With Manuel and Josie gracing the shores of our lovely rainy island, the call went out for a few New York/New Jersey WLDGeans to once again be helpless casualties in the hospitality wars at culinary headquarters, aka the home of the WLDG's own SFJoe, Titanium Chef New York.
Thrown into the face of a ruthless procession of endless trays of tuna tartare, heaps of shad roe, torrents of roast pork and rivers of fine and quasi-fine wines were the irrepressible Bradley Kane, Andrew Munro and the happily classless Jennifer Clark, .sasha my new employer (about whose business practices I will disclose absolutely nothing), the ever comfortable Mr. Jeff Connell, Lisa "Velvet Finger in an Iron Glove" Allen, and of course our two guests of honor, Manuel and Josie. I actually bumped into these two travellers from sunny shores in the rain-soaked lobby and felt obliged to apologize on behalf of all New York for the truly appalling weather they had to endure while here.
A brief phone call from Mona Moore, Louis/Dressner Security Coordinator, lets us all know that Joe L. Dressner has been held up and will be arriving a bit late, oh, and of course we are all once again given the admonition "Absolutely no photographs."
Having a bit of time to kill, we dive into a couple of sparklers while introductions and small talk are bandied about:
Huet Vouvray Petillant 1997 is, strangely enough, quite minerally. Who would figure? Despite the warnings I've heard about sparkling Vouvray being a dumping ground for troubled grapes, this is good stuff--very pale color, light in the mouth, crisp and racy, chalky-lemony (more chalk, less lemon than the 95), a good bright, tight mouthful.
Following that is the Heidseck Brut Rosé 1985, which is fuller and richer; pale salmon color, tangy and crisp but with a creamy, toasty mouthfeel. Plenty of cherry-tinged flavors in the midpalate, maybe an earthy/mushroomy hint in the mix, all in a base of creamy yellow-brown fruit. Nice, layered fizz with a lot going on. I keep going back to it as Bradley starts enthusing about some TV show with dinosaurs in it. I casually mention that we had been at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles during our recent visit, and Mr. Connell begins softly relating a recurring childhood dream of his in which he is stuck in tar pits and one by one his limbs are either torn, sucked or pulled right off his body.
This being the kind of conversation we usually have at the end of the evening, I assume we're in for a humdinger of an evening tonight.
Just in the nick of time the door is flung wide, and Joe Dressner is wheeled in, waving gamely from his iron lung (Mona had prepared us for this, and warned us not to say anything). Apparently he decided earlier in the day that this was the best means of quitting smoking, something that he felt was incumbent upon him, given his new position as a role model for all the WLDG kids who look up to him. We all congratulate him on his newfound extra-bigshot status, and help spoon-feed him small portions of the evening's food and wine as he lapses in and out of consciousness, but not before he fulfills his obligation and rasps out the magic words "Let the drunken festivization begin!"
The party ball now finally rolling, along comes a rare occult wine, a Joly Savenièrres Coulée de Serrant 1985, which is a medium light lemon yellow color and has a quiet, intense nose that makes you want to dip your bill over and over again; honeyed rocks sauteed in mineral oil, oily rocks sauteed in honey, honeyed oil sauteed over rocks, what have you, it's understated but very supple and complex, if not at all fruity-fruity. Quiet in the mouth, quiet in the midpalate, only with a nice long lemon-stony finish does it come alive. A reticent wine. Why so reticent, Coulée? Will you not come out to play? Shhh, Coulée has to nap today...
Cotat Chavignol La Grande Côte 1998 is not a shy girl, though, pale straw in color, with happy, bright cat pissiness mingling with carambola and chalk aromas. I am not as confused by the light sweetness in this wine as I was last time I had it, as I'm more mentally prepared, and it seems to buoy up the chalky bright lemon-limey fruit in a way that tickles me. There are no shy notes in this glass; good, balanced stuff with lots going on. Manuel is somehow reminded of one of his favorite beverages, Diet Kiwi-Strawberry Snapple; I think it was the kiwi part that did it, and this actually gibes nicely with our previous settling on 'strawberry with a hint of kiwifruit greenness' as the typical carambola aroma/flavor profile. Thus the circle remains unbroken, and all is well.
And here is a Closel Clos Papillon Cuvée Speciale 1996. Whoopsy, it's not only corked, turns out it's not the Cuvée Speciale at all, but the regular bottling. Much confused muttering. Mutter, mutter, mutter. Second quercicide of the evening, as there was a riesling of some kind that bit the dust before we arrived.
