Another weekend packed from beginning to end with overindulgence. My liver, with astonishing foresight, attempts to leap out of my body and donate itself to science, but is quickly corralled and sent grim-faced into the fray.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON, DOWNTOWN MANHATTAN
First off, there's a Dressner tasting at Chambers Street on Saturday afternoon, which for vampire me is first thing in the morning. I straggle blearily into the back of the shop to find noted hipster scribe Tony Fletcher and hospitality legend Jay Miller passing through the line. I wave weakly, and consider my options.
Over the years many attentive souls have noted that I never do writeups on trade tastings or other large events, confining my reports to the traditional sitdown jeebus. At long last, in the interest of full disclosure, I must now confess what practice has surely made clear. You see, I am troubled with a baffling affliction: I cannot taste well standing up. I have had a number of physicians attempt to explain the cause of this, many theories have been propounded (compromised naso-circulatory system, allergy to being jostled), but no cure offered. Happily, this condition has inspired my wife to go to medical school in order to search for a cure, but in the meantime when I am upright with a glass in my hand it's much like groping in the dark.
In that light, here are some brief, extremely inaccurate impressions:
Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet sur Sevre, etc. 2003. Holy cats, this is weird. There's the usual chalk and lime rind, but for a Pépière this is a marshmallow of a wine, soft and squishily atypical. Not what I want when I drink Muscadet, but it might be a home run for the low-acid crowd.
Clos Roche Blanche Sauvignon Touraine 2003. Pale. Lightly gingery, cream soda and lime hints. Tastes plush--loose and velvety, soothing and diffuse and rather broad. A flavorful, rounded sauvignon without the usual spine. Interesting, but I'll probably pass on this year's version and grab what I still can of the '02.
Puzelat Sauvignon Touraine 2003. Surprisingly lean after the first two, a bit more zip here. Perhaps they picked in June? Quieter and brighter than the CRB but with less overt character--more minerally, hints of lime rind, trace of citric sourness on the finish. Well built but somewhat neutral, doesn't do much for me.
Domaine de Bellevière Jasnieres Calligramme 2002. Richly smelly, chalk and hay and lemon-quince. A firm, fully-packed wine, zippily crisp and tart but with a hefty mouthfeel. Impressive, dense and rich.
The whites from '03 are fairly odd; I'm not sure I like them very much. The reds are another story. I wave across the room at visiting wine board doyenne Eden Mylunsch, who is being fÉted later tonight. She waves back, although I don't think she remembers me.
Clos Roche Blanche Gamay Touraine 2003. Strawberry jam in a glass: juicy, loosey-goosey and fun.
Puzelat Gamay Le P'tit Tannique VdT 2003. A bit darker, mixes some blackberry into the strawberry flavors. More focus and guts than the CRB, although similarly ripe and almost as luscious. Very nice.
Dressner has passed out secret ballots for everyone to vote for the 'Cult Touraine Wines of the Year.' I mark my ballot and hand it in.
Esmonin Bourgogne Rouge 2001. Smells of rhubarb-laced cherryness. Lean and crisp, pure and taut. Rather simple pinot; it's pleasant enough, but after the two juicy gamays it seems rather pallid and thin.
Speaking of which, here's a Domaine de Bellevière Coteaux du Loir Le Rouge-Gorge 2002. Medium-light ruby color. Lightly aromatic, hints of tree bark and pepper in a base of muted bricky-cherry. Feathery-tart and crisp, nervy and lean and lip-smackingly flavorful, with an earthy sour-cherry finish. Dressner keeps repeating his line that pineau d'aunis is "an heirloom grape," and I just can't shake the image of this being made from tomatoes.
Richaud Côtes-du-Rhône Les Garrigues 2002. Loose, red and juicy, decent and straightforward, not particularly compelling. Good wine, for the vintage. Runs well, for a catcher.
Bera Barbera d'Asti Ronco Malo 2001. "Barbera"? What kind of strange wine is this? Good heavens, it's from Italy, of all places. Leave it to Dressner to search out new obscure wine regions; how frightfully novel! Let's see now... pleasantly funky aromatics, dark berry and earth, touch of horsiness, hint of Band-aid. Fleshy edges, tight core, plenty of tannins, an expressive little wine. Might catch on, this barbera stuff.
Joe points out that he'd immediately sussed the various enzymes and commercial yeasts used in the Loring pinots that he's carrying everywhere these days. "You see, I am an actual wine professional, not just a wacky internet personality," he explains happily.
Francois Pinon Vouvray Cuvée de Novembre 2002. Medium-sweet and crystalline, no noticeable botrytis but great clarity and balance. The finish is long and full of quinine. I've got limited armload-space, this is the one wine I buy.
