I'm told the call went out like wildfire throughout the New York winegeek A-List circles early Saturday morning--CODE BLUE: Kane's parents are out of town tonight, party at Kane's folks' house, hot chicks and conga dancing till the wee hours...!
Of course, not being on the A-List myself I had to get a last-second fax from the noteworthy Robert Callahan, at home in bed with a bad case of reticulated dysphoria, ceding his and his wife's coveted spots to Lisa and me. We grab our battered LP of Houses of the Holy, snatch some Hawaiian Punch and a bottle of '96 Everclear from the cellar and head out into the frosty night. Party house, here we come!
When the door opens it's just Kane in an apron, face dusted with flour.
"Where's the party, bud?" I yawp in best Spicoli mode.
But we are alone. Kane, having raided the larder, is bustling about the kitchen preparing a leg of lamb, a tray of lasagna, a vat full of coq au vin, a hefty baked salmon, a roast loin of pork, a vegetable medley and a plate of tan food for Mr. Connell, who is on a strict beige diet. He scowls when we present our credentials in lieu of the Callahans. "Ugh," he says, "If I'd have known it was going to be you guys I'd have loaded the lasagna up with sausage. What am I going to do with all this veggie lasagna?"
I make a pert if anatomically impossible suggestion, but he's already off to answer the door as the globetrotting SFJoe arrives, stylishly bedecked in an Aloha shirt he claims was bought in Switzerland and bearing the inevitable gruner, a Nigl Gruner Veltliner Alte Reben 1996, which quickly finds its way into our glasses. Zippity, here's some structure for you, a steely spine of puckery acidity wells up immediately, dives under my tongue and squeezes my glands. The backbone is clad with a velvety skin of yellow lemon-pear fruit that has a convincing roughness as it moves through the midpalate, turning towards limeyness on the tart finish. A hard and manly wine with an Eastwoodian squint and a dangerous gleam in its eye. SFJoe calls it "A gruner for fans of romorantin": since I am one, I love it.
SFJoe has a new toy, a cheese wheel/rotator/grabber/slicer. I can't make heads or tails of it, but he promises hours of fun from it during the cheese course. As we do our third gruner body-shot there is a small noise in the foyer, and the reclusive Jeff Connell appears from the gloaming--he's grown his hair long and shaggy and has a certain untamed Byronic charm about him.
Here's a two-bottle horizontal of Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet 2000 (The two bottles are identical, but are opened an hour apart for comparison purposes.) First bottle: Hey, it's Muscadet! Chalky, rainwatery fruit edged with a silky hint of honeydew, friendlier than last year's quarry-dust version but still nervy and taut. Probably suffers by following the Nigl, but leaves me a little cold. Second bottle: Um. I dunno. Are we having 'before' cheese or 'after' cheese, Brad? Can we use SFJoe's cheese rotator toy yet?
No. Not yet.
Marni and Asher Rubenstein arrive, she in the full bloom of fecundity, he with a rosy pre-parental glow. We discuss the progression of parental responsibility, from fish to hamsters to dogs to actual human babies. Someone asks if they have a name picked out. Marni freezes, mouth akimbo, until Lisa jumps in to explain that this question is a violation of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' codicil that we were all supposed to have read and signed upon arrival. Apologies are offered, feelings soothed: crisis narrowly averted.
Here are the most noteworthy of tonight's guests, the notable Joe Dressner and his noted spouse Denyse Louis. Asher picks up a bottle from the counter, shows it to Marni and points reverently at the back label. "You see," he says "these are their names on the back of this bottle. Truly, these are people of note!"
Dressner hangs his head in a captivating display of false modesty, then produces from a gilded case a handblown stemless 'Impitoyable' tasting glass with customized finger slots, proffering it for the less noteworthy to fill with only the most exquisite of wines.
Which probably doesn't include a Mazza Vineyards Vidal Blanc Lake Erie (Pennsylvania) 2000: It's got an odd lactic smell to the nose, tastes flaccid and lightly sweet but inoffensive enough. As I'm beginning to sniff and sip SFJoe takes a small taste, howls "Bacteria! Bacteria!" and flings his glassful into the sink. After that I'm a little leery of appraising further. So much for a brief flirtation with our friends the hybrids.
Kane, who has been scouring the house for his lost glass of wine, inexplicably finds it in the refrigerator. We urge him to slow down. I begin to have visions of wacky cinematic complications ensuing ths evening; perhaps Brad will race into the dining room, yell "My parents are on their way back! Everyone has to go down the fire escape!" or something like that, the night suddenly turning into an early Tom Cruise movie.
