THE SLIGHTLY MISPLACED WEEKEND, VOLUME I



The big problem with being a winegeek who works nights is that I try my damnedest to cram all my geeking into the two brief days of the weekend. Plus, if one tends to awaken late in the afternoon, nighttime events acquire a frathouse wake'n'bake flavor, rolling out of bed and swilling down glass after glass of grolleau and menu pineau. What's a poor boy to do when two days come with two geekfests?


SATURDAY, KANE'S APARTMENT.

Bradley is roasting a chicken and making vegetarian soup with ham hocks. There are only four of us (five if you count Greg dal Piaz), so we take it slowly.

First up is a Clos Roche Blanche Pineau d'Aunis Rosé Touraine 2003. Very pale pink, almost white. Smells of white flowers and minerals, with a light peppery hint. Crisp and balanced, but chunky and indistinct as well, with a bit of a burn on the finish. Oddly characterless after the striking '02 version (which was also a much deeper color). Okay, perhaps I'm holding it to too high a standard: it's still a decent little rosé, it's just that I was expecting something more exciting. Hmm, more data are required.

More interesting is a Dönnhoff Riesling Oberhauser Leistenberg Kabinett 1999. Light and flowery smelling: yellow apples, lemon and gardenia, sweet and quiet in my nostrils. Equally light and flowery tasting: creamy lemon-apple, small and loose with just a hint of sweetness, a very pretty little wine with more charm than substance. A fine match with the salt-free vegetarian ham hock soup.

Mastroberardino Lachryma Christi del Vesuvio 1995. Medium ruby color, browning slightly at the rim. Smells leathery and cherry-bricky, hint of volatility. Tastes pleasantly tart, medium acidity and no tannins, but some sour-berry fruit provides mouthgrab. Relaxed and spreading languidly, it's fading and fairly insubstantial but is in a good place now. Not a wine I'd have expected to have lasted; but that, as they say, is why they play the games.

Domaine M. Chignard Fleurie Les Moriers 2002.Smells like strawberries. Tastes ripe and soothing and insubstantial. Tart fruit, medium-low acidity, a bit diffuse but very easy to sip. A pleasantly squishy flavorful little Fleurie.

Here comes the chicken, so it's time for Napa cabs, first a Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1996. Dark garnet color. Smells creamy and ripe--cassis and toasted vanilla, smoke and licorice underneath. It's a hefty wine, velvety and dense. There's sufficient structure to support the richness, plenty of ripe red fruit and a boatload of oak. The rough edges of a few years back have been herded back into the glossy red fold. These are the folks that have mastered the Beringerian skill of making every grape taste the same, but their particular house treatment suits cabernet sauvignon best. This wine is holding up better than the '94 and '95 did at the same age. It's not going to get any better, but it might hold at a nice plateau for a few more years before it cracks up. Very decent new-wave style California cabernet, not for the oak-averse. Thunderbird Prize, goes very well with crunchy celery root.

Saddleback Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1995. Medium-dark garnet color. Smells very cedary, dark and dusty-earthy. Just as oaky as the Pride but leaner: instead of toasty, vanilla-creamy oak, it's cedary, raspy oak. "Like licking a cedar chest," I opine. [Side note: I went back and checked my old notes to see if when I'd had this last, and in a note from 1998 I used the phrase "Like licking the inside of a barrel." Moral: if you're going to overoak your wine, go for the expensive barrels.] This isn't aging very well; the firm fruit of youth has faded, leaving only the carpentry to come to the fore.

Elio Perrone Bigaro NV ??. This is some sort of fizzy strawberried moscato blend, but whatever else it is, it's also lightly corked.

For dessert there's a rich carrot cake and an old friend, a Château Pierre-Bise Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu Les Rouannieres 1996. Medium gold color. Sweet-smelling, pineapple, warm quince jam and dried apricots. Big, viscous and sweet, with a firm acidic backbone. Quite crisp and vivid, but also beginning to seem like it's getting on in years. Alas, I can no longer avoid the inconvenient notion that these supersweet Layons are not destined to outlive me.

We all have to be up early to taunt Jay Miller, so we call it a night.


SUNDAY, JAY'S APARTMENT.

My god, today we're starting even earlier. Still bleary from last night, I roll out of bed into my traditional jeebing gown and we trundle through the laceratingly bright sunshine to Jay Miller's midtown digs.

The Yellow Face: it burns... it burns....

Brad and Lisa pause in the lobby to have a bit o' fun with Jay's proclivity to have people bail on his dinners at the last second: Kane calls up and claims to have forgotten he had to pick his parents up at the airport, Lisa waits a few minutes and rings to say we've overslept and are terribly sorry. This bit of petty malice taken care of, we proceed upstairs to point and laugh at our startled host.

