I was a little dubious about attending this year's confab of the New York Chapter of the Muscadet Wine Aficionados Society, if only because I've always been slightly leery of anyone who would willingly choose to be referred to as an 'aficionado.' Nevertheless, Lisa and I got all dolled up in our Sunday best and made the trek to the swanky confines of the Greenwich Village landmark restaurant 'Inside' for the big shindig.
In attendance are many familiar faces, including Wine therapy's own SFJoe, bigshot Muscadet maven Joe Dressner and wife Louise, Dr. Jayson Glick-Cohen, Esq., Elyse Fradkin, Christian DiNewbie, Bucko Miller, Joe 'Finger This' Moryl, perennial McNetta organizer and woman-about-town Sue Ng, former Met Len Dykstra, Theresa Iverson, Tony Fletcher, others too numerous to list.
The place is filling up quickly, so we grab a seat at the north end of the table. Dressner, ever concerned with seating arrangements, rousts us out and moves us over to the east side of the table. There we settle, in a nervous twitter.
The obligatory starter fizz come out in the form of a H. Billiot Fils Champagne Brut Millésime 1995. It's a medium-pale straw-gold color. Smells of toasted biscuits, cream soda and lemon-ginger, layered and complex up the nose. A sip, and it's got a good head of fizz, nice density and weight, plenty of creamy pear-lemon biscuitty fruit flavors that ebb and flow in the mouth with the wavelength of the bubbles. I'm not a big fizzicist, but this is delightful stuff, and I happily take a fifth and sixth glassful (rarely will I ever have more than four glasses of any one bubbly, especially at the beginning of an evening). Plus, the label proudly declares that it's "100% Grand Cru!"
In come the waiters with trays laden with bivalves and other briny creatures of the vasty deep--let the Muscadization begin!
Ah, an old favorite to begin with, a Clos des Allées (Luneau-Papin) Muscadet 1999. This has long been my benchmark for basic, non-cult Muscadet, although it would probably not qualify as echt-Muscadet. It's more generous, looser and not as briny and bright, but it's friendly and expressive and a little flirty, a girly Muscadet. However, the bottle that comes past me is just mildly corked and it isn't realized quickly enough to procure us another. At first it just seems that the bottle is muted, not showing well, but at the end of the night the telltale aroma of TCA is clearly rising to the surface. Pity.
Domaine de l'Aubepine Muscadet 1995: Lightly cheesy-funky note over a base of honeydew and chalky-coral minerality. In the piehole a bit zipless, somewhat blunted mouthfeel--there's plenty of acidity but the fruit's footwork seems to have lost a step. Still, it's pretty good and makes up for a slight stodginess in the middle with a long coral-chip finish.
Clos des Briords Muscadet 1999: Sniff, sniff... ngh, this doesn't smell like anything. With aggressive swirling I get some vague rainwatery notes and a hint of plastic, maybe a trace of white flowers that are growing far, far away on a hilltop. In the piehole it's entirely neutral, all bracing acidity without much flesh. "This wine has always been fucked up," says Dressner affably. General agreement.
Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet 1998: Much more expressive aromatics here--green starfruit, lime rind and white coral. Nervy and bright in the maw--briny, concentrated and brisk. Here's the echt-Muscadet after all. Very pretty stuff, still could use some time to mellow but it's really hitting its stride now.
Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Cuvée Eden Vieilles Vignes 2000: The mysterious Burgundy-bottle Cuvée. I had meant to ask Marc Ollivier about the reason for that at the last McNetta, but never got around to it after the big brawl. Rumor has it that he did it 'on a whim,' but there is also a camp that firmly believes it was done 'because he wanted to.' At any rate it's still got that dark rum/melonball thing going on, along with light yellow apple and straw notes. Less minerally than the other Muscadets, it's beautifully balanced and cohesive, if young and tight at the moment. Snappy acidity gives it an angular feel in the middle but it's got great sustain and length. The flavor profile hasn't the classic feel of the regular PepiŹre, but it does me fine. Still, it too seems to be in need of time.
Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet 2001: Corked. Ugh.
Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Cuvée Buster 1997: Quite citrusy, white grapefruit smellies, hints of tart yellow apple, rainwater. A sip, and there's bright lemony-straw fruit, zippy acidity comes at you right at first, then the middle unclenches and a certain melony fleshiness emerges to clothe the central acidic spine, blooms quietly, then ebbs again as the finish turns once again towards lemon-citrus and rocks. Still quite young, but prettily expressive and long, long, long. Close to flawless, it's clear that being the most expensive Muscadet in the world has created some serious quality here. Is this what all those "points" folks call a "four hundred 'point' wine"? (Four hundred is the most "points" allowed in one 750 ml. bottle, right? I can never keep that whole "points" business straight.)
Dressner opines that the Buster is closed, but is roundly hooted down. He points out rather testily that he tasted it at the domaine in March, when it was much more open. SFJoe quickly counters that HE tasted it at the domaine in February, and it's just as good tonight, if not better. Soon everyone who tasted it at the domaine is weighing in with varying opinions. Before you can say "minerals" the table dissolves into bitter feuding and name-calling, with Dressner finally standing on his chair and shouting "Do you know who I am? Do you know WHO I AM?! I'm the FRICKIN' KING OF PINEAU D'AUNIS AND I EAT TWO-BIT GEEKS LIKE YOU FOR BREAKFAST!" SFJoe will not, however, be cowed by this Sopranoesque display, and the table soon settles into an uneasy DMZ watchfulness.
