So here we are at Marty & Jill's place. It's his big three-oh party, and frankly I'm dismayed at the sight of all the geek wines, as I wasn't really thinking this was going to be a geek event and don't have my notebook. I start to whimper and try to back out the door, but Jay Miller grabs me and thrusts a glass of something into my hand. I am caught, caught like... like something archetypal that is the very symbol of caughtness!
Still, if one is to be caught in such a vividly clichéd fashion, it helps to have the solace of Cotat Sancerre Chavignol La Grande Côte 2002. Striking, beautiful, pure; first a wave of chalk, then lemon, grapefruit and peach come sashaying in, livening up the noseparty. Exquisitely balanced and seductively lithe, bright and elegant and just a bit flashy: Audrey Hepburn in bangles and bugle beads.
There are about five geeks present, along with about twenty other of Marty's civilian friends. Here's Camblor, showing off his new David Bowie look, one blue eye, one brown. "It's useless," he says of the blue one, "but the other one is just fine." I can't decide whether to call him "Manny Stardust" or "The Thin White Cuban," and while I'm mulling it over I spot Asher Rubinstein, looking slim and downtown-hip, goateed and clad in black, like a recent Queer Eye subject, and forget all about it.
Leitz Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg Spätlese. Pale, almost colorless, perhaps a light green cast. Smells of green apples and rainwater, fresh but not terribly distinctive. A sip, and the neutrality continues, touch of sweetness and more green apple and minerals. Bit dilute in the middle, but friendlly enough and well balanced. Still, I'm not sure what to make of it. I always get nervous with German wines when I can't find the word 'riesling' anywhere on the label, as I start to suspect I'm drinking something quasi-sleazy. Is this some albalonga-sylvaner blend?!
Happily, our host has sensed my distress and ridden to my rescue, supplying me with a legal pad and a prized Bar Association pen. Now I am free to scribble happily to my heart's content, ignoring all the extraneous human beings who threaten to interfere with my solemn vinous contemplations.
H. Billiot & Fils Champagne Brut Rosé NV. Pale salmon color. Lightly fizzy, smells lightly toasty-biscuitty, but there's also some strawberry-cherry and lemon flavors mixed in there. Asher calls it "Punk kiwi juice." I'm quite fond of this, it's really very tasty and flavorful, almost at the level of a simpler version of the Renardat-Fâche Bugey Cerdon. Jay says something about these people not putting their wines through malo, but soon notices my eyes glazing over and desists with the techno-geek talk.
Josie wanders by and asks me what she should drink. I ask her what she's in the mood for, she replies "Oh, something light..." and I have just the thing, a Domaine de la Pépière Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France Cuvée Granit 2002. Medium garnet, tinged throughout with purple highlights. Dark cherry, pine needles and plaster. Tart and crisp, a medium-light bodied wine, slightly more velvety skin on its sharp acidic frame than the 2001 had, a bit more cushion, but still an aggressively crisp, brightly tart wine that surprises me with its intensity and sustain. Nervy and taut, a deceptively intense little number that keeps sending cherry-plaster tendrils into my taste buds long after its been swallowed. A friggin' crazyass steal at $8.
Josie squeals with delight, "Ooh, I LIKE this, why don't we get some of this?" she asks Manuel. He grimaces "We've got CASES of that, you've had it at least four times before..." and then just trails off, aghast at the shocking spectacle of someone publicly not remembering the Ollivier Granit.
Our host wanders by and pours me some Capcanes Peraj Ha'abib Flor de Primavera Montsant 2000. One sip makes me want to yell like Howard Dean: YeeEEAUURRGH! A blast of ripe, candied raspberry and black-cherry jam, underlain with a dark smokiness. Boisterous and whooping in my mouth, a big, rich thing that has the subtlety of a linebacker. Still, there's an amiable quality to the goofy-ripeness, kind of a Turley zin crossed with a Châteauneuf, big and silly and jammy-ripe. Plus, it's kosher! The anti-Miller wine, it wins the Thunderbird Prize in a landslide.
The kosher designation of the Capcanes leads into a discussion of what exactly it is that makes a wine kosher. It seems it has something to do with hiring itinerant rabbis to harvest your grapes, then having the tips of the stems surgically removed by mohels, but it's all very complicated and maybe I'm mixing up the details. I never was a detail goy.
Bruno Giacosa Nebbiolo d'Alba 1999. Smells lightly cherried, bit of leather and earth underneath. Relatively simple, but crisp and possessed of good balance and a respectable directness. A decent enough quaff, marred by some aggressive grainy tannins but pleasant enough if you're not looking for greatness.
Clos de la Roilette Fleurie 2002. Strawberry fields forever. Light, fresh and charming Fleurie that just sings in the glass, although a small-amplitude wine without the depth of the Tardive. Drink this while the Tardive sleeps.
We geeks don't know the rest of the generally-younger crowd, and we're too ill-bred to mingle, so we congregate in a little knot in an alcove off the living room, muttering our little geek quips to one another, impeding traffic to the bathroom and generally frightening the civilians.
Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny 1999. Yes, the town wine. Medium-light ruby color, translucent. Lightly brown-herbal, tobacco leaf, cran-cherry and cedar, all over a subtle minerality. Smooth, layered and surprisingly pretty, a light wine of great grace and honesty. I hadn't picked up any of these, put off by the poor showing of many of the '99 red Loires. More fool me.
Pierre Bréton Bourgueil Nuits d'Ivresse 2002: Medium garnet, purpling lightly at the rim. Bit of funk at first, little barnyard that quickly blows off, leaving a dark gravelly wine, cran-blackberry juice poured over dark rocks. Smooth, velvety feel, medium acidity, but a nice tart tang to the fruit gives it a pleasant brightness. Finishes quietly and rather austere, gravel again, with a hint of tar and some fine drying tannins. Rather loosely wrapped, silky on the outside with a bit of Bourgueil grittiness underneath, and very easy to drink. The headspring of all café wines.
