"No one is going to show up, I just know it. Everyone's cancelling at the last minute, it's going to be the two of us sitting here all night by ourselves eating duck wings."
It's five o'clock and Dressner is antsy because it is indeed just the two of us, both pacing nervously around the cavernous interior of the palatial lower Manhattan Louis/Dressner office complex.
"Well, at least there's lots of wine," I say cheerily, noting the floor-to-ceiling bottle racks. "We can be lonely AND drunk."
This seems a small consolation to him. He is convinced that our little piece of the Florida Jim/Jersey Bob 2003-2004 'Wines Across America' Tour will be a sad, lonely one, fit only for internet scorn.
What to do? When the world is too much with you it's best to start in on a bottle of comfort wine, and there's none more comforting than good ol' pineau d'aunis, so we open up a Domaine de Bellivière Coteaux du Loir Hommage à Louis Derré 2000. This smells like honesty; straightforward and composed, tart red cherry fruit, papier-mâché, and a quiet leathery-baked yam earthiness, all wrapped up in a bright, light form. Focused down to a pinhole, a wiry wine without an ounce of fat, it's nevertheless light in the piehole. Finishes earthily cherrydusty. Just real/good wine.
"Who is this 'Louis Derré?'" I ask. Dressner just stares at me blankly; he hasn't the faintest idea. I ask if this is some five-case superexclusive cult cuvée, he shrugs and gets on the phone to Denyse, who says, "Kevin would probably know." At least someone knows things around here. We discuss the new hire, who is working out nicely but has one flaw: she can't handle spitting.
Five-fifteen. Oh man.
Time for some more comfort wine, this time a Nikolaihof Riesling Kremstal Steiner Hund 2000. Rich aromatics, sweetly floral high notes, yellow and white flowers over crushed white coral, hint of lemon rind. There's more yellow to the flavor profile than the white-rocky '99, although not so much as the tropical '97. Not as tight as I'd expected, there's a roundness and a limpidity to the middle--plenty of acidity, but a certain loose-knit quality that makes me think this one is better drunk while you're waiting for the '99 to come around. This is an awfully impressive wine, falls short of some past years but still fondles serious ass.
We start mulling over the reasons no one is going to show up. Could it be that the Camblor-Kane feud has torn the NYC winegeek community irreparably asunder? Could the 'Loving Tribute to SFJoe' theme have intimidated people, put too much pressure on them to come up with a culinary wonder or flash an embossed, heavy-stock business card? Is it somehow Jay Miller's fault?
Suddenly...from the hallway...voices! The sweetest voices you ever heard, coming this way.
It's Florida Jim! And with an attractive young woman on his arm too!
Hey wait a second, that's my wife.
But before I can get to the bottom of this mystery in comes Mr. Jim, along with Bob Cuozzi and Lisa Allen (Mrs. Chris Coad, if you will). Lisa explains that she's fresh from Shea Stadium and ran into our esteemed visitors downstairs. She wasn't sure if Andrew Scott planned to wear his red boots, so she wore hers as a backup. Mr. Jim is a hale and hearty fellow with a manly grip, Bob a little more retiring (that's a joke) ("retiring"...get it?) (you know, he's retired...?) (oh forget it).
Quick, set the party wheels in motion! There's Austrian wines! Gruner! Riesling! Lisa, well-honed German knife in hand, throws a couple of pounds of sushi-grade tuna onto the chopping block and sets about making her signature tuna tartare.
No loving tribute to SFJoe would be complete without a veltliner of some kind, so here's a Franz Hirtzberger Gruner Veltliner Spitzer Honivogl Smaragd 1999. Medium gold color. Poached pear and celery seed, hint of anise, white pepper and roasted pineapple aromatics, gruneriffic. In the piehole it's got an ever so slight touch of sweetness, almost but not quite neglible. Well-muscled but not huge, a broad mouthfiller that throws its weight around. Crisp, concentrated and brightly acidic, a greco-roman wrestler of a wine, and a splendid match with my sumac-infused mushroom-catch-of-the day quiches.
I mention these to Bob and he looks puzzled. "What is sumac?" he asks, "All I know is the poison kind, 'Stay out of the sumac!' Is that the stuff that's in gumbo?"
I explain that I'm from the far southwest, that gumbo is not a common dish in Hawaii, that I simply don't know if there's sumac in gumbo, or even if sumac is a root or a bark or a leaf, but that I always associate it with SFJoe. He seems satisfied, although I can tell he's still fretting about the gumbo-sumac connection.
Good lord, and here's Jay Miller! He had told us he planned to be late--alone among New Yorkers, Jay counts twenty minutes over the appointed time as "late." Next Andrew Munro Scott and Jennifer Scott arrive, bearing naan. Lots of homemade naan. And SFJoe-style chicken, sort of. Quick boys, more wine!
Things are really starting to swing now. Dressner goes off on a rambling tale about trying desperately to get some venerable wine bigwig to stop calling him "Lewis." Bob tells stories of traveling the world and drinking wine on a military budget. Whee, it's a party!
