Nineteen years is a long time to live in a small tenement apartment. Had you told me in 1987 that I'd still be in the same tiny rundown place nearly twenty years later I'd have probably thrown myself out the window. But two bedrooms for a rent stabilized $500 was too good a deal for a penniless actor to pass up in those postcrash days (ah, does anybody remember the Crash of '87?), and as rents in the metropolitan area skyrocketed over the last two decades and mine barely budged it got harder and harder to consider leaving.
Just between us, though, the truth is that I hate and fear change. A familiar rut is oh-so-preferable to unforeseen dangers, upon which my brain lusts to fixate. So it was with gnawing dread that I greeted the news that Lisa's longstanding place on the Roosevelt Island waiting list had finally come to the top. For months I managed to pretend that we weren't really going to move, but when I began to come home and notice furniture missing, I finally had to face the inevitable: it was time to get drunk and stay that way until the transition period was over and I was trapped without hope of recourse. To that end, I enlisted several of the tristate area's most empathetic geeks to join me for a sad farewell to the verdant Garden State, geeks whose company would help cushion the blow of falling under the hegemony of the evil State of Empire.
So it is that a somber passel of winos assembles at Jersey City's storied Madame Claude Cafˇ for an evening of toasts to enticingly dangerous hopes and perilous roads that shouldn't be taken, to cliff-jumping, impulse buys and pigs in various pokes.
A bit of fizz, a Francois Pinon Vouvray Brut NV starts things off. The mood is tense, but Andrew brightens, "Hey, this is a blend of '95 and '02!" he says. News to me, but it's good stuff, whatever the origin--bright, chalky-stony and yeasty, with a light marzipan streak. Pleasant heft, not a whole lot of depth, very friendly and frothy. Let the soothing numbness begin. Pinon, take me away!
Lorraine, Lisa's mom, is staring wide-eyed at the Vouvray. "Wow, that's great... I love that," she says, putting on her glasses to peer at the label.
Jay, who has claimed to be angling for the 'biggest vintage differential' award, opens the near end, a Giorla Family Winery Liebfraumilch 'Happy Holidays' 2005. Mmm, smells like canned peaches and applesauce. A sip, and it's a lightly sweet wine, apple juicy, with a hint of Welch's white grape juice. Soft textured, almost oily, with some tart Vitamin C tablet spikiness in the middle, which, it turns out, is really the finish. "Kit wine," says Andrew sagely. We nod, wide-eyed. It's hard to frag a wine called 'Happy Holidays,' and in truth I've had much worse from real commercial producers, so let's just say it's not my preferred style of wacky homemade chemistry experiment.
Lisa takes advantage of a lull to pass out her chocolate vaginas; everyone seems pleased with theirs. "Is it dark chocolate?" asks Jennifer, peering at hers in the dim restaurant light. "No, no," says Lisa, "milk chocolate, but not overly sweet." Jennifer nods.
Here's a wine that I don't believe is made from a kit, a Clos Roche Blanche Sauvignon Touraine Cuvée Buster 1998. Smells quietly layered, carambola and honeydew greenness, celery seed, hint of pollen. Tastes smooth and pure and long, expanding spicily in the middle, then subsiding warmly into a gingery finish. A shy wine but one with ever more forthcoming reserves of soothing flavorosity. There's plenty of acidity, but the overall impression is one of light gentleness. Thoughtful wine, a glass to sit with and listen to as it spins its ever more complex story.
I enthuse about the fascinating 'Bodies' exhibit that we've just seen (with Lisa's med school pals) down at the Seaport. "Nothing says entertainment like flayed corpses!" I burble. We lift our glasses to the contributions of flayed corpses, me identifying with them rather more strongly than I ought.
Speaking of flayed corpses, I've been feeling a Kaneish urge to inflict cooked Savennières on the innocent, so I've hauled along my last bottle of Domaine du Closel Savennières Vieilles Vignes 1990. I'm ninety-seven percent sure it's going to be cooked (it's from a batch that a bunch of us bought at Chambers a few years back, and they've all been cooked to one degree or other) and after wasting storage space on a cooked wine for four years actually packing and moving a cooked wine across two states seems one toke over the absurdity line. So here it is, a medium dark straw-amber color. Smells nutty and madeirized, toasted almonds, hay, orange rind. Tastes pressed, with a flattened out midpalate that still has some earthy notes that evoke what might have been. The earthy finish is actually the most pleasant part, strangely enough, but one swallow doesn't a wine make.
We rip on Kane, more out of habit than anything else. It's joyless, but strangely reassuring--the comfort of the old ritual bringing us closer and allowing our worries to fade to a quiet background mutter.
