His new canine heart in place and firing on all cylinders, the time was rapidly approaching for Joseph Louis Mathew Aubrey Dressner to abandon our shores for a long and well-deserved period of convalescence in the vasty fields of France. But, in a plaintive last request, he begged his friends in the New York Contingent to shower him, for one last time, with HUGE!, MOTOR-OIL THICK!!, EIGHT PRONG!!! wines that would shock his ravaged system into health and bring the delicate balance of his precious bodily fluids into equilibrium once more.
Thus was a theme was born, and various shady geek-types converged on the hallowed halls of Minetta Tavern for a night of solemn farewellstivatory activity.
The festivities were scheduled to begin promptly at 7, which meant that I only had to sit by myself for fifteen or twenty minutes until people began arriving at 7:20 or thereabouts, when the Man of the Hour himself arrived with Andrew 'Internet Pariah' Munro Scott and Jennifer Clark, who (for one night only) had no class whatsoever. The three of them were all atwitter, Joe apparently having gotten into a debate with a cab driver about the legality of honking in traffic, and then joined him in performing some kind of a citizen's arrest on a pair of hapless jaywalkers who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We are joined by the irrepressible Bradley Kane, Comrade Oleg O., Jeff (Man of the Soil) Connell, the lovely Lisa-Munro Allen, Jayson ("with a 'Y'") Cohen, and Joe's pal Jane, but we are also warned to gird our loins for the eventual arrival of the estimable nathan vandergrift and Mona Moore herself, feared Louis/Dressner Security Chieftain.
As always, we are told 'Absolutely no photographs.'
The bottles are put in their places, the stemware is shined and readied to go, and Joe, after taking a deep drag on his oxygen bottle, is helped to his feet, pauses a moment to steady himself, then lets rip the ritual cry of "Let the motor-oil-thick drunken festivization begin!"
And so we do, building slowly.
Here's a Domaine des Baumard Savennièrres Clos de St. Yves 1989: Medium straw color, with light hints of kerosene & wool over a lemon-pear-chalk background hinting at some nice development. Crisp, big, rich and slow to unfold. With a bit of time it expands and grows big, dry and powerful, a blunt-headed sperm whale of a wine, impressive but a bit unwieldy and without clear delineation. Still, nice and rich and very amiable in a cetacean style.
Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Demisec 1989: Medium straw color. A dispute breaks out over this one, because it's got a hint of a wooly quality that some at first perceive as maturing chenin and some perceive as very light TCA. I start with the first crowd, then move into the latter after some time has elapsed, as do most others. Lisa calls it contaminated from the gitgo, which is good enough for me. Still, this has to be one of the tastiest corked wines I've had, with a base of very lightly honeyed lemon-limestone behind the wet wool hint. Tastes fairly lush in the mouth, there's enough acidity to balance, but there's more roundness than I expected, as well as a bit more sweetness than other LHL demisecs I've had lately. There's a nice mineral rush in the midpalate that fades into a white-honey flavor that lingers on the finish. Easily wins the Thunderbird Prize, perhaps a landmark for a corked wine. Nothing shows TCA in a better light than chenin with a few years under its belt.
Château de Puligny-Montrachet Puligny-Montrachet 1995 (Puligny-Montrachet): Pale lemon-straw color. Bright, creamy nose, plenty of vanilla with crisp yellow apple and lemon, quite a bit of wood here, but the brightness of the underlying aromas help to shake it off and not get bogged down by it. Tastes a bit sharp at first, quickly turning creamy-mellow and settling on the palate. A distinct two-stage wine, with a tart attack that simply gives up the ghost and surrenders to a wave of creamy vanilla and pear flavors. Peculiar, but not unpleasant. This may be from Puligny-Montrachet.
Kistler Chardonnay Sonoma 1996: Medium straw-lemon color. Plenty of oak here on the heavy nose, vanilla, vanilla, toast, toast, but not quite enough to drown all traces of fruit. There's a pleasant hint of rainwatery flintiness, and some pear-apple hints buried under there, something I've not found in Kistlers past. A taste, and it's viscous and creamy-round, toast, toast, vanilla, vanilla, segueing into a finish with a roasted-pear charred note and a flash of alcoholic heat. The best Kistler I've had; perhaps the "lesser" Sonoma bottling doesn't get the entire full-throttle oak treatment that so dooms the poor single vineyard wines?
Domaine de Roally Mâcon-Montbellet 1998: Medium lemon-straw color. Whee, this is a departure from the two oaky things before--bright tropical nose, lightly pineappley, with rainwatery-mineral notes underneath, smells bright and fresh-fruity. Quite lean and racy in the mouth after the last two wines, more mineral-based, yellow flowers and Bartlett pear hints, just a trace of sweetness, richly flavorful. The minerality hangs in all the way to the end, but the fruit takes a bit of a powder and a touch of dilution towards the finish keeps this from hitting a home run. Plus, it's not motor-oil thick and is therefore disqualified to the penalty glass right in front of me, where it is slurped up expeditiously as punishment for its misdeeds.