Domaine de l'Ecu (Boussard) Muscadet Expression de Granit 2001: Big, hard and stony-smelling, lime and rocks. Crystal-hard in the piehole, a flashily stony wine, there's a keenness and flashes of cruelty here, this wine is a bit of a show-off, a primadonna, but it's hard to resist its coiled strength and purity. Impressive young stuff, a quartz menhir of a Muscadet that goes wonderfully with my braised shortribs in catsup sauce.
Pierre Luneau Le "L" de Pierre Luneau Muscadet 1989: More rock dust here, more lime rind, traces of honeydew and straw. It's not as big and impressive as the Granit, but it's got a whiplike spine of steely acidity that is lightly clad in a satiny skin of yellow and green fruit. This has been showing signs of opening up ever so slightly in the past year or two, drink with caution.
Now a few non-Muscadets to ease the transition into wines that aren't Muscadet at all but are in fact other kinds of wine.
Schloss Thorn Elbling Dry QbA Trocken NV: Fresca? Fresca in a wine bottle? Flabby and soft, with fakey-fruity lemonlime flavors, this says both DRY and TROCKEN, and yet it's still got noticeable sweetness. The combination of spinelessness, sugar and contrast with the Muscadets makes drinking this seem like slurping candied jellyfish through a straw. Icky.
Hirsch Zôbinger Gaisberg Riesling Alte Reben 1998: Dense, richly fruited nose--chalk and pineapple, yellow flowers and white peaches drizzled with lemon. Boisterously fruity at first in the piehole, then calms down in the middle, allowing the minerality to surface and run parallel with the fruitiness right to the end of the long finish. Rowdy, borderline wacky stuff-- if not for the Granit this would be the biggest white on the table.
Pierre Sparr Riesling Brand 1996: Smells of yellow flowers, lemon, vinyl and pine ("Smells like a coffin!"). Crisp and a little too tart, slightly thin in the middle and dominated by acidity. Over the hill?
Dressner discovers a sentence that is guaranteed to stop any winegeek conversation dead in its tracks:
"Speaking as a Jew, VinExpo is my idea of what death is like if the Catholics are right."
Yup. Dead in its tracks.
So then um, moving on, here's a Clos Uroulat (Hoars) Jurançon 2000. Medium gold color. Rich smellies here, tangerine, cinnamon, mandarin orange, waxed apricot and hay. Surprisingly sweet, demisec-plus or mo‘lleux-minus. A creamy, glyceriney middle with well supported sugar adds to the feeling of substance--this is a robust, flavorful wine that has a brawny, gonzo quality that I like very much. Unsubtle, rich fun, although when it's announced that the wine is "Made by Hoars," there is a slight misunderstanding.
For some reason there are also some wines that not only aren't Muscadet, but aren't even white wines.
A brace of Morgons!
First, a Joseph Drouhin Morgon 2001. Glossy dark plum-berry smells, laced with dark earthiness. Tastes candied and somewhat inflated, the shiny fruit pumped up and stretched too thin. Not bad, but it seems manipulated beyond its ability to cover, seems too glossy-sheeny for its own good.
Next up is a Desvignes Javernieres Morgon 2000. Smells redder and less plummy than the Drouhin, dark cherry-berry and gravel. Tastes quieter and more focused, stony-cherry fruit turns towards red berry in the middle, then finishes with a fine tart cherry finish. Fine, supple stuff with great cohesion, a pleasure. For those who need quantifiable numbers, this is one point six times the wine that the Drouhin is.
Sliding over to pinots, a Hauer of the Dauen Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 1998. Soft red cherry-cola-clove nose ("Asian spice"?!) laced with flickers of tar. Tangy cherried midpalate, feels soft and light and loosely knit. The light spicy fruit doesn't quite harmonize with the slightly spiky acidity. Brief flickery finish with a tarry burnt streak: a low-wattage pinot that doesn't do anything wrong but doesn't have much to say either. "It's great to see that they can make crappy Burgundy on the West Coast!" someone shouts. Perhaps this is a compliment? At any rate, it's decent enough but not at all compelling.
Here's another westerner, a Domaine Alfred Pinot Noir Edna Valley Chamisal Vineyard 1999. Big, ballsy nose--plum, toast, pepper. Tastes big and buffoonish--glossy candied cherry and plum flavors war with a charred-toasty undercurrent, then lumber into a gritty wood-tannic finish. Pinot shiraz, clumsy and redolent of artifice. It's all about the, um, "FRUIT." Back to the batcave, Alfred. Dressner visibly gags when he tastes this, but won't talk because he's pissed that his chosen vacation spot is the source of much levity. Who'd have guessed that Mexico City would be on the 'A' list of getaways? Joe Moryl tries to engage him with a trivia question: "Hey, do you know what OTHER vineyards this guy owns?" but Dressner only snaps back "You know, I don't care. I just DON'T CARE," and we never find out the answer.
