This year's incarnation of the perennial Bastille Day confab is advertised as "One Hundred Percent Kane-Free! Bring the Good Stuff!"
We arrive at SFJoe's swanky midtown digs ("le vieux donjon," as opposed to the soon to be opening "Châteauneuf-du-Joe") right on the dot of 7:28, just in time for a Jacquesson Champagne Cuvée 728 Brut NV. Smells lightly bready, hint of yeast, touch of lemon and yellow apple. Subtly fizzy, fresh and insubstantial, a charming little number that washes away the road dust and other unsavories that filled our mouths as we walked the Manhattan streets.
Next up is its cousin, a Jacquesson Champagne Blanc de Blanc 1995. Hints of toasted almond, light lemoniness, has a bit more heft in the mouth. Smooth and elegant, light biscuitty-lemon flavors, quiet minerally undertones, with a long toasty-almond hum on the finish. Still fairly light and elegant, but more complex than the 728, more layers of flavor, longer and deeper. An intriguingly mellow and revivifying wine.
Star Chick Sommelier Vanessa Treviño Boyd turns to me, puts on her best sommelier voice and explains: "This one is all chardonnay, the other isn't." I tug a forelock and thank her for sorting out that whole tortuous "blanc de blancs" concept for me. I cross my fingers, hoping against hope that someday I can get her to explain to me where exactly "Mise en Bouteille" is located or why half the vignerons in France seem to be named 'Earl' or 'Sarl.'
What's this, a Huet Vouvray Clos du Bourg Sec 1961? Medium amber-orange color, uh oh. Smells of toffee and orange rind, caramel and hay. Tastes pleasantly spicy, the fruit has tang but the mouthfeel is a bit round and lifeless, a pachydermish wine that won't get up and stand on one leg for us no matter how hard we implore. I haven't had this wine before, but an Haut-Lieu demisec from the same year a few months back was a fresh and newly middle-aged Vouvray, medium lemon-gold color; this is amber-orange and tired, although still pleasantly pomander-spicy. I suspect this bottle has met with some travails on the journey to our table.
Domaine de la Bongran Mâcon-Villages Quintaine Cuvée Tradition 1999. Boisterously aromatic: apple pie hints, baked yellow apples and canned pears in the middle, tiny hint of spicy hay up high and a flinty-smoky note underneath it all. The flavors are just as big but more monolithic, robust and creamy-round at the edges, tighter and flintier at the core, a big brute of a wine.
The Bongran is wonderful gung-ho chardonnay, but it overpowers Joe's delicate truffle-scallop-garlic skape ("skape?") dish, so I switch to Francois Cotat Sancerre Chavignol Rosé 2002. Ah, that's the ticket. Medium light coppery-pink color. Quiet, succulent nose, hint of pink grapefruit, cherry, rainwater. In the mouth it's lightly citric and emphatically minerally, pure and focused into a quiet little laser beam of a rosŽ. Really interesting combination of a generally shy character with an intensely focused purity. Great stuff.
Okay, time to open some Burgundy.
Let's get the ball rolling with a Domaine Daniel Rion Vosne-Romanée Les Beaux Monts 2001. Hey, here's a ripe little Vosne-RomanŽe. Plush redfruity nose, cherry candy with black raspberry piping. Tastes silky and smooth and simple, not a whole lot of focus here but some friendly blowsy-fleshy redfruit. One to drink young.
Lisa, flush with a few glasses of semicooked Huet, points at Marty and says "He looks like Tobey Maguire!" Well, she may have a point, there's a certain fresh-scrubbed, nerd-next-door look that they have in common. Hm, interesting.
Joseph Roty Gevrey-Chambertin Les Fontenys 1998. Pleasantly layered nose, dark red berry fruit with an earthy-animale streak, high note of mintiness. Hey, this smells... smells... like syrah. That's odd. It doesn't taste like syrah, though; it's taut and cherry-earthy and rather intense, crisp and flavorful. With air, a bit more of a cherried quality comes over the aromatics, but that doesn't stop one of the geeks from leaping up and shouting "This Gevrey is Hermitaged!"
As if sensing the presence of so many hateful pinot noirs, Lisa's cell phone goes off--it's Kane, sending text messages all about the dinner he's having at the Slanted Door. I suggest she message back S-T-O-P T-Y-P-I-N-G A-N-D E-A-T Y-O-U B-O-N-E-H-E-A-D, but she doesn't think it's worth the effort.
Joseph Roty Charmes-Chambertin Trés Vieilles Vignes 1989. Trés corked.
Marty is having a little lamb, as are the rest of us, although Jill doesn't seem so sure and has to verify it with Joe. With it we try a Thierry Allemand Cornas 'Unsulfured' 1999. My notebook is a little stained, so it's not terribly easy to decipher, but I believe this is how my notes read: "Whooo! Wheeeeee! Waaahhsssaaa! YOW! YOW! YOW!"
Good god, y'all.
Actually, looking farther down the page it also says "Dark blackberry-raspberry, gravel, freshly-turned earth, pure, focused, elegant, balanced, fine tannins, Marty questions Johnny Depp's masculinity, strikingly vibrant, fruit hums in my mouth, superb, elegant, Nureyev in a glass." So it looks like I enjoyed it.
Here's a Montevertine le Pergole Torte 1979. Medium ruby, ambering well out from the rim. Smells cedary, cedar and crushed brick, hints of stewed tomato, chestnut and tar. Medium light bodied, a gracefully austere older wine that is now almost tanninless, long and light. A fine, fading beauty, past its best but slipping away in style.