Laughing through gritted teeth, Jay kicks things off with a Weingut Benedict Loosen Riesling Erben Urziger Würzgarten Spätlese 1981 (A Jeff Connell Selection). Medium lemon-gold color. Lots of smellies here, vinyl and ginger candy over a base of quiet yellow apple, beguiling flashes of cinnamon. There's just a hint of sweetness, as well as an interesting combination of hard acidic core with some rather fleshy-soft yellow fruit wrapped around it. The two aren't quite on the same page anymore, but at least they're still amicable, and they do have stories to tell.

Hey, a couple of fizzes, first a Huet Vouvray Petillant 2000. Lots of potential here, striking depth and good weight, but very yeasty-primary now, with a ton of chalk and lemon-quince, all the elements jostling one another for position. More than any of Huet's wines, petillants need age. This doesn't strike me as top-tier Huet, but even merely very solid Huet is a delight.

Monmousseau Vouvray Brut NV. Pleasant but matchsticky and rather simple after the Huet. Still, it's decent enough, light flashes of paraffin and chalk, tastes lean and bright.

Mike Bassman! Look, it's Mike Bassman, back from the land of many children! We compare forearms; as cat owners, we're both always bloody-striped, today he's got me beat.

Kloster Eberbach Riesling Rauenthaler Baiken Spätlese 1995. Smells of yellow pear, apples and beanbag chair, whiff of sulfur. Rather broad and blunt, a sweet ripe thing with glyceriney roundness everywhere and a good hit of sugar. Medium acidity, decent cohesion. This wine is a little bit of a showboat, but an amiable one.

Domaine du Closel Savennières Vieilles Vignes 1990. The thirty-fifth in a series of slightly-to-moderately heat damaged '90 Closels, this is perhaps a little less cooked than most, still retaining a bit of freshness and giving peeks at the potentially wonderful wine underneath. I did have one good bottle, once: it was good. Good, I tell you, good!

Nigl Riesling Senftenberg Piri Privat 2001. Medium straw color. Lightly tropical aromatics, pineapple, ripe pear, white pepper and celery seed. A sip, and it's a colossus of a wine, a broad-shouldered Austrian Paul Bčnyan. There's a bit of heat on the finish, but it's well composed for such a bruiser, and I come back to it more than once despite the sensation of having my tongue pummeled.

Bedell Cellars 'Domaines CC' Rosé North Fork of Long Island 2002. Medium salmon-orange color. Smells very quiet, light candied cherry and mushroom hints, touch of yam. Loosely wrapped and more than a little vague, it's a limp and lifeless wine that just lays there in my mouth until there's a goose from an astringent finish. No reason to drink this unless there's nothing else around.

This wine inspires a discussion on how far wrong Long Island has gone in following the California model of wine marketing: ever more expensive luxury Cuvées, lots of new wood, boutique wineries. "California prices, Missouri quality," says Jeff. I nod, agreeing with Jeff. Jeff is right, I murmur under my breath.

Clos de Tue-Bouef Touraine 'Le Brin de Chèvre' 2002. Cloudy lemon-straw color. Smells chalky, lemon drops, minerals and hay, slightly oxidative. More extravagant than previous editions, with lime/citrus flavors cushioned by a velvety peachiness. This is homestyle menu pineau the way Mom used to make it, minerally and juicy and flowery-rich, a substantial wine that's bright and light on its feet. Quite a pleasure to drink.

Clos Roche Blanche Gamay Touraine 2003. Rushed to market to take advantage of the feeding frenzy surrounding the Cowanized '02, the latest release of the perennial cult wine is uncharacteristically ripe, the blowsiest CRB gamay I can remember. (The secret word is atypical.) Much rounder than usual, perhaps a bit short in the focus department but with plenty of juicily earthy strawberry-raspberry fruit. Probably not an ager, this is one to enjoy early while waiting for the '00s and '02s to come around (or the '01s, if you're Andrew Scott). Lightly gobby and soothing, another Kane gamay. Brad responds to it predictably, burbling enthusiastically that he's going to buy enough to put Joe's kids through college, despite the price having skyrocketed to $11. Dressner is troubled: if Kane likes it, that means he's lost his core constituency.

It's Jay's party and he'll Drouhin if he wants to, this time with a Joseph Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru 1999. The aromatics are quite shy at first, traces of truffle and sandalwood over dark cherry-earth. With a few hours of air they show signs of loosening, but the wine still tastes taut, very crisp and focused and not giving much. Still, what it's showing is promising, a well balanced young pinot that's filled with passionate intensity. With food it blooms even more; a fine match with Jay's duck.