Bera Moscato d'Asti 2003. Smells of spicy ripe yellow apples and white flowers. Very lightly petillant (or just open for awhile?), fat and glyceriney. Bright and floral and candied, a fun little wine.
After this mess is all wrapped up, Eden, Jay and I somehow manage to drag Dressner into the subway and we're off to Inside for a dinner celebrating her visit to our fair city.
SATURDAY NIGHT, GREENWICH VILLAGE
Once at Inside, Jay Miller is treated as visiting royalty and the rest of us are happy to sit back and ride his coattails.
Since we're festivizing, let's start off with a bubbly, in this case a Jacques Selosse Champagne Blanc de Blancs NV. Flint and old mushrooms on the nose, hints of toast. Tastes rather tired, the vague apple-pear fruit is flat and inert, the fizz is keeping the heart beating, but the patient isn't doing so well. Not bad for a ten year old non-vintage bottle that's been in the back of a closet somewhere, I guess. Somebody (Eden?) states that this appears to be "British Isles wine," apparently a whimsical term of endearment for over-the-hill bottles. Hey, if the shoe fits....
Next up is a Maison Ernest Burn Gewürztraminer Goldert Clos St. Imer Cuvée de la Chapelle 1994. Medium-pale gold color. Sweetly vivid floral-fruity nose--rose petals and papaya, a touch of lychee, hints of canteloupe, boisterously aromatic. A sip, and it's modestly kickass stuff, sweetly tropical right off the bat, with a honeyed minerality emerging in the middle and turning lychee-spicy on the finish. Just a touch of sweetness, enough firm acidity to buouy up the rather viscous mouthfeel. Whee, a fun ride, with some heat on the finish the only problem. Big and dense but also well composed and balanced, a wine that makes my mouth most joyous. YeeeEEEAAAAAARRRRGGHHHhhh!
Moving on, here's a Dönnhoff Grauburgunder Trocken "S" 2001. Smells richly whitefloral, plumeria with a slatey minerally streak underneath, hints of spicy hay. Crisp and brightly acidic, rather oily mouthfeel. Lots of heft here, but it's also oddly stark for such a rich wine. Definitely one of the best trocken grauburgunders that I've tasted this month, although the genre is not one I often crave. No one can tell me what the "S" means, if it means anything.
Joseph Roty Marsannay 1993. Medium gold color. Smells of butterscotch and golden raisins splashed with supermarket-brand vanilla extract. Tastes limp and lifeless: gracelessly oaky and over the hill, more British Isles Wine.
Dauvissat Chablis La Fôrest 1997. Very gunpowdery at first, with a pronounced burnt-firecracker streak that blows off a bit with air and time. Smells of yellow apples and vanilla cream. Medium weight, medium acidity, lightly creamy texture, a bit vague in the middle, rallies on the finish, turning apple-spicy, like AppleJacks cereal. Very middling Chablis, correct but rather boring and a little creamier than I like.
Scott-Clark Cellars Chenin Blanc Central Valley 'Acorn' 2001. This has shown very differently at different times, tonight's bottle is less effusive than it has been in the past, quiet yellow apple and ginger, hints of almond. Tastes smooth and loose, with the leanness and balance that comes from only the strictest selection of the most underripe grapes. "This is it," announces Connell, "the wine of the night!" He's a little premature, but it is showing very well. Brad had promised to bring the '00 El Niño as well as a special treat for Eden, but left it at home. Pity. When my paella arrives, this is the wine I return to.
Fritz Haag Riesling Brauneburger Juffer Sonnenuhr Spätlese 2001. Very sulfurous, matchsticky. I know this is going to hit Dressner's sore spot, and it does. He has to excuse himself to take a sulfur break. Underneath the sulfur there's a pure, shiny-minerally wine, the glossy fruit compact and taut. Light sweetness, firm spine, velvety flesh, lots of potential. It's very young, very primary, but full of everything you'd want in a fresh young riesling. Give it a decade or two, it'll come around, and I bet it'll be great.
Jay tells me that this was bought at auction, pointing at a little Teutonic white Chiquita-style sticker on the bottle, perhaps from Winebid? Not sure why this is relevant, but he insists I write it down. Happy now, or do you need the AARP number as well? Dressner returns and continues his complaints about the sulfur, Eden points out that the wine is built for the long haul. He makes a face. "Old-school winemaking, you don't need that today."
What's this? A Beamsville Bench Chardonnay Cuvée Temkin-Paskus 1999. Hmmm... smells lightly of pineapple juice, white flowers and raw marshmallow. A sip, and it's a light, flighty little wine, pleasantly underripe and well balanced. It doesn't taste particularly good (more lean pear-pineapple and marshmallow), but it's got an elegance and lightness that serve it well. Probably could be a heck of a lot worse.