Stymied, we next turn to a Tablas Creek Tablas Blanc Paso Robles 1998 for pleasure. It seems you can't throw a rock these days without hitting a Tablas wine. This version of the blanc is pale straw-colored juice, with spicy, gingery hints on the nose, along with creamy paraffin and chrysanthemumishness. Some nice crispness, it's pleasant and balanced enough, lightly lemon-creamy through the midpalate and segueing into a gingerspicy finish. (O Ginger Spice, what hast thou wrought?) Very decent, perfectly okay. Um, next?
Coche-Dury Meursault 1996. I've only had a few Coche wines, and I'm afraid I always feel like the odd man out during all the oohing and aahing. (Don't forget, those few newbies who remain undisclaimed, I am no fan of chardonnay in general. This has been my required quarterly bias disclaimer 36C-02, valid through September 1, 2000.) Pale straw-lemon color; creamy-delicate nose with yeasty-toasty hints. Good structure, and there's a good clear throughline of apple-pear fruit here, good cut in the mouth, but the wine seems a bit lean and tight right now and a bit vanilla-leesy-woody for me, although there is a very nice long lemon-creamy finish. I'm a bit ambivalent.
I have decided, however, that I have a distinct bias towards Raveneau's version of chardonnay, and the Chablis Blanchot 1995 does nothing to dispell that bias. Pale lemon-yellow color with a tight, flinty butter-lemon-yellow appleskin nose that opens up a bit with air time. Some pretty floral aromatics emerge amidst the Chablis minerality; plumeria hints, white flowers, pretty and rich. In the piehole it's a steel spine in a lightly creamy spineglove, racy and muscular with a dash of lightly buttery babyfat creaminess. There's great density here and much need of time, but this is an impressive wine even now. Plus it goes very well with shad roe.
Ooh, it's a Trimbach Gewürztraminer Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre 1990, an old pal that I haven't seen in awhile. This old pal is holding up like a champion. It seems aromatically light at first, but swirling coaxes up some seignateure aromas: honeysuckle and pear, with light lychee and suggestions of nutty earthiness; it's developed a pleasant light nutty note that I hadn't noticed a year or two ago. This is a crisp and racy gewürz with impressive structure and balance that has aged well and could perhaps go another ten years, which sets off a conversation about how long dry gewürzes can live in captivity and where they go when they die. Is there a legendary Graveyard of the Gewürzes? I don't know, but this would be a good specimen to experiment with.
Good heavens, are we out of whites already?
There is an episode of Iron Chef on, and Dressner insists on being wheeled over by the television to cheer on the Challenger. It's an awkward procedure in the small apartment, but we finally manage and are rewarded with an encore round of Joe's famous tuna tartare topped with Olestra sprinkles. I attempt to flirt with the attractive sloe-eyed waitress who brings the tray around, but she'll have none of my gambolings.
We've worked up a powerful thirst, now comes Miller time. Enter the reds.
Manuel is delighted to witness a textbook demonstration of the notion that 'Kane Is Wrong Incessantly' (KIWI) right off the bat, as Brad begins to squirm and make sour faces at the lovely Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Gran Reserva 1978. Another soft, earthy showing for this pale ruby flower; leathery aromas, roasted yam hints, spicy and beguiling to smell, although one wag (Andrew?) shouts out "Smells like .sasha's bag!" which is true enough, as .sasha has once again been passing his leathery-smelling German rock around. The Tondonia turns ethereal when it hits your mouth, melting and feathering with baked-brick flavors & hints of tea, earth, and lemon rind, mutedly earthyfruity, with crisp acidity to hang your hat on. A very nice Rioja, despite Bradley's appalled squeals of "Mr. Ed! Mr. Ed!"
I cringe a bit when I see the Beaux Freres Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 1993 coming down the line, as my only experience with this wine has been the very peculiar and pumped-up 1994 version ("This is pinot? Are you sure? No, seriously..."). This one is muddy, cloudy garnet in color, with similar smoky, creamy-plum and clove hints on the nose, but it's not quite the syrahlike beast its younger sibling is; this wine has better balance and doesn't seem steroided. Still, although quite ripe, it's a bit diffuse through the midpalate, a bit flat and uninspiring. I'm not really a fan, but it is a big step up from the '94.
