The memories stain the floor tiles inside Andrew Scott-Munro and Jennifer Munro-Clark's Metuchen estate, pooling thickly in the corners and running in bright rivulets down the stairs into the spacious newly-expanded cellar. Occult Wines, Geekfest '99, Dark Night of the Loirenatics, A Discreet Affair (yes, now it can be told), Interntet Recluse Convention, The Longest Night, Viva Mexico!, the list goes ever on and on. In those heady days of internet youth we thought the wine party would go on forever; now we know better, for the end is at hand: retirement to the upstate pasture beckons irresistibly to our two soon-to-be former urbanites. Yes, the old Munro-Scott place, site of so many festivizations past, has a date with the wrecking ball.
Or the realtor, I forget which. Pretty much the same, at least as concerns me.
So we make the doleful pilgrimage to the historic hamlet of Metuchen to festivize one last time in what Andrew cheekily refers to as their Two Bedroom Wine Cellar. I half expect to see bulldozers poised to begin their grim task, but the place is as cheery as ever, bearing up bravely despite the hovering Sword of Damocles.
But before the terrible splintering and destruction there's bubbly to be quaffed, a Larmandier-Bernier Champagne Blanc de Blancs 'Vertus' NV. In compliance with Andrew's philosophy (which I heartily endorse) this has been double-decanted and allowed to breathe to reduce distracting fizziness. Smells pleasant, some baked lemon zest, vanilla, light yeastiness, creme soda. Tastes gentle and softish, medium acidity, with a rounded, rather plush mouthfeel. Decent enough, if unremarkable.
Here's a Domaine du Clos Naudin/Foreau Vouvray Demisec 2005. Medium straw color. Very aromatic, lemon and hay, quinine and chamomile, maybe a touch of limeskin. Noticeably sweet, wide-shouldered and chewy-rich, with solid column of acidity and a lot going on. Really fine young demisec, Foreau's best since '97. On the broadbeamed side, but with plenty of underlying finesse. Note to self: buy vast quantities.
We wait expectantly for Kane's obligatory 'I'm on the way, but I'm lost' phone call, which comes right on schedule. Andrew spins a long list of directions, and before too long Brad is padding up the driveway, gobby wines in hand.
Next up is what the eco-activists like to call a 'Frankenwine,' which I suppose means the producers uses grapes genetically modified with lamprey genes or some such advanced agricultural technique. Fürst Müller-Thürgaü Franken 'Pur Mineral' 2005 is, unsurprisingly, markedly stony, lotsa rocks, lemon-chalk with a light gardenia hint up high. Crisp and edgy with some vivid nervosity along the spinal column, it has a light velvety edge that pulls it back from the brink of severity. Bright, nice. I must say, for something out of a test tube it's pretty good, with just a hint of lamprey. Brad makes a face and quickly dumps his glass, always a promising sign.
"Too neutral for me," he grunts.
"Would a lemon slice help?" I suggest. "Or a nice piece of pineapple?" He declines.
Here's a Château Carbonnieux Pessac-Léognan 1994. Medium-pale lemon straw color. Smells gently honeyed, touch of vanilla cream, touch of orange rind. Medium acidity, firm at the heart, fleshy at the edges, more cohesiveness than I remember. Seems to be beginning to come around after a somewhat awkward youth.
Andrew is fretting about Callahan's health, and suggest that Lisa's medical career take a turn towards helping him out. "I don't know," sighs Andrew. "I think it's something to do with being a vegetarian. Every vegetarian I know has kidney problems."
"Every vegetarian I know has fairly well endowed bosoms," Kane chimes in helpfully. "And I pay attention to these kinds of things."
This has not been my experience, and I say so, using Stuart Yaniger as my first example. This is apparently a controversial choice, and much discussion follows.
In order to vex Brad, Andrew produces a Domaine Michel Lafarge C™te du Beaune Villages 1993. Mmm, smells light and pretty--muted cherry, sod and foresty hints. Lightbodied and lean, very calm-tasting despite perky acidity, a woodsy little wine. Not terribly deep but quite charming, a sonata for piccolo and keyboard.
Andrew has promised us steak au poivre, which is, he informs us, "French for 'too much pepper.'" He is true to tradition, and there is sneezing aplenty.
To go with the pepper steak we've got a Mystery Wine! The Last of the Metuchen Mystery Wines! Hmmm, lessee, it's medium to medium-dark garnet color... smells very cherried, maybe a hint of red plum, some unintegrated toasty-vanilla-oak notes... some... some... well, that's about it. Simple aromatics lead to simple flavors--candy-edged cherry-plum laced with a light oakiness. Medium acidity, juicy and innocuous. Comes off as rather correct and industrial, something you'd be happy enough to drink on a flight to the coast.
My guess: California Central Valley merlot? (Fetzer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon California 'Valley Oaks' 2004)
Hey, that's pretty close, right?