Sylvain Cathiard Vosne-Romanée Les Malconsorts 1988. Medium ruby color, bricking slightly at the rim. There's some weird mushroomy bottle funk at first that mostly blows off, leaving behind muted sandalwoody-cherry aromatics, hints of truffle mingled with the funk. It's a thin, rather severe wine, dryingly tannic and prickly. There's some taut red fruit, but it's not giving much. Dressner suggests it's just in a difficult stage, but it seems to me to be just drying out and slipslidin' away. He thinks about it for a moment: "Well, it's not in the British Isles yet, but it's certainly in the Commonwealth."
We're rather expectantly waiting for Joe to break out his stash of Loring pinots, but when the subject is broached he just shrugs: "I got tired of carrying them around, no one ever wanted to open them, bunch of cowards...."
Vanessa thrusts a bottle of Tinto Pesquera Ribera del Duero Crianza 1991 at me. I sense some kind of agenda. Is this a test? Damn woman, always testing. Turns out she's not crazy about the woodiness, but it's okay by me. Smells dark and smoky, shoe polish and muted redfruit. Decent balance, quietly rich flavors, a bit wan in the middle but pleasant enough in a slightly vague way.
A Ramirez de Gunuza Rioja 1994 is corked. Eden points out that there's a common misperception among her West Coast cronies that there are more corked wines out here than there are in the east. I point out that our numbers over the past five years have pretty consistently run right around the standard industry failure rate of 5-6% and wonder what kind of percentages they get in her circle? She's not sure. Maybe we just complain more? She's not sure.
Ravenswood Zinfandel Russian River Valley Wood Road Belloni 1994. Trace of acetone hovers above black raspberry and tar aromatics. It's zin, all right. Decent enough, hollow in the middle but a nice earthy finish. I don't know, it's zin, whattaya want?
"Marvellous zinberry fruit!" coos Dressner. "You can just TASTE the zinberry!" (Just between you and me, I think he's been hitting the Loring pinots too hard lately.)
I've been bringing Vinum Cellars Mourvedre El Dorado County 1999 to the last three jeebi, all of them corked up until now. Finally, paydirt. Medium-dark garnet color. Smells dark and smoky, rich black raspberry with a hint of horsiness and smoky undertones. Big and ripe, a sizeable wine with moderate acidity and a generous dose of toast, as well as a slight alcoholic burn on the finish. A chunky critter: the fruit has a candied edge, but is lush and dark and pleasingly straightforward, if a little on the creamy side. Pretty good for a Cal mourvedre, recognizable as such, but there's a slightly oversized quality, as well as a sense of disjointedness that is rather persistent. I'd drink up sooner rather than later.
"The corked ones were better," says Dressner.
Speaking of better, here's an Allemand Cornas Chaillot 2001. Dark, smoky-smelling, hints of iodine, damp sod and matte blackberry. Tastes warm and slightly fleshy, spreading langorously out on my tongue. Smooth, flavorful and layered, it's rather loosely wrapped, but also wonderfully subtle and complex for such a young wine. Supertasty stuff; seems like one to drink young rather than age.
The other side of the coin is an Alain Graillot Crôzes-Hermitage 1998. Light but typically Graillotish aromatics--iodine, blackberry, violets, all very shy, very quiet. A sip, and there's hard matte fruit, but there's also jarring acidity that rises in the middle and turns towards sourness on the finish. Odd, a strange combination of familiar likeable flavor and scary-spiky acidity. Kane's iconic "acidity problem" line is, for once, on target.
Here's a Châ:teau Rieussec Sauternes 1990, and it's badly cooked. Damnit, this is a great wine when it's intact, but this bottle is pretty well fried, caramelized and deep gold. "Wow," exclaims Eden, "it's a Sauternes from 1900!" Yuh.
That's all. Sleep fast, more wine tomorrow.
SUNDAY AFTERNOON, BROOKLYN
At the crack of noon we roll out of bed and head out to Red Hook to eat breakfast at a place that Connell calls "A Newfie roadhouse without the coloured lights." I have no idea what that means, but the food is wonderful and the wine list looks like the Louis/Dressner catalogue. There is one lone non-French wine, something from Terre Rouge in the Sierra Foothills, and I briefly consider ordering it just to see if they really have it in stock, but quickly come to my senses.