The far end of Jay's vintage differential masterstroke is a cabernet sauvignon-based wine from what I'm told is a large winegrowing region in Southwest France, a Château Léoville-Barton St. Julien 1966. Thirty-nine years wins the day! I haven't tasted this in a few years; it seems to be holding up nicely, fading away slowly and charmingly but with a lot of spunk left. The conventional wisdom, such as it is, is that Bordeaux makes early-drinking cafˇ wine, charming and innocuous, but this specimen clearly shows that good producers can make wines worthy of being put down for a good long time.
Here's something more along the mainstream, a Clos Roche Blanche Rouge Côt Touraine 1998. I brace myself for the initial lashings of the bottling that some wags used to refer to as 'Rough Cut,' and frankly I'm astonished. The formerly abrasive '98 has smoothed and calmed and acquired a breathtaking purity. The aromatics are calm and spicy, blackfruit and licorice suffused with earthiness. Medium bodied and composed, gently dark and restrained. A wonderfully focused wine, pure as a glacial runoff. Really lovely and meditative, wish I'd put some away. But no, I had to throw all my time and money into the Beringer-Chardonnay-Will-Age-Forever mania of the late '90s, more fool me. Anyone interested in purchasing some well stored '98 Private Reserve?
The côt and the sauvignon have a certain similarity, opines Andrew. "Strange," I offer, "You'd think they'd been made by the same people, in the same place and the same year." He smiles cheerfully, fully accepting of my wounded-smartass persona on this, the darkest night of my usually fairly dark soul.
Another obscure wine from this up-and-coming Bordeaux flatlands region of France, a Château la Mission Haut-Brion Graves 1981. Something is amiss with the stopper right off the bat--the cork snaps in half, leaving Lisa reeling from the pungent aroma of TCA. Wonder to tell, but once the bottom of the cork is removed the wine is quite clean, the corkbottom smelling as sweet as honeysuckle blossom. The bisescted fragments of cork are passed around along with the wine to murmurs of astonishment and breathless genuflection.
So, at first sniffage there's a certain tiredness that I haven't seen in this wine before, the dark redfruit very muted, leaving pipe tobacco and gravel notes jarringly dominant. But with an hour of air the wine plumps out and finds itself, red and blackfruit welling up to fill the cracks in the facade, gradually firing on all cylinders and acquiring a kind of quiet glory. Quintessential Graves in a minor key.
There's a run on steaks, and the steamed steak story is trotted out and put through its paces once more. Lorraine orders the Coq au Vin, and there's a wave of nostalgia over Kane's 150 proof version of a few years back. We sing a quick chorus of "Where have you gone, Brad Kane, Brad Kane," then sit quietly, lost in remembrance.
Here's an Eric Texier Hermitage 1999. Smooth, dark syrah, not profound but very shiny and friendly. Pepper/eucalyptus/blackberry aromatics, light hint of iodine. Tastes smooth and medium-bodied, with the usual velvet-skinned leanness. Jay thinks there are some storage issues in play, but to me it seems pretty much as it always has been, perhaps a bit quieter. There's a shy treebarky note that's I don't remember from previous bottles, I think that's what he's talking about, but I don't find it intrusive. Never a wine I'd think to age for very long, this is just a graceful small framed Hermitage, smooth and silky and quietly layered. I have a few bottles left, they'll probably be moved into the rotation fairly soon. Drink while you're waiting for the late-90s Brézèmes or Côte-Rôties to come around.
Lisa's talking up the prospective new apartment: "It's so pretty, there's a great view of the river--"
"It's not even a real river," I point out sullenly. "It's a tidal strait. The East Tidal Strait, I'm going to call it."
Silence. Conversation successfully stopped. I mentally high-five myself, but pull a muscle in my back while doing so.
Finally, saved for last to ensure Jay's continued presence, here's a Château Rieussec Sauternes 1988. My notes read as follows:
I can die now
Understatements, of course, reflective of my pensive mood. This is Hallelujah Chorus wine, just beginning to hit its youthful stride. Sweet, rich, zippily crisp (Yow!), generously but not overbearingly botrytised, there's an orange-rind/pomander spice note beginning to creep into the midpalate. Vivid, creamy-rich and with the stirrings of adolescent development, the bottle is emptied within ninety seconds. Curses, should've leaned into my pour a little more.
Now that Jay's had his Sauternes he's attempting to slip out, but wait! He's somehow forgotten to take his three-quarters-full bottle of Liebfraumilch home with him! We do our damndest to rectify that, but he's slippery, that guy. For awhile there's a motion on the table to call directory assistance for 'Giorla' to let them know their wine is in danger of an ignominious end, but no one quite has the heart.
We watch Jay go. I linger a little longer than I should over my dwindling Rieussec, unwilling to head out into the dark, uncertain night.
Next Installment: Roosevelt Island ROCKS!