Here's a curiously dark golden-brown wine with an indecipherable German label. We pass it from hand to hand, but no one can parse it. Something like Winzerderein Ayler Kupp Frogger Ayl an der Saar Mosel Saar Ruwer Riesling Spätlese 1983. Well, it doesn't really much matter. Sour nutty nose speaks of years spent next to a radiator, shrill acidity, reduced riesling Madeira.
I notice we're sitting in silence, broken only by sporadic volleys of semi-solemn conversation, more like a board meeting than a jeebus, really. "Kane!" I hiss, "The tunes, man, the tunes!" And before long we're boogeying to the hip strains of 'Lazy Mary' and 'Mambo Italiano.' Party on, dudes!
Pierre Frick Riesling Alsace Cuvée Precieuse 1999: Almost aroma-free, an extremely reticent nose--light vinyl, talc and traces of lemon, more mineral than fruit. More robust in the piehole, crisp enough for tax purposes but on the mellow side. Again, more mineral and structure than fruit, a touch of sweetness, a nice, middleweight riesling whose salient characteristic is easygoing smoothness and seamless integration.
Lisa, who can't hold her Lebanese hash like she could in high school, takes this opportunity to pass out cold on top of the pile of coats in the master bedroom.
Hey, it's a pink wine, a Castello di Ama Rosato 1999: Pale salmon color. Smells of light cherry and mushroom with a hint of carrotiness. Tastes a little vague, watery in the midpalate with strangely spiky acidity. Decent to sip, I guess, but doesn't ring my bell.
As we sit down to face Kane's mountain of food, SFJoe and Dressner launch into the beginning of what will turn into a two-hour symposium on the merits versus the flaws of the biodynamie movement. I catch Asher and Marni nervously eying one another, the "What the hell have you gotten us into?" look easily decipherable from one to the other.
The usual "The wine is better" vs. "The mysticism is a crock" arguments are made, fine and dandy, but then thing get all out of control and veer off into novel tangents. First off, it's so-called 'homeopathic medicine,' which instantly draws a newly-awakened Lisa leaping into the conversation, hissing and spitting for all she's worth. Dressner is still trying to figure out who James Randi is when Connell attempts to bring some reason into the discussion by proposing the entire misunderstanding be blamed on Stuart Yaniger. All agree, although Dressner grumbles cryptically under his breath that he can't forgive Yaniger for stalking a personal hero of his named Pierre somebody or other. I don't really catch the details and since I don't want to reignite the flames I let the matter lie, a rottweiler napping in the sun.
Some wine might be nice, so we open a Le Tourmentin Valais Assemblage de Cepages Nobles 1993: Medium to medium-light ruby color, ambering slightly at the rim. Unusual nose--lightly cedary, soft cherry fruit with a tomatoey baked-bean earthy streak and hints of leather, elegant and surprisingly layered. On the lean side but full-flavored and complex, with good balance and plenty of structure, if perhaps a little more developed than I'd have expected of such a fairly young wine. I know nothing about this one except what the gent who sold it to me said: a Swiss version of Bordeaux varieties. It's not exactly Bordeaux-like but it is interesting, light and layered and suave.
Château La Mission Haut-Brion Graves 1981: Warm, sweetly velvety nose, a dark soft mix of worn cedar, moist pipe tobacco, muted plummy red fruit and quiet stoniness. The wine smells slightly worn, all the edges are smooth and rounded and the various smellies flow easily into and around one another. Muted but sweetly ripe feathery fruit wells up in the midpalate. Well resolved, in a great spot right now, very few tannins left. Long velvety dark finish, all is smooth and easy and thoughtful. A lovely match with Kane's lamb, makes me smile and whisper small happy things to myself under my breath.
Joe and Denyse mention that they've bought and cooked a side of beef from The French Butcher. SFJoe queries them on their cooking methods, obviously not approving. "I dunno," shrugs Dressner, "I followed The French Butcher's advice."
"Sure," says SFJoe, "but I GIVE The French Butcher advice."
There is a brief round of applause in appreciation of a masterly bon mot, then we resume chowing down.
Ferraton Pere et Fils- Hermitage Cuvée des Miaux 1990: The Cuvée des Miaux is whimsically named in honor of the proprietor's cat Thomasina, an Abyssinian-Siamese mix whose picture graces the neck label. Or so I'm told, as this bottle actually has no label whatsoever. We'll have to take Kane's word that it is what it claims to be. At any rate it's a beauty of a wine, richly baconberried and warm to smell, with an earthy baked-brick streak that grounds the ripe fruit very well and gives the high note of menthol a chance to strut. A sip, and it's a smooth meaty package, a seamless flow of fleshy red berry fruit that flashes some leather in the midpalate and turns dark and coffeed on the finish. There is enough acidity, a chewy mouthfeel, all in all a lovely, unchallenging wine that is easy to enjoy.