Vriesenhof Stellenbosch Pinotage 1996 is a nod to our South African friends. Deep purply-garnet; cherry-berry-smoky nose, plum & berry, with some bacony hints in there (were I blindfolded, I might guess this was a Village CdR). Very medium acidity, very medium mouthfeel, this wine kind of passes glossily through my mouth without leaving much of an impression. Seems clean and smooth, pleasant enough with decent fruit and balance, but a bit characterless.
Here comes the pork. We are treated to melt-in-your-mouth slices of Joe's roast pig, with broccoli rabe and some kind of a lentil thingy. More wines, garcon! And spare no expense, we want only the best!
Domaine Dalicieux Moulin-a-Vent Cuvée Jannick Noah 1995: Medium translucent garnet in color, this wine does indeed have the nimble grace of the former French Davis Cup and Fed Cup Captain, as well as his well-toned muscularity. Not a wine to overpower you with a blistering attack--gravelly raspberry and strawberry hints come at you from all angles like crosscourt volleys, and the mouthfeel stays neatly inside the white lines of balance, with stony-plummy-earthy flavors taking three out of four sets and jumping the net to shake your hand with some light tannins.
Phew. That was a workout. We towel off and move on to something a little less strenuous, an Isole e Olena Cepparello 1993: Medium-dark garnet color; meaty ripe raspberry-cherryfruity nose with notes of cedar and 2-season baseball glove. Rich, meaty mouthfeel, tangy, big and smoky-fruity--a Kane wine all the way, and our boy exclaims "Finally! A decent red!" Manuel, however, seems mystified by what is in his glass. "Where's the ass?" he asks plaintively, "This isn't '93 Cepparello! There's no ass!" He demands of our host if some bottle-switching chicanery has been practiced upon him, and is categorically reassured that no such thing would ever be done around here. He still seems dissatisfied, and gazes suspiciously at the wine in front of him that seems to mock him with its asslessness.
We decide to move on to less controversial wines, and out comes a Tinto Pesquera Ribera del Duero Gran Reserva 1992: Medium-dark garnet; a sniff... oh my...
This wine smells very strange.
Very strange indeed.
You won't believe me when I tell you what it smelled like. I think I'll skip to the next wine so as not to lose credibility.
Oh, wait, I have no credibility. That's a lucky thing. What freedom!
The wine smelled like shrimp cocktail.
Yes, that's right, shrimp cocktail; horseradish and seafood and spicy tomato sauce, shrimp cocktail to a tee. Crisp red fruit on the palate, good acidity, some stern glassy-fine tannins, but the very peculiar nose just carries away all other impressions. Just when you think you've smelled it all, along comes something like this to serve your nose a plate of humble nosepie. I've had Pesquera GR before (although not the '92) and it hasn't smelled like shrimp cocktail. Can someone explain this to me? Just drop a line to me if you don't feel comfortable posting, as this has been keeping me up nights.
I'm so addled at this point that I leap bodily upon the nearest familiar Ridge label that I see go floating by, which turns out to be the Ridge Zinfandel California Park-Muscatine 1990: Medium-dark purply-garnet color, smells dark and black cherryish, a bit of VA on the nose comes across as a hint of nail polish remover; tastes ripe and full-bodied, but also a bit hot and disjointed, a bit flukey. Not sure what to make of this one, but if I were a betting man I'd put a fin down on "past its prime."
As I'm mulling over the Ridge Park-Muscatel, I'm alternating listening to .sasha tell a story about a friend who was arrested for screaming at a Columbia Crest commercial on his car radio and to Dressner relating the high points of the late Ayatollah dinner with Steve Plotnicki, and when it gets to the point where what comes drifting to my right ear is "...and so it turns out that Steve's first wife was my second wife, and vice-versa..." I decide that I must drink some more, and quickly.
I get a brief pour of a Ravenswood Zinfandel Dickerson 1992, but in my pathetic haste to escape immediate reality I don't get a proper rinse done and it gets all sloshed in with Ridge dregs, so in fairness I'm yellow-flagging the following note: [Medium translucent garnet color. Big, very lush, ripe nose, dark red fruit with brown sugar and more hints of VA, or is that the leftover Ridge Park-Muscadet? Good balance, structure, some light fine tannins, seems quite drinkable.]
