in the past three months, but I won't bore you with them again, dear patient reader.
After the postprandial naked Theresa Iverson/hot tub discussion we settle in and hash out the persistent rumor that Steve Plotnicki is buying out Wine therapy and merging it into his esteveplotnicki site, complete with a great big banner ad featuring his name in giant flashing red letters looming over the forum. There are denouncements and angry counter-denouncements before we are brought back to reality by the spectacle of The Wine Buyer bursting into the room and swanning about with a great dirt-filled tray of what appear to be vine cuttings. There is a story here, but it isn't all spoken aloud and what is spoken I don't entirely follow. Have these been pilfered from some legendary vineyard, perhaps in Saumur-Champigny? Are there offended vignerons who would like to kneecap The Wine Buyer with a grape hoe? Would these vignerons be mollified by sitting in a hot tub with Stuart Yaniger? Or perhaps that's not as novel an experience for a paysan vigneron as one might expect?
It's starting to get a little frantic, but now on top of everything else a sudden power struggle breaks out among the Burgundy geeks over a bottle of Joseph Drouhin Musigny 1992, with Yixin and Jay Miller cooing lovingly over it, Dressner making squinchy faces and rolling his eyes. I take a good whiff of the stuff: quite spicy in a pleasantly faded sort of way, cloves, cinnamon in a base of muted red beetiness. Light and beguilingly complex to smell, it's much less interesting to taste--wan and a bit thin at first, it fills out somewhat with air, turning easygoing and vague, a pleasant little wine without much defininition or focus that seems to be starting on the downslope.
Dressner says "In a better world this would be declassified into a Chambolle-Village," Jay and Yixin hiss back at him like angry geese. They then enter into what must surely be the most arcane Burg-geek argument of the first quarter of 2002: the deep conflict arising between one camp which holds that the wine has been chaptalized two and a half degrees, and the other camp who refuse this notion entirely and insist that there are clear indications of three full degrees of chaptalization. Tempers flare, neither side gives an inch; a cautionary tale about the perils of drinking too much Burgundy.
Less controversial is a Lecheneaut Nuits les Cailles 1991: Pleasantly earthy to smell, with some decently decayed red beety fruit, in the piehole it seems rather tired, the fruit bundled loosely and sleepily off in the corner and the acidity hanging out under a streetlight all by itself trolling for passersby. Over the hill, drink up.
After the dust from the Musigny argument settles, Dressner has a small but significant announcement to make: with the acquisition of his 47th grower in the Layon he has officially been designated an International Wine Magnate ("Grande Fromage du Vin"). We toast his new distinction, admire his broad blue sash and wish him all the best in crushing his competitors underfoot, possibly grinding their bones to make his bread if so desired and taxably advantageous.
What better to celebrate with than an old friend, a Druet Bourgeuil Vaumoreaux 1993. Hints of bell pepper and tobacco leaf flicker about in the dependably cran-cherried nose. A sip, and the ripe fruit has only faded marginally but the wine turns hard in the center and quite tannic on the finish. Dressner makes yet another sour face. "Dried out," he says, "Ick." Yixin, who is enjoying it, grumps that "It seems even International Wine Magnates can be wrong about their own wines." I'm in between, as the wine has finesse and balance but is giving away precious little now; it has its charms but it makes you come and find them instead of the other way around. Hold it awhile yet, it may just be a phase. Two and a half large balsa wood Prongs infused with patchouli and placed on a small altar of some kind, perhaps made of pewter or lead, then crushed into a cube by an industrial press and used as a doorstop in a Days Inn in Bismarck, North Dakota.
Baudry Chinon La Croix Boissée 1998: Quite corked. Pity, we'd been doing so well tonight.
Tinto Pesquera Crianza 1994: Immediately outed as the wine that Kane brought so that he could drink something, this isn't holding up so well. Smells of A-1 Steak Sauce and shoe polish over a base of stewed tomato/baked berry fruit. The acidity is spiky; the wine, which has some ripe and reasonably easygoing elements, seems to be coming unglued in my glass. There's smoky-tarry oakiness, a rocky-bricky streak, that poke of acidity, weird spicy flavors, all banging and jostling each other. Drink up quickly or use for cooking.
There is a secret story told about the fog-shrouded origins of Eric 'Serie' Texier's Hermitage. I am told if I put it on the internet I will be kneecapped with a grape hoe. Much ITB-type wrangling ensues, with the Wine Buyer telling The International Wine Magnate that he is underestimating the price of the wine, pricing being something he should know about. In the opinion of The Wine Buyer the Texier Hermitage with the mysterious past will probably sell for something like $50 or $55 in his emporium. The International Wine Magnate shrugs; this is not his concern. The civilians look on and mutter amongst themselves.
Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny Les Clos 1998 Almost a caricature of cab francischianesque qualities; tobacco leaf, pine resin, cran-cherry fruit, all light and clear. It's very approachable and easygoing, a wine to guzzle in the short term while waiting for the coiled '96s and quickly-closing but monumental '97s to come back around. It's too pricy for the kind of wine that it is, but that's the way things are today with these cult cabs. Kane hates it, a further endorsement of its quality. Four hollow glass Prongs filled with crushed ice, fruit punch and Mai Tai mix, carried across town and thrown into a hotel pool filled with Shriners.
Domaine du Closel Savennières Moëlleux Cuvée Isa 1989: Pale straw-gold color. Striking, distinctive nose, leather and dirt mixed with yellow fruit accented with spicy-hay botrytical notes. Could not be anything other than SavenniŹres. Tastes not quite medium sweet, on the light side of mo‘lleux or the heavy side of demisec. Smooth, strong and oh so long, a subtle wine with hidden depths and a spine like a steel spring. What vandergelder might call God Wine; I'm in love. It's young and coltish now, tight and somewhat angular, but in a few decades this will be one to sit around the fire and tell stories about.
As I'm staring oxlike at my glass of Closel, Yixin, flushing a lovely shade of pink, leans in to me. "Chaaave" he says. "Chaaave?" I echo. "Chave" he says, "Chave at Chambers. They have five bottles, I took two." I nod, put my thumb aside my nose and say "Say no more," nudging him in the ribs with my elbow for emphasis while winking energetically. He merely regards me listlessly, flushes an even rosier shade of pink, then rises and stumbles back into the dark hallways of The Wine Buyer's compound.
Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Moëlleux 1959: I take a noseful and immediately want another; the Huets from this vintage that have been kicking around New York geek circles lately have a history of spottiness, of firing on three cylinders or just missing the brass ring, but this one sings the way they ought. Medium gold-amber color. Pretty pretty package of smells; lemon and chalk, tea and honey, apricots, almonds and butterscotch. Swirling makes the youthful chalk and lemon character come to the fore, letting it sit allows the darker tea and apricot-almond tones to dominate. A sip, and it's medium-sweet and layered like the banks of the Colorado, flavors piled upon flavors. Lemon and chalk again dominate the initial surge, then the midpalate spreads out kaleidescopically until it refocuses on the daintily thrumming finish. Whee, what a ride. The Isa is a young marvel, but this has the weight of years and the refinement of high breeding behind it; it will not be denied. 86 points.
Here follows the Pierre-Bise diagonal. I've posted on all these wines several times, so my notes are mercifully brief. Well, brief for me anyway.
Château Pierre-Bise Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu L'Anclaie 1996: Medium gold color. Richly sweet to smell, honey pineapple and apricot. Tastes big and sweet after the two more delicate sweeties, but it's got zippy acidity to balance the sugar and it's quite tasty and a lot of fun to drink. The complexity is of a less delicate nature, but it's still there. Good slatternly fun, although the wine is darker and more developed than I'd have expected it to be at this point.
Dressner mentions that he expressed reservations to his son Chip that the lad had stated his intention to go hang out with 'someone he met on the internet.' Apparently the reply is something along the lines of: "You're one to talk--you meet guys from the internet who like to pretend they're women." As I understand it, this effectively ends the discussion.
Château Pierre-Bise Coteaux du Layon Chaume 1995: My concern about the dark amber color of the first wine is repeated for the second, which is visually indistinguishable from the '59 Huet when held next to it. Still, it's got its mojo workin' and it's workin' for me--more botrytis here, apricot, pineapple, rocks, generally more exuberant than the last. Tastes equally extravagant, big and sweet and thisclose to being over the top. There is a streak of caramel that arises to mingle with the tropical-apricot midpalate that again raises issues of premature aging or damage. It's goofier and less focused than the '96 L'Anclaie but it's a whole lot of fun to drink.
Château Pierre-Bise Coteaux du Layon Rochefort Les Rayelles 1996. I was convinced something was really wrong with this bottle. I set my glass down to air it out for awhile and it was spirited away before I could return to it.
After about forty-five minutes note is made of the fact that Yixin hasn't returned. Dressner is forced to go and roust him from the bathroom floor where he has been making fevered attempts at lucid dreaming. He makes a sheepish reentry, apologizes for the fact that his advancing age has sapped his vitality, retastes a few of the wines and sums up the evening: "We started out pretty crappy, but finished strong."
And on that note we effectively call it a night.