This is the last of the white, with the Kistler winning the Motor-Oil-Thick voting in a landslide. Kane, who has been waiting for the whites to be done, now springs up and announces that he has something that will put 10W-30 to shame. He pours a Pahlmeyer Merlot Napa Valley 1996, and we look at the deep garnet-purple color with approval. Here indeed is a motor oil of a wine. Smells of lush choco-cherry, baking chocolate and dark candied cherries, yes, this is the real deal. A sip, and it's creamy-toasty-rich, a mess of chocolatey oak, HUGE! lush over-red ripe fruit, a creamy-choco-wave of a mouthfeel, good fleshiness, some nice heat on the finish, this is a ripe beast indeed, slouching towards a slightly astringent wood-tannic finish for good measure. Drinkable, just a tiny bit unpleasant due to the astringency, although really far more blowsily generic than actively nasty. Eight generic white aluminum prongs with the word "PRONG" stamped on them in 36-point Helvetica Bold.
With that we all need a breather, so we turn down the volume a notch or three and assail a Taluau St. Nicolas-de-Bourgueil Vielles Vignes 1995: Medium garnet color. Quiet nose, light cran-cherry hints, some leafy tobacco and earth. Nice balance, clear and pleasantly flavored, but a bit pallid, a trace anemic. For fear it's the influence of the merlotor oil I go back to this several times, and my impression doesn't change. It comes to a nice long earthy-cran-cherry finish, but I find it strangely wan this time around.
Confuron-Contetidot Vosne-Romanée 1991: Medium ruby color. Another quiet nose, soft clovey-cinnamon and earthy-mushroom hints hover over a softly muted cherry base, very whispery-soft at first, slowly reaching out and beguiling by gentle persuasion. Tastes crisp, light and nimble, a bit feathery at the edges with a core of earthy-leafy red cherry fruit. Small, unprepossessing, it grows on me and has won me over after about a half-hour of quiet conversation.
Eric Texier Côte du Rhône Brézème 1998: This wine is held aloft as a prime example of the sinister nexus of WLDG ITB activity--label designed by a beaming Andrew Munro Scott (I puckishly peer at it, say "Hey, you spelled 'France' wrong!" and watch the blood drain from his face--what a card I am!), wine imported by a beaming Joseph Mathew Louis Munro Dressner, wine made by Eric Munro Texier, and look--there's one of them funny Stuart Munro Yaniger fake corks! It's some kind of WLDG mafia conglomerate!
Conspiracy theories are quickly forgotten once the wine is poured, though. It's a medium-dark garnet color, and the syrah fruit comes out ripe and spicy, dark berry laced with gravel and horehound, with earthy-dark bass notes. Nicely balanced and rich, the coltish tangy dark cran-raspberry fruit gives you a nice smoky ride through a well cut, deep midpalate into a final flourish of tart fruit and fine tannins. Very nice CdR, even if a sinister cabal of ITBers/Freemasons is behind the whole thing, but an utter failure as a motor-oil-thick monstrosity.
Our veal chops have arrived, and we are startled and nonplussed at the moistness involved. Several of us send ours back for further blowdrying, but I won't point fingers at those who don't, as it is entirely a stylistic preference and I'd be revealing my pro-dry veal chop biases by doing so, something too horrible to consider.
Domaine Bachelet Pommard Les Chanlins 1997: Medium to medium-dark garnet color. Smells quietly ripe, plum-cherry, hints of earth and smoky tarriness. Tastes ripe as well, rich and rounded, purply-smoky and a bit fat. Seems rather plain to me, with the fruit a bit too pillowy for the light acidity to carry along; bits of it keep bulging out where you least expect it. Decent enough, but unremarkable.
Domaine de la Ferme Saint-Martin Beaumes-de-Venise Côte du Rhône-Villages Cuvée Princesse 1998: Medium garnet color. Light nose, raspberry, gravel-rainwater. Fairly light in the mouth, but quite flavorful--juicy, nimble and well balanced Beaumes-de-Venise, small in amplitude and straightforward, but a good package within its scope with a long tangy-berry finish. Nice.
And here comes the estimable nathan vandergrift himself, surprising some skeptics, who thought him an invention of Dressner's. He's looking fairly substantial for an invention, though, and he pulls up a chair and joins in the fun.
While saying hi to nathan I notice there's a bottle that is only about two inches off being completely full. When I pick it up and remark on that, Jennifer Munro Clark cocks an eyebrow at me and says merely "There's a reason for that."
I must have some immediately.