Good heavens, yet another Tablas Creek wine, this time the Tablas Creek Tablas Rouge Paso Robles 1997: Medium to medium-dark garnet color; smells nice, gravelly plum and raspberry and smoky notes. Medium rich and slightly pepper-spicy in the mouth, silky and pleasantly balanced, with an earthy brick-oven character. A shade on the soft, fleshy side, but that's no real knock, as the wine has a pliable mouthfeel. A pleasant enough little wine, and if that sounds like damning with faint praise I don't mean it that way; this is just that, a pleasant little wine with some decent character.
Around comes a Breton Bourgueil Les Perrieres 1997, and it's a AARGH, it's corked, massively corked. Make it go away! Bad TCA, bad! Victim number three.
There is a brief interlude while Manuel is introduced to the wonderful works of the just-deceased Edward Gorey, and we're back with the Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon South Australia Bin 707 1996, which to my chagrin fails utterly in its mission to frighten and horrify the Loireheads. Indeed, Dressner calls it 'harmonious,' and after that I know there's no hope. It's a deep inky-dark color, with some distracting coconutty notes on the nose amidst rich cassis and dark earthy tarriness, with stony graphite undertones and traces of dusty oregano. Tight, concentrated & creamy-rich, a young-seeming wine with fruit that seems fresh and not jammy (as I'd perhaps anticipated) and some nice crispness, this is indeed actually well balanced for such a big wine, but I am saddened and disappointed that it doesn't generate more horror.
My heart tells me to chalk it up to experience, I guess, and stick to the tried and true, but how many times can I rely on Lava Cap PS or Turley zins to do my dirty work? Shouldn't I feel free to experiment with different approaches to shocking and revolting people?
Much food for thought, and I think I have some soul-searching to do down the road. In the meantime, there's more wine with which to avoid the face in the mirror.
Actually, avoiding the face in the mirror is fairly simple, for now, for reasons that escape me, everyone is putting towels or napkins on their heads. Am I dreaming? What's going on here? Suddenly .sasha is at my elbow, saying "Lopez de Heredia, I only have two words for you: YOU M-----------!!!" and I stare at him blearily. What is this man talking about? Is this where the rabbit hole has taken me?
Ooh, a sweetie, grab it! Sweet good. Chris like sweet.
Deiss Riesling Altenberg de Bergheim VT 1995: Pale tan color. A lamp-oil slick on a fast-running stream with a gravel bed; racy, stony, hints of white flowers and a trace of lemon rind. Lean, slightly tangy fruit with a Mo‘lleux-like level of sweetness (BA-minus? Spätlese-plus?) and plenty of fast-moving acidity. Very nice, with a long stony-tangy finish.
The next bottle coming down the pike is a fat-bottomed Turley and Manuel takes a quick sniff and moans "Oh god, what have you done to me?" but takes another sniff and smells a rat, for he discovers that his earlier notion of bottle-switching chicanery has now come true; this is in reality Dow's Vintage Porto 1977, and it's showing beautifully, pale ruby-amber and smelling of muted berry and caramel and earth. A sip, and it's a winner, medium-light and tangy in the mouth, lightly sweet with rich feathery-earthy clay-red berry fruit just sliding seductively across my tongue and down my gullet. This wine seems light, but sneaks up on you with a surprisingly powerful punch of multilayered flavors. Truly delicious.
There is a brief lull while we recoup our energies, a few earlybirds bid farewell, and then Joe surveys the room, sees that there are a few of us left standing and decides to hit the storage unit for more goodies. My head is reeling, but I'm game for more, looking for more wines to buy for my new employer, who is asleep on the couch.
Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner Alte Reben 1997: Pale tan; bright, flinty-earthy nose with soft lemon and pineapple hints. Tastes whiteflowery, coiled and dense, with a slightly oily mouthfeel and strong acidity. Lean, tight, powerful, gone too soon.
Gangloff Côte-Rôtie 1995: Medium to medium-dark garnet, with a real telltale Côte-Rôtie nose--muted raspberry mingles with smoked meat and eucalyptus, oh, this is fun to smell. Not half bad to taste, either, showing surprisingly open for being a young 'un--smooth, medium-rich and balanced, with a meaty mouthfeel. A friendly wine, fleshy tasting and with creamy, accessible fruit flavors that beg to be consumed slowly and steadily, leading into a long peppery finish. My red wine of the night.
And with that we begin to stumble, stagger and weave out into the Manhattan monsoon, bidding farewell to our guests of honor, helping to load Joe D. into his specially-constructed iron lung van and offering up thanks to our metallic host for yet another otherwordly display of festivatory skills.
Somehow the rain doesn't seem so vexing on the way home.