Star Chick Sommelier Vanessa Treviño Boyd tells a story about running into Christian the Newbie at her new gig at Tad's Steaks* and making the connection when he drops my name (obviously angling for the FoC discount). Talk about a small world!
Someone gets Kane on the phone, we tell him we're drinking nothing but wines made from the two or three grapes that he hasn't crossed off his list. In reality it's time for some more Burgundies.
Starting with a Domaine G. Roumier Chambolle-Musigny 1989. Medium-pale ruby color. Quietly earthy, soft cherry fruit laced with truffliness. Light and soothing, a calm little wine that sits in the corner reading Baudelaire and smiling gently in my direction.
I'm not exactly sure why, but Jeff, Lisa and Jay have launched into a rousing rendition of The Complete Works of Tom Lehrer. On and on they go, every Tom Lehrer tune you've ever heard of and many many more that you haven't. I try to ignore them, but it's tough, as the songs are very wordy and often sung very fast. I must drink more.
I'll try a Domaine G. Roumier Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoreuses 1997. Hint of barnyard right off the bat, then cola and underbrush suffused with beety-cherryness, very prettily aromatic. A sip, and it's a bit soft and wan, the earthiness taking a moment or two to settle on my tongue, the quiet cherry-beet fruit coming over a bit diluted and watery. I keep waiting for the midpalate to flesh out and plump up in that irascible Roumier fashion, but it doesn't seem to be happening. Not sure if this is just shutting down or if it's time to drink up, but this isn't a strong showing.
Chevillon Nuits-St.-Georges les Roncières 1995. Whoops, corked. So much for the Burgundies, time to move on to sweeties.
Château du Suronde Quarts de Chaume 1999. Orange-amber color, just about the same color as the '61 Huet. Smells very tangerine-apricotty, tastes viscous and weighty. Broad, simple and sweet, like a decent generic Layon. I'm not sure anyone made decent sweeties in the Loire in '99, so I guess it's a good effort, but it seems to be covering up a lack of character with a great dollop of sugar. If Kane were here he'd be shrieking "WINE OF THE NIGHT! WINE OF THE NIGHT!"
The Tom Lehrer-thon seems to be winding down. I'm rather crabby about the whole thing, so when Lisa insists her right breast is bigger than her left I have to take the contrary stance and run with it. (The subject came up because comparing breasts is de rigueur at opera-world parties, along with watching animated Japanese porn.) (Yes, that's true.) (In other words, if you're ever invited to a party with a bunch of opera singers, GO.) I'm just being pissy, but afterwards I do feel better.
Château Bouscassé Pacherenc du Vic Bihl Doux Vendemiaire Octobre 1995. Medium gold-amber color, oranging at the rim. Light smelling, hints of lemon and nectarine, not much going on. Tastes mo‘lleux-sweet, and starts promisingly enough with some quiet apiricot-lemon fruit, but then along comes a strangely tannic streak and a bit of bitterness on the finish, the second half of the wine just kind of falls apart. This was better a few years ago; it doesn't seem to be aging terribly gracefully.
The Armagnac bottles are beginning to surreptitiously appear at the far end of the table; Jay Miller spots them first, leaping up alarmed and stammering that his night is now at an end, then racing out the door. I pointedly ignore them; we're not on speaking terms these days, Armagnac and I. I'm still waiting for an apology for 'the incident' a few years back. I can wait a little longer.
F.X. Pichler Gruner Veltliner Loibner Berg Smaragd 1998. Whee, ripe pineapple smellies, lemon custard, white pepper, hint of snap pea. Large-scale gruner with the poise that comes from self-assured strength. I sip at it and it clears my palate like sherbet on a hot day, but it's a bit too intense to dally with for long.
At this point Star Chick Sommelier Vanessa Treviño Boyd pointedly clears her throat, waits a moment for the chat to die down, then launches into a halting monologue confessing a love so scandalous that I dare not speak its name. Let's just say that it made my own Turleyphilia look sensible in comparison; it was almost as if she'd said she loved Martinelli Jackass Zinfandels or something crazy like that. Or no, wait--not like that, like something else that's just kind of like that, in the sense of being farfetched. Speaking hypothetically, of course.
Needless to say, a confession of this magnitude can only be greeted with howls of derisive laughter, followed by a series of juvenile taunts, followed by smug dismissals. In other words, the usual treatment for heretics and apostates. She affects a slightly wounded persona, which is rather fetching.
On the other side of the room Joe and Lisa are carrying on and on and on about arcane organic chemistry stuff. On and on, [INDECIPHERABLE CHEMISTRY GIBBERISH] this, [INDECIPHERABLE CHEMISTRY GIBBERISH] that. Suddenly I find myself rather nostalgic for Tom Lehrer.
Finally, to put a cap on the evening's festivities and play to Vanessa's secret life as a monster zinlover, Joe brings out a treasured bottle of Ravenswood Zinfandel Napa Valley Dickerson Vineyard 1995. Well, either to cap the festivities or to chase us out the door. The wine is showing its age but still enjoyable, earthy black raspberry fruit that's become pleasantly muted, but of hollowness in the middle, uncomplicated and decent enough for late night quafftalking.
I look up from my glass for a moment: Jeff and Lisa are both asleep on the couch while Vanessa and I carry on an animated series of wine-related conversations, Joe is long gone. I look at my watch and yes, it's time. My personal rule about not continuing to drink for more than an hour after the host passes out has just kicked in, so we make our early farewells to no one in particular and head out into the night.
* Name of establishment changed upon advice of counsel.