Vanessa is sipping at a glass of Clos Roche Blanche Sauvignon that she's ordered off the list and I eye it warily. "02 or '03?" I ask. "You tell me," she says, pushing it at me. I sigh at her ongoing attempts to humiliate me in front of my wife, but I sip it, taste the familiar acidity, no question on this one, '02 all the way. Pass. Okay, deep breath, we're cool now.
We start with a Puzelat Petillant Naturel 2002. Not menu pineau this year, something else, even more obscure... mesnil? Anyway, it smells very yeasty-bready, chalk and lemon underneath. Bright, narrowly focused and minerally, lean and pretty fizz.
Next up is a Clos de Tue-Boeuf Touraine Le Buisson Pouilloux 2001, but whoops, the first bottle is corked. The second bottle is a lovely cloudy-pale color, like fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. Smells citric, grapefruit and lime rind laced with chalkiness, hints of quinine and talc. Closed puckery-tight at first, it opens somewhat with air. Light, balanced and flavorful, a tasty little number.
Connell picks a Clos de Tue-Boeuf Cheverny Rouillon 2002 off the list. Light ruby color. Earthy and brick dusty, lightly strawberry-cherried and possessed of a chewy underbrushiness that makes it a wonderful match with the luscious duck parts.
Some glossy food 'n wine rag has done a profile of hot chick sommeliers, with Vanessa prominently featured. We pass it around and ooh and ahhh over it. The Amanda Hesser centerfold is a bit off the wall for my taste, but any publicity is good publicity, right?
For the cheese course we order a Marc Angeli Rosé d'Un Jour NV. Rosé d'un jour? Cute. It seems what we have here is yet another case of rampant atypicity. The bottle also comes with a cryptic note to look at the cork for the vintage, but the waiter walks off with the cork, so we're out of luck. Anyway, label squabbles aside, the wine is lovely, smelling of strawberry/cherry and peach, with hints of cinnamon and vanilla. Pale orange-red color, lightly sweet and smooth as silk going down. Long long tickling finish. Doesn't match all that well with the cheese plate (no salty goat cheese), but is instead a pleasure unto itself.
The waiter stops by with a few glasses of Mas Amiel Maury 2001. Quiet raspberry aromatics, light tarry streak underneath. Medium-lightweight, two-dimensional and sweet. Decent enough but not a whole lot going on. Still, I empty my glass and part of Connell's as well. Frankly, I'm a sucker for even simple Maury.
So now the four of us have gone through a paltry five or six bottles, and it's still early. Now what? Vanessa tentatively murmurs "I have the '02 Peillot Altesse at home..." and as quick as that it's decided--party at Vanessa's!
SUNDAY NIGHT, SOMEWHERE IN THE NYC HINTERLANDS
After an interminable cab ride (as the miles go by I feel obliged to keep asking "Are we still in Brooklyn? Are you sure?"), we arrive at Casa Nesita in the full throes of bad altesse withdrawal.
Gimme, gimme. Gimme, gimme.
Hey wait, this isn't altesse at all! In fact, it's an Iron Horse Brut Rosé Sonoma County 1998--we've been baited and switched! Egad, this is an odd thing. Big splooshy bubbles. Mostly smells of cherry Lick-a-Stix, with cola hints and light traces of mushroominess. Broad and simple, an innocuous and very forgettable fizz. Where's the altesse? We were promised altesse!
Here's another non-Altesse, a Domaine le Clos de Caveau Vacqueyras 2000. Dark, dense and chewy-meaty, deeply blackberry-raspberried. Smooth and dark, nice balance, lots of muscular fruit.
Vanessa claims to be a bigger Kate Bush fan than me, but she must be drunk or something, not having a copy of The Dreaming on hand. What's up with that? Her roommate's cat seems to be enamored of Connell. Where are we now? I forget.
Finally, here's what we came for, the Franck Peillot Altesse de Bugey Montaignieu 2002. Mmmm... smells floral-stony, honeysuckle and coral chips, hints of yellow appleskin. Seems a bit smaller and more loosely wrapped than usual, but perhaps I'm just more used to the Buster version. At any rate, it's a little gem of a wine, pure and friendly and clean.
Our hostess, pressing on with her ambushes, pours something blind that is clearly a Southern Rhône wine, but seems to have been inexplicably labeled as Ghislaine Barthod Chambolle-Musigny Les Baudes 1999. Quite effusive, puppyish and ripe, smells of dark raspberry and peppery spiciness. Tastes of raspberries and toast, loosely wrapped and fleshy-meaty, some rather stern tannins. She displays the bottle to prove that this is Burgundy, but I insist the wine is wrong, not me.
There is much semicomical stumbling around in the dark while looking for a route to the subway, but we all eventually make it home alive.
I think. Has anyone heard from Connell?