While we feast on Kane's many and varied courses there is much fevered speculation about the coming announcement of the 2001 WIPpie Award nominees. The consensus seems to be that the acclaimed Paul B. "The Hybrid Guy" is going to sweep both of the Dedicated Niche categories, but that it's a weak year for Most Contentious, with many of the past favorites out with injuries or running on reputation. Bob Ross is thought to have a stranglehold on the Best Dinner Companion category despite the vocal 'Draft Theresa' movement, and Jason "Brandt" Lewis is once again a cinch to take the award for Statistics You Never Knew You Needed. "Fatboy," "Dog Hind Parts" and "nathan vandergrift" are seen as the three top contenders for Best Moniker, although there is some feeling that in a conservative year the voters might go back to basics and give it to "SFJoe." No one discusses Most Inane; okay, if I take it again I take it again, it's up to the Academy and not in my hands at this point.
It's been a few years since I've tasted the Turley Tofanelli 1997 and time hasn't been kind. Big, black cherry syrup nose laced with grape candy, sweet and Robitussiney-smelling. The plummy quality that marks the Tofanelli bottlings turns towards pruniness in the midpalate, finishes short and hot. With all the stuff they cram into their fat-bottomed bottles the Turley act is always a high-wire one, and this particular bottle seems to be having inner ear trouble, falling heavily to earth with a dull thud. These wines invariably do poorly at tastings when put next to less gonzo wines, but this is not a good specimen.
Tardieu-Laurent St. Joseph 1997: Big ripe red berry fruit, overly concentrated and rich, then smoky-toasty oak laid on with a trowel. It might just need time, but I find it an ungainly wine that is too big in too many directions--sound and fury, no harmony, no center. "The Turley of St. Joseph?" I say aloud to no one in particular.
Continuing on the informal overripe theme, here's a Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella 1986: Whoof, here's a big ripe raisiny nose, red bricky berry fruit suffused with brown sugar. Tastes large and bossy, raisined red fruit with a cocoa-powder streak that emerges in the middle and dominates the finish. A big fun wine, still monolithic and primary and attention-grabbing. Give it another decade in its room.
Kane grimaces when he sees the last red, so I expect it to be promising. Joël Taluau St. Nicolas-de-Bourgeuil Vieilles Vignes 1999: Stony cherry fruit edged with tobacco leaf hints. Tastes fairly light with a vague middle, doesn't have the focus of the 96 or 97 but is pleasant and tangy and tastes like wine.
Continuing with the Joël theme, here's a Joël Gigou Domaine de la Charriere Jasnières Cuvée Clos St. Jacques Vieilles Vignes 1996: This wine lacks sugar, and Kane makes his distress known. What it doesn't lack is chalk, as the nose smells like someone has been clapping blackboard erasers in my glass: chalk, chalk and more chalk, with light hints of yellow and white citrus and some traces of tea. And chalk. A tight, racy wine with lemon-ginger fruit welling up in the middle, turning more gingery on the finish. The impression is one of clarity and purity, a wine of great focus that needs time to loosen a little.
Down at the other end of the table someone couldn't resist poking the rottweiler with a stick, and the biodynamie argument erupts anew. Unintelligible snatches of conversation drift upwind towards us, "Joly... Bise-Leroy... consenting adults... life wants to crowd out other life... Stuart Yaniger... whips and latex in the vineyard... bacteria is the top of the food chain... every revolution has its excesses... Stuart Yaniger... blue plastic garbage bags strewn in the fields of Champagne... I'd be afraid to ever get sick in France... dilution is the governing principle... Stuart Yaniger..."
While they're arguing, we open up a Huet Vouvray Clos du Bourg Moëlleux 1959: The beautiful nose is there, layers of beeswax, pollen, honey, lemon tea and butterscotch, but the smellies have a pressed-flower feel to them, they don't dance as they ought. That feeling carries over into the taste as well--the elements are all there, medium sweetness, chalky honeyed fruit, supporting acidity, but the feel is a bit limpid, the wine seems flattened out, finishing chalky-almondy but with a marked flare of heat that I find unusual in an older Huet. High expectations aside it's a nice enough drop--this bottle simply doesn't reach the heights that the wine ought to be able to hit effortlessly.
SFJoe looks up from his debate, spots Asher attempting to use his rotating cheese toy and points an accusing finger. "It's you who broke the cheese!" he hisses, "That is a CLOCKWISE cheese!"
Asher freezes, eyes wide, then laughs nervously. Lisa and I take the opportunity of L'Affaire Fromage to begin to gather our things, making it out the door just behind the fleeing Rubensteins. Kane spots us trying to escape and tries to cut us off, but we're too quick.
"You can't go yet!" he calls out the door. "We're just getting ready for wine bongs!"
I didn't know. I didn't want to know. We run. We run like the wind.