Lafarge Volnay Caillerets 2000. Smells pretty and fresh, light cherry-raspberry lightly dusted with horehound and clove. Crisp and on the lean side; somewhat diffuse but nonetheless a spicy, charming little Volnay.

Connell is here, so I take the opportunity to bitch about the "service" at Astor when he's not on the floor. I bought some CRB gamay on Friday, came back for a few more bottles on Saturday and was told they hadn't gotten the wine in yet. When I mentioned that I'd bought some the day before and point to the empty spot on the shelf, I was told that I must be mistaken. Now, this exact same thing happened with the '02 Foreau demisec a month or two back, so I'm fully convinced that Colobus monkeys take over the store when Jeff's not there. He laughs long and loud.

Wild Horse Trousseau San Benito Siletto Ranch Vineyard 1998. Yes, it's yet another California trousseau. Medium-light ruby color, oranging very lightly at the rim. Interesting birch beer-sarsaparilla hints hover over a muted cherry-earthy base. Light bodied, this has a warmly decayed aged-pinot feel to it that I rather like. Feathery in the piehole, light, tart and earthy. I rather like it, but Connell feels it's not up to Jura standards, trousseauwise.

I pass on the decanter that I'm told contains Ferraton Hermitage Cuvée Hello Kitty 1995, and never see it again. She has no mouth, how can she drink wine?!

Instead here's a decanter full of Allemand Cornas Chaillot 1994. Textbook northern Rhône aromatics, matte brickberry, iodine and peppery smoked meat, violets and sod. Just lovely, a happy mingling of rough edges and elegance. Actually reminds me of an older, slightly mellower Graillot CrÖzes.

I wait with bated breath for our host to get around to tasting the Clarendon Hills Shiraz Liandra 1997. When he does, he is thunderstruck at first sniffage: "Do I dare to put this in my mouth...?" he wonders aloud. After one swallow he raises his glass and declares wonderingly: "This is the single worst wine I've ever tasted." Lisa and I high-five, having finally trumped the time we poured him Martinelli zin. Woohoo! Really though, he's being kind: it's almost fascinatingly horrid, something cooked up in a fiendish "points"-crazed mad scientist's laboratory. Plum jam & pruneskins, soy sauce, pepper, all boiled down until it's a thick, overpoweringly flavorful purple sauce. Flabby and spiky at the same time, meaty/matte-textured and despicable. Gasps of shock and horror follow it around the room, which is actually pretty cool.

We wander into the vacant apartment next door to take advantage of the superior air conditioning. Greg and Michelle are peering down at someone vomiting in the parking lot. Must've had some of the Clarendon Hills, I think.

Arvin and Lena arrive, and Lena (fashionably patriotically dressed) immediately manages to grub in the garbage and grab a few duck legs, making for some brief but refreshingly violent tussles.

Let's have another shot at the Vinum Cellars Mourvedre El Dorado 1999. Damnit, this is corked, AGAIN, the second bottle in as many weeks that I've brought to a jeeb that's been badly tainted. It's no wonder these guys bottle all their wine with synthetics now, they seem to have gotten an unusually bad bark batch in '99. Or maybe I'm just the lucky winner in the 'romance of cork' lottery this month.

Continuing on the mourvedre theme, we've got a T-Vine Zinfandel/Mataro Napa Valley 1994 (65% zin, 35% mourvedre). Smells mildly overripe, hints of prune and muted raspberry laced with an underlying earthiness. Tastes loose and diffuse, but inoffensive and friendly in a slobbery St. Bernard way. Finishes with a dark earthy-leathery hum. Seems to be on the cusp of heading downhill though, I'd drink up sooner rather than later.

Now two wines from an obscure region of France, first a Château Lafon-Rochet St. Estèphe 1982. Gently aromatic, light redfruit and a minerally note that I'm thinking of calling slate, but Kane comes up with 'cement dust,' which is better. Tastes warm but wan, loosely wrapped and quietly redfruity. Not bad, but understructured and not really very interesting. Seems to be going gentle into its good night, fading quietly away. Drink up.

And here's the older brother, a Château Lafon-Rochet St. Estèphe 1955. Smells very cedary, more complex aromatics, tea, graphite and muted earthy redfruit. Clearly past its best years, but still kicking. Despite being more developed and having a hint of decay it's livelier than the '82: better structured and more complete.

A strangled curse is heard from the kitchen, and here's Jay racing through the living room with a smoking pan full of black spinach. He sticks the offending item out the window while the room fills with the pungent aroma of burnt vegetation.