Domaine de Bellivière Coteaux du Loir l'Effraie 2001: Ripe aromatics, lemon-quince and apricot underpinned with flintiness and a chalky minerality. A sip and waaagh, some startling acidity dives under my tongue and knifes into my soft palate, fervently whispering snatches from a tract. Strange and aggressively hard-edged, a zealot of a wine, not my favorite.
We settle into a circle and, as is our wont, discuss those not in attendance. Andrew is worried that Brad Kane is driving in circles around the neighborhood, unable to park securely because of the higher crack whore rates in this part of town. We assure him that it's not true.
Then on to Callahan. Poor sick little champ, we'd been holding out hope he'd be able to make it up today, but alas 'twas not to be. I tuck my bottle of Lava Cap petite sirah back into my bag, saving it for another day. (I just love the faces he makes when he tastes it!) Then Jayson Cohen and Jeff Connell, up tending vines at the farm. In fact, Andrew and Jennifer are just down from their farm, and Dressner is going to fly off to his farm in a few months. Does everyone in New York have a farm?
I ask Joe what, if anything, he grows on his farm. He ponders a moment and replies that they've recently planted "peach vine trees." Suspecting a put-on, I ask for clarification: do these peaches grow on vines, or is this in fact a peach tree with vines on it? He assures us that this kind of peach is strictly an honest European peach, which, unlike our freakish American peach, grows on peach vine trees, the only proper way for a peach to grow.
So anyway, here's an old pal that I haven't seen in a year or two, a Francois Cazin Le Petit Chambord Cour-Cheverny Cuvée Renaissance 1997. A few years have been very kind to this wine, as it has acquired some interesting complexity, notably some light petroleum aromatics that have me wondering if I've mispoured a riesling. There's still a buttery beeswaxiness coating the lemon-mineral core and cushioning the gland-squeezing acidity, but now it's flecked with hints of tangerine and kerosene. This was always a friendly young romo, and now it's becoming layereder and more complexer, a renaissance wine. If only I'd had the foresight to put a few away instead of drinking them young. I've said it before and I'll say it again: you're a fool, Chris Coad, you're a fool.
(I enjoy saying things like "layereder" just to watch Lisa turn pink. If you ever want to get her goat, just use the word "funner" in a sentence, as in: "Which is funner, watching the foilage change in the fall, or getting books out of the liberry?" and stand back and watch the fun.)
What's this? An F.X. Pichler Riesling Reserve 'M' 2001? Mmmmm, smells righteous, brother. Yellow apple, lemon, apricot, hay, a quiet, assertive nose. A sip, and a wave of yellowfloral fruit sweeps relentlessly across my tongue and plants its flag somewhere near my uvula. Rich, weighty and focused, an athletic wine with a dancer's grace. Difficult to parse the individual elements because the completeness is striking--nothing out of place, nothing sticking out, wonderfully seamless and crazily long. Is there a touch of sugar? Perhaps, but if so it shows as a slight cushioning and plumping up of the rich fruit, not as tangible sweetness. Whew. A striking blend of size and precision, strength and flexibility, lushness and focus. Maybe this'll age, but I have a hard time imagining it getting much better than it is tonight. Irresistible. Paging Dr. vandergrift, we've got a god wine sighting.
From here on in I whisper "Try the Pichler" to everyone cute who walks past me. Lisa loves it, Andrew's not sure, it may be too ripe for him.
Dressner is seemingly obsessed with Bob's accent. "You're from New Jersey? Really?" Yes, Bob replies, he's from Madison. "Must be the southern part of Madison," I quip, to general hilarity. Obligatory bon mot out of the way, I relax and settle in to get a good buzz on.
Here's the new release of the cult hit Marc Angeli Anjou La Lune 2001: Corked. We demand a refund from Dressner and he happily replaces the bottle, despite insisting in the face of all evidence that it's not corked. In light of his cheerful denials, he is nominated for Iraqi Wine Information Minister. This reminds him that when he was young he used to go to restaurants with his parents and tell the waitresses that he was Iraqi, which upset his mother. No one is quite sure what to make of this anecdote.
Marc Angeli Anjou La Lune 2001 (Take 2): Medium straw-gold color. Smells rich and chenin-spicy, apricot and orange, quince, hay, vanilla. More aromatically complex than last year's version, which had the whole CreamSicle thing going on. This has that too, but throws a lot of other stuff into the mix as well. Tastes robust, a big, creamy-earthy wine that expands on my tongue. Good, rich stuff, but Dressner grumps that it's "just too damn expensive." Then, in regards to the first bottle, "This one is much better--I had two bottles of the La Lune this morning, they were both more like this than the first one." Jay perks up, "Two bottles this morning? That would explain the 'peach vine trees'!" This fine quip draws a cheerful round of applause, and I scowl in Jay's direction: I've been outquipped. Make no mistake about it, this will not stand.