Manuel mentions Tony Fletcher's novel, which is available through some internet thing or other, or maybe bookstores in Brooklyn, again, the details are lost on me, maybe the wines are going to my head.
What's this? An Olga Raffault Chinon Les Pic-- Les WHAT? Oh... Les Poplinière 2002. Medium garnet color. Smells of light cranberry-cedar, light hint of camphor above. A sip, and it's got a pleasant dark plum-cranberry tartness to the fruit, seems matte and supple and pretty up until an odd sourness takes over on the finish. What's the problem, I ask myself rhetorically, and answer myself with a quiet I haven't the foggiest. Very nice right up until the end, when it goes badly awry. Peculiar.
As I'm nosing at the Raffault I'm suddenly startled by a massive wave of menthol, but sniffing the air around me quickly realize that no, the wines haven't all turned into Napa Syrah, it's just that Manuel is wearing some kind of hideous cologne. I complain vociferously, he sniffs his hands and wails that he's been sabotaged by the eucalyptusy mint soap in the bathroom. We start warning people as they go in, which makes for some funny looks thrown our way.
Domaine Dujac Clos St. Denis le Menis 1980. Medium ruby, ambering well out from the rim. Smells sweetly candied, a markedly cinnamonized wine, cinnamon over muted cherry fruit laced with crushed brick and forest-floor notes. Warm and soft in my nose, it's small and spicy in my mouth, muted and complex but quiet and shy as well. Perhaps a bit faded, the cinnamon note is rather distracting, some light tannins on the finish, seems like it's got some life left but would best be drunk soon. Quite a pleasant little wine with a hint of a pressed flower quality about it.
Domaine Charvin Côtes du Rhône 2000. Hello little Côtes du Rhône, what are you doing here? Are you lost? Hmmm, let's see... there's a touch of barniness at first, bit of funk over dark raspberry aromatics. Tastes ripe and rich, smooth and simple and lightly candied, without much backbone, a fine little quaffer with a hint of aromatic complexity. Run along home now, that's a good Côtes du Rhône.
Domaine de la Pousse d'Or Volnay Les Caillerets Clos 60 Ouvrées 1986. Smells rather faded, baked brick and tea hints, horehound spice and a leafy earthiness. A sip, and it's light and leafy, faded into a quiet earthiness in the middle, a slightly raspy tea-laced finish. Really just not much there, a wine that's gone missing. 'Don't age Volnay' we're told. Well, in this case they're right, whoever they are: this should've been drunk years ago.
Kebabs! Glory be, there are kebabs!
And what better match with kebabs than a J.L. Chave Hermitage 1988? Medium-dark dead center red. Quiet but expressive aromatics, iodine, black pepper, muted red berry. Reticent at first, it opens marginally with air but remains rather tight and shy. Still, there's brisk acidity, great balance and a lightness that belies the intensity of its flavors. Very nice, still quite coiled in upon itself, needs time.
Edmunds St. John Rocks and Gravel California 2001. Medium garnet. Spicy, pomander cinnamon-spice above, minerals below, ripe red raspberry fruit in between. Just enough supporting acidity; glossy, slightly candied mouthfeel, straightforward and decent. It's fine I guess, but I feel about it much as I do about the Charvin CdR: it's just in the wrong company tonight.
Contino Rioja Reserva 1983. Medium ruby. Wow, here's the nose: delicate leathery-cherry hints, cedar and coconut husk and red clay. A sip, and it's supple, layered and charming, with the freshness of late youth and the complexity of early middle age. A well-mannered wine that whispers quotes from Baudelaire in your ear while it strokes your inner thigh with a velvet-glove-clad hand. Warm and respectable up front, when it gets in close you see there are impure thoughts in its heart, and the combination of courtliness and sensuality is compelling. This impels me to find Lisa, wrap my arm around her waist and let her sip from my glass. Oh man, nice wine, nice wine.
Going back to the Chave, I'm hit by just as rich a blast of funky, wet-dog aromatics, which doesn't surprise me until I realize that it's not the Chave I'm smelling, it's the Contino, and the wet-dog aromatics are in fact coming from the wet dog. Mmmmm... wet slobbery dog muzzle. It's a good thing you're so cute, you little scamp, yes it is, yes it is, you scruffy little cute-as-the-dickens devil...
Hey, here's a birthyear wine, a Freemark Abbey Petite Sirah Napa Valley 1974. Dark ruby-black color. Smells earthy and matte, blackberry and earth. There's a bit of mustiness at first that has my antennae twitching, but soon resolves into a dusty-mineral note. A hearty and dense core of dark blackberry-tarry flavor, surprising youth, almost an inviolate obsidian core, an impressive, broad-shouldered and utterly unsubtle wine that wins you over with a crusty coarseness.
Manuel calls petite sirah "The most fucked-up grape in the world." I don't understand why this should be, and ask for clarification. What about huxelrebe, othello, bombino bianco? No clarification is forthcoming.
Strangely, there are no sweet wines of any kind. Is Marty a sweetophobe? I resolve to ask him, but he's busy playing the harmonica and singing a duet with Tucker the Wet Dog. Hey, what are birthdays for, if you can't drink good wine, play the hamonica and sing with your dog?
Lisa is nudging me out the door, virtually everyone else having already left. Apparently Jill is whisking the birthday boy off to some romantic retreat once the geeks are finally persuaded to drop their bottles and make a semigraceful exit.
And Marty's birthday gift from the Gods of Wine...?
Not one single solitary corked bottle.