I've taken pity on Kane and brought something without a lot of structure, a Domaine Daniel Rion Nuits-St.-Georges Hauts Pruliers 1990. Wow, very aromatic--muted cherry-beet laced with rootbeer, earth and crushed brick spiciness. Rich and fleshy, there's acidity here, but it's buried under a wave of pillowy-earthy fruit. Finishes with a long cherryspicy hum, very nice. The unusual red wine that pleases all present--there's usually one at every jeebus but it's almost always a white or sweet wine; this is the rare exception. Plus, this was my door prize at a recent Lou Kessler raffle. We all toast Lou and Bettylu, last of the noble peripatetic winegeeks. Thanks, guys!
Jennifer explains her relocation plan, which involves joining the ranks of telecommuters, only returning to Manhattan sporadically to kick asses and hand out gold stars, each in good measure. We promise to come crash her hotel and raid the minibar.
Continuing the 1990 theme with an old friend, a Château de Pez St. Estèphe 1990. Smells darkly cassisberried, earth and tobacco and tree bark, a bit barkier in fact than I remember it being; perhaps the ripe fruit is finally beginning to recede. Solid, satisfying little St. Estèphe, on the ripe side but carries it well.
The notion of a party hotel brings to mind the tale of my old stoner friend Dan, an amiably shaggy ür-slacker who one day (while living in his van in Ohio) showed up in a swanky Midtown hotel with his new girlfriend who, as the evening went along, gradually revealed herself as a) an Air Force officer, b) a physician, c) the designer of equipment for building and fitting prosthetic limbs, and d) in training for the Olympic biathlon team. Not that I don't hold Dan in the highest esteem, but this Type A Power Chick seemed an odd match for someone whose highest priority often seemed to be locating the source of the next buzz and shambling happily towards it. As we chatted with her throughout the course of the evening my eyebrows gradually crept up past my hairline; Dan spent the evening hatching a convoluted and rather inexplicable plan to swap out the pony bottles of Rolling Rock in the minibar with cheaper substitutes bought across the street.
Here's a Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 'Artemis' 2004. Dark garnet color. Smells creamy-angular, ripe blackcurrant and cedar, graphite and a touch of licorice. Tastes young and muscular, stony-hard at the core with bright acidity, ripe firm fruit wrapped around rocky tautness. Seems to need time, but right now it comes off as good Napa cabernet sauvignon, possessed of a certain rich elegance, almost hauteur. I like this a lot, and were it half the price it is I'd probably buy more.
Andrew clears up the notion that the house is going to be destroyed. "Oh no," he says, "we're putting it on the market on January first, after the holidays."
"Cool," I say. "What are you asking for it?"
Silence. Andrew clears his throat, "Uh... ah..."
Lisa kicks me under the table. "Don't ask that, that's not polite," she hisses.
"What? Why not?"
"It's just not."
"What's the big deal? People are always asking what our rent is...?" (In fact, it's always question number four following the 'We've moved to Roosevelt Island!' announcement, the first three being 1) How do you like it? 2) Do you take the tram? and 3) One bedroom or two?)
"Not the same," insists Lisa.
"Are you guys afraid we'll find out you're like totally rich and hit you up for a loan?"
"Look," says Andrew, "If you're really interested you can check the real estate listings after January first. Make an offer!"
"I just might do that." But I don't, 'cause I'm a pussy.
Sweets now, starting with yet another '90, a Domaine Bourillon-Dorleans Vouvray Moëlleux 'la Coulée d'Or' 1990. Quietly aromatic, quince, rainwater and lemon, and an odd hint of spearmint. Medium sweet, lighter than I'd expected, lean and smooth. There's some pleasant layering, nice focus and good balance, if all on a rather small scale. Very decent.
For some reason the latter part of the evening devolves into an argument between Kane and Lisa as to whether Britney Spears's C-section scar is visible in those pantyless paparazzi photos everyone was oohing and aahing over this week. I ask the gentle reader to draw his or her own conclusions on the matter, because, frankly, I'm goddamn sick to death of the subject.
"I remember watching the first Paris Hilton video with my boss," muses Jen. "It was quite a bonding experience." I nod agreement. Who among us can't say the same?
In contrast to the elegant Bourillon-Dorleans here's a Domaine des Petits Quarts/Godineau Bonnezeaux 'Grain par Grain' 1997. Unctuously sweet, almost syrupy. The almost overwhelming fruitbowlishness of its youth has...well, I can't say 'faded' exactly because it's still hugely fruity...maybe calmed a little bit, allowing the long buried spine some exposure. With the calming of the fruit, the generous botrytis takes another step to the forefront. I had been curious to see how this one would age; it seems to be setting off in an interesting direction.
Lisa has to be at the hospital early, so we've got to head back to the Island. Brad perks up. "Say, did you guys buy roundtrip train tickets, or--"
"We're not driving with you, Brad," I cut him off. "We've taken an oath. Bleeding and burning in a twisted heap of metal next to you is very high on my list of deaths to avoid at all costs. In fact, it may be at the very top."
He looks sad at the thought of having to die alone. When we finally get to the train station, he's there, waving and beckoning us Ahab-like toward the empty seats in his car.
We turn and head up onto the platform.