Turkey Flat Shiraz Barossa 1997: Deep purply-garnet, this looks promisingly motor-oily. Smells ripe and big and plum-blackberry fruity, peppery and smoky. Tastes like purple Robitussin, plum and blackberry cough syrup, with a dash of vanilla thrown in. Nice and flabby-round, with spiky acidity emerging from the chubby fruit to poke you in the piehole. Actively unpleasant, although the weird acidity is more vexing to me than the oakiness. As this goes around the room, everyone can only say "Wow." A HUGE! motor-oil thick spiky flabfest, made from hundred-fifty-three year old vines. Eight gooey grey-white prongs sculpted from a combination of Crisco and corn starch, with a painter's dropcloth wrapped around the bottom to keep them from staining the carpet.
Now that's more like it.
Here's a Domaine du Traginer Collioure Cuvée D'Octobre 1998: Medium-dark garnet color. Quiet but pleasantly ripe nose, smoky raspberry, fairly tight but with nice dark red fruit. Tastes tight, lightly smoked, young and ripe. Tangy, nice balance, lightly creamy, very young and a bit hard, but promising.
Groffier Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses 1993: Medium translucent ruby color. Smells a bit odd, bit of a caramelly note, perhaps a bit oxidized? Underneath is some earthy beety-cherry fruit, dark and quiet. Tastes nicely balanced, but not giving much, and still accented by a hint of caramel. Strange, and I don't know quite what to make of it.
Sine Qua Non Red Table Wine 'Against the Wall' 1996: Deep purply-garnet color. Smells of smoky meat, plum and blackberry, light earthiness and a mess of toasted-vanilla oak just leap out at you from the glass and beat you into submission. Dressner keeps going on about "Asian spice" (whatever the hell that is) and Lucky Strike Unfiltered cigarettes, but that's just crazy talk. This is, to my tastes, the least undrinkable of the HUGE! EIGHT-PRONG!! wines so far. It's still massively overoaked and slightly candied, but at least there are hints of smoky-meaty complexity peeping out from under the various and sundry layers of planking. Eight hand-carved mesquite prongs that have been smoked over a light fire for three hours, then dipped in blackberry jam and arranged tastefully in a pop-art vase.
With this final wonder, Cap'n D. arises, declares that his precious bodily fluids are now in complete balance, and rouses his palanquin entourage for the long trip home and sweeps out of the room before the emotions have a chance to bubble to the surface. We watch him go, borne on the shoulders of flunkies, and wave wistfully one more time, for the good times.
And we never even had time to thank him.
Hey, here's a white that got away, a Domaine du Clos des Fées Vin de Pays de Val d'Agly Vielles Vignes 1998: Medium straw-lemon color. This smells like... well... like almost nothing at all. I swirl and swirl, and finally manage to coax some light gingery mineral-rainwater hints, but it's a struggle. Tastes crisp, clear, nicely balanced, but quite neutral, with a slightly soapy mouthfeel accenting some lemon-ginger fruit that has a touch of yellow apple and finishes on a very quiet gingery note. Not bad, just not a lot going on. Tasted twice, with consistent notes.
This would appear to be the end of the dry wines, and I am forced to knock Jane down to make a grab for the one sweetie that is extant, a Domaine du Traginer Banyuls 1995: Medium-light amber-brown color, quite light. Smells layered and complex and surprisingly developed--toffee, rust, caramel, leather, lots going on here, light feathery aromas. Tastes developed and feathery-earthy as well, more toffee flavors, a light to medium-light bodied wine with medium-light sweetness blended perfectly with firm but not assertive acidity. You sip, and the wine settles slowly and easily on your tongue in layers of flavor. Very, very nice, a thoughtful, easy wine that begs to be savored slowly and delicately.
Good heavens, the WLDG's own SFJoe has suddenly arrived, looking a bit crestfallen to have missed the presence of the great man. Andrew squints up at him and voices the question that we are all thinking:
"Did you bring any wine?"
Indeed he has, a Nigl Riesling-Privat Senftenberger Piri 1998, which is a very pale straw color. Whoo, this is a doozy, smelling like a tropical dichotomy, stern minerality and lush tropical hints coexisting in my nose and banging into each other like tornado-inducing air masses. Rich, pale honey-pineapple-honeysuckle and slatey rocks slug it out for supremacy. I taste, and am startled from my Banyuls-induced torpor by a wall of stern acidity and dense white flavors. Tight and a bit puckery, a big, dense wine that pulls me by the nose and challenges me to a duel. I decline, and slink back to my complaisant Banyuls, nose a bit sore but better for the experience.
We sit and go over the leftovers long into the wee hours, telling our favorite "Good ol' Joe" stories and wondering what the big lug would say if he could see us now.
I think he'd look down from wherever he was, smile that big lug smile of his, give us the ol' thumbs-up and say "Eight prongs, mateys, eight prongs...!"