Mmmm... reminds me of that Grateful Dead concert a few years back...

Moving along, here's a Girolamo Dorigo Pignolo di Buttrio Colli Orientali del Friuli 1996. Dark berry fruit, almost zinnish, tar and smoke underneath. A sip, and it's a rough, rustic wine with hard red fruit and a mouthful of rough tannin: 'Pignolo' is apparently Italian for 'Madiran.' It manages to remain balanced, though, and the abrasiveness is actually charming in an odd way--it has a certain longshoreman-at-the-ball appeal. I rather like it, although it's certainly not a wine for the faint of heart or the tender of tongue.

More in the gentle vein is a Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Reserve 1997. Bright cherry-juice aromatics laced with clove and cola. Medium-bodied, simple and straightforward, a two-tone wine that is ripe but balanced. Quite decent, quite unremarkable.

Continuing the American pinot theme, here's a Loring Wine Company Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Rosella's Vineyard 2002. Medium-dark garnet color. Smells very plummy-purple and smoky-toasty. I wonder for a moment if there's residual sugar, but I think it's just the glossy, candied mouthfeel that has me fooled. Shiny happy wine, what the kids call pinot-shiraz. It's one of those generic pumped-up woody pinots that have been cropping up over the past few years, but it (unlike the Clarendon Hills) is at least recognizable as wine made from grapes (albeit superduper ripe ones). Might go nicely with a burger, a sort of nondescript jammy-zinny style of wine, except with plum instead of berry flavors, and a bit more toasty wood than I like.

For reasons clear only to himself, Dressner has brought along three other bottles of this stuff--all apparently different Cuvées with various other unfamiliar vineyard names. Unfortunately, after the first bottle has made the rounds no one can be persuaded to open any more, so he stuffs them back in his bag, promising to inflict them on us one at a time, when we're not prepared. He then gets into an impassioned argument with an innocent bystander (me) about something or other to do with this wine having no relation to Burgundy or pinot noir or anything else at all except itself, or something like that. I'm not really following, but I eventually concede the point, whatever it may have been. I think I'm being agreeable, but he keeps responding as if I'm being combative. He's just spoiling for a fight, perhaps a case of incipient empty-nest syndrome, the Chipster heading off to college and all.

I absent myself from the harangue to sample a Jean Marc Vincent Santenay Les Gravieres 2001. Despite my natural suspicion of any vigneron with three first names, this is a decent enough wine. Medium-low, rather soft and simple but decently flavorful and unassuming. And, uh... um... no, I guess that's all.

Not satisfied with my level of involvement in the pinot debate, Dressner has turned on Arvin and is quizzing him on why he doesn't like pinot ("not enough stuffing"), the point seemingly being that the Santa Lucia wine is a kind of wacky pinot for people who don't normally like pinot, but that it's cutting edge in the sense that pinot normally resists being pumped-up and steroided to this degree. I hope I'm summarizing correctly, but probably not.

Pierre Bréton Bourgueil Vieilles Vignes 1989. Oboy, this is a real greyhound of a wine. Bright cran-raspberry nose, hints of pine resin and an underlying minerality. Leaner and more elegant than I'd have expected, pure and vivid, silky and bright. Really fine stuff, lean and intensely racy wine that exhausts my adjectival capacities. Shut up and drink, Coad.

Chocolate soufflés! I dive at the table and grab two, eyeing the remainder hungrily. What to drink with them?

Let's try a Domaine le Peu de la Moriette (Pichot) Vouvray Moëlleux 1990. Medium gold color. Smells like Vouvray: bit o'honey, some quince jam, dried apricot, almond, no botrytis to speak of. Medium sweetness, decent acidity, lacks focus and complexity but not too bad, certainly drinkable. A decent if uninteresting Vouvray from a third-tier producer that can usually be counted on for decent, uninteresting wines. Someone claims that this recently received one hundred and ninety-seven "points" from one of the "points" guys, which strikes me as rather odd. Can you really get that many "points" into one.750 ml bottle, or did they mean a magnum? Those guys have a cool scam going, though, I must admit. God bless 'em, every one!

To close things out we've got a La Spinetta Vigneto Biancospino Moscato d'Asti 2003. Sweet and apple-spicy, a little goopy, in need of something to sprighten it up, acidity or something. I look for a lemon to squeeze into my glass, but no luck.

Okay, I've run out of steam, it's been a long night. Oh god, and this coming weekend we've got two more geekouts. It looks like I'll be needing that liver transplant sooner than I'd planned.


TO BE CONTINUED...




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