Or was Joe was talking about the Millbrook Pinot Noir Hudson River Region Proprietor's Special Reserve 1999? Smells of sour cherry and earth, hints of tea and light smoky-spiciness. Tastes cherry-blackberried, tart and simple, with some aggressive glassy tannins. Not bad I guess, doesn't do much for me.
One last pinot to climb, a Jean et Gilles Lafouge Auxey-Duresses La Chapelle 1999. Cheerful beety-cherry-berry smellies, with air mushroom-truffle hints begin to creep into my nostrils, along with a plaster of Paris note that I can't quite grasp. A sip, and it's less interesting in the gob than up the nose--rather soft, dilute in the middle and with a general sense of ennui. Still, it smells happy and has a couple of decent moves.
Disclaimer: This next bottle is a free sample that was sent to me from the winery for evaluation purposes. Sadly, the enclosed check that was supposed to cover the cost of me talking it up all over the internet bounced, so the wine is forthwith cut loose to stand on its own merits.
Villa del Lago Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2000: Smells of light cherry-berry fruit with hints of cedar and a fruit-punchy patina, almost a cotton candy thing going on. Cabernet nouveau? Tastes more serious than it smells: nice warm black cherry fruit that is loosely wrapped and, while lacking concentration, has a juicily friendly quality to it. With air it gains some weight but it's never going to be a bruiser and the sense of dilution persists until the quiet finish, which is only lightly jostled by a hint of fine tannins. Straightforward and honest, in terms of Napa cabernet this is a unusually light and food-friendly wine, so I'll give it credit for that and won't carp further about any perceived lack of distinct character (at least until I'm sure the check isn't going to clear).
Domaine de Peyra Cotes d'Auvergne Vieilles Vignes 2001: Dark plum-strawberry aromas mingle with a saddle leather/fresh sod funkiness. Medium-bodied, a juicy, self-confident wine--straightforward and supple, with a certain restrained chewiness. Not big, not small, not complex, not simple. Honest wine that has found itself, and it's a good thing I'm here to witness it.
Domaine de la Soumade Rasteau Côtes du Rhône Villages 1998: Dark garnet color. Candied red berry and black cherry, road tar and a whiff of rubbing alcohol. Two-dimensional, slightly stewed flavors, blowsy, abrasive and hot but otherwise agreeable. I think the New York crowd has been gunshy of Rasteau since the wine jerky Gourt de Mautens '98 sandpapered our collective uvulae until they bled bitter drops a few years back. I can still hear SFJoe's voice rasping "Steel...wool... in a glass... it burns... it burrrrrnnns...." This is not as bad as that.
Bring in the funk with a La Font d'Estevenas Cairanne Côtes du Rhône Villages 1999. Smells of black olive, pepper and dung. A sip, and it's a compact wine, balanced and crisp and not as expressive in the gob as it is up the noseholes. Or so I think until the prefinish turns leathery-earthy, then lingers and flickers pepperishly. Interesting, an elegant wine with a spicy late bloom.
Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2000: Quiet, quiet nose: flashes of hard red fruit laced with concrete dust, not much else. Tastes dark and hard, tightly wrapped dark red cran-cherry fruit laced with cocoa, a swirl of tannins. Well focused and intense, but utterly impenetrable now.
We've done with reds now. I've got chocolate coming because I see Banyuls, but before that there are other sweeties to sample.
Champalou Vouvray Trie de Vendages 1997: Medium gold color. Small, quiet nose that's fully packed with botrytis-laced apricot and pineapple. Very sweet, with just enough acidity, the fruit is dense and glossy in the piehole, just skating away from the precipe of goopiness and finishing with a pretty mandarin-orange note. Big, flashy and interesting, somehow leaves me cold. Champalou is the Baumard of Vouvray; the wines are always correct and well-made but just don't press my buttons the way they ought.
Dow's Porto 1994 Cask Sample: Matte red-brown nose, rich baker's chocolate and dark berry. Sweet, dark and fleshy, a chewy young buck of a Porto. I don't know why this is labelled as a cask sample, but it's awfully friendly for an infant, easier going than the regular '94 Dow's, more open.
Meulenhof Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese 1999: Smells of almost-ripe mango, tart yellow appleskin and honey-drizzled beanbag chair. Tart yellow fruit comes at you right up front, then fades and spreads. Sweet and watery in the middle, rather dull.
Domaine du Mas Blanc (Parce) Banyuls 1985: Smells of red clay and dust, earth and cocoaberry. Medium sweet, crisp and densely packed with dark red flavors. Still young and on the monolithic side; needs time, but is getting there. Heavenly with the chocolate mouse cake, which looks suspiciously like chocolate mousse cake.
An argument breaks out over whether Banyuls goes better with chocolate than Muscadet goes with oysters; the oyster partisans outnumber the chocoholics (me) and a fierce verbal pummeling ensues. Screw you all, I'm going home.
After everyone leaves and we're rifling the leftovers, Lisa finds some kind of pager device sitting forlornly on the table.
Has anyone lost a pager?