J.L. Chave Hermitage White 1995. Medium-light gold color. Quite effusive to smell, ginger and vanilla high notes over a base of warm lemon-peach-honey and paraffin, with streaks of toasted almond. A sip, and it's creamy and plump, warm and plush in the middle, where golden raisin and honey-ginger flavors emerge. The finish continues the honey-ginger flavor, with just a hint of vanillin oak and a flash of heat. Not a style of wine that I'm normally partial to, it seems soft and squishy after all these well-hung wines, but somehow maintains its dignity. Not enough acidity for Andrew, but it goes very well with naan.
Jay leans in, confesses that he has been on winebuying hiatus for six weeks. This notion is alarming, just downright alarming. I peer over at Lisa, make sure she hasn't got wind of this shameful idea, and shush Jay into silence, saying "That's all for whites, let's move on to reds!" loudly in order to divert attention.
Marquis d'Angerville Volnay Champans 1987. Medium ruby color, browning slightly at the rim. Warm, earthy nose--leather and tree bark, muted red cherry fruit, crushed brick and a dash of horehound, smells lovely and layered. A sip, and it's crisp and resolved but lovingly loose and easygoing. The red bricky fruit holds through the middle, then fades and lets a spicy cinnamon and old burnished-wood flavor carry the finish. I have to just sit back and enjoy this for a while and think deep thoughts...
Like hey, how do you say 'Marquis' in English? Marquess, isn't it? You don't see too many Marquesses these days. Where have all the Marquesses gone?
Château Pierre-Bise Gamay Anjou 'Sûr Spilite' 1996: Medium-dark garnet color, purpling at the rim. Ripe and rich and slightly gonzo, but hard as nails now, smoky purple glass. Needs time. Bob, enthusiastic, declares it "Californian." It's rather delightful to see Andrew and Joe turn pale and exchange stricken looks at this notion. I believe Bob means it as a compliment, but his grasp of the local winegeek dialect is tenuous at best.
My luxuriant brunet locks are beginning to bother me, to get in my eyes, so I take a moment to tie my hair up. Lisa, who hates a ponytail on a man, leaps across the room, grabs my skull in her dainty talons, and forcibly French-braids me. I'm not crazy about this womanhandling, and threaten to boycott my own foreign hairstyle if she continues, but my protests fall on deaf ears and my coiffural integrity falls without a fight.
Ojai Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands 1996. Medium-dark garnet color. Hey, this has that burnt plastic flower smell that you often find in new wave Cal pinot. Actually, it smells just like a Flowers pinot; is it the same yeast? Freakazoid, a carnival of winemaking flaws. Spritzy, candied, flaccid, overoaked, disjointed, what else...? The cork isn't covered with poisonous quills, but that's all the praise I can offer; every other wheel has fallen off this cart.
Inevitably, the subject of internet wine boards comes up, and we run through some of the favorites: the California Wine Drinkers board, the Hybrid Lovers Discussion Group, Strat's Place, Wine therapy, the Wine Asylum, the New Jersey Blueberry Wine Board, The Jancis Lovers board, the Board for People Who Can Say the Word 'Aficionado' With a Straight Face, and many others.
Florida Jim even points out that one of the "points" critics (confusingly, it's the wine pamphlet guy, Robert Parker--NOT the Spenser for Hire guy with the same name) has started his own discussion board for talking about "points"! Jim assures us that "points" are very hot with the hipster crowd, that many of these kids today would rather talk about "points" than about wine. "You should see the traffic over there," he says. There is a mystified hush.
"Damn," says Andrew, breaking the silence. "'Points.' Points and lawyers. What does it all mean?"
No one ventures a guess.
Bob breaks the silence by guiltily admitting to browsing at Wine therapy, but not posting because it seems... seems kind of... well...
"Insular?" say I, finishing his sentence for him. He smiles and nods, "That's the word I was looking for, yes." I'm pleased, as I was torn between 'ingrown' and 'inbred' as well.
Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2000: First nosage brings a candied sense, smoky cherry-cough-drop aromas with an undertone of wet coffee grounds. Seems oddly manipulated, tastes smokily oaked and a bit fake. Maybe it's just too young and it's the glossiness of youth and unintegrated toasty wood that's putting me off, but this leaves me rather cold. The finish is rather astringent, there's decent raw material and I think I'm being unfair, but it just rubs me the wrong way today. When I come back to it later, I like it a little more. No, no, not really. I'm just saying that because it's a tidier story if it goes that way, I really don't like it much more at all, I like it just the same.
Without warning, Jim launches into an aggressive recruitment campaign, doing his best convince Dressner to post on the California wine board. "Just reply under something I post," he pleads, "I'll take care of the rest." Dressner is intrigued. "Would it mean I'd have to drink California wines?" he asks, "Because that would be asking too much..." No, no, no, Jim assures him, some people on that board drink wines that aren't from California at all, sometimes even not from Oregon or Washington either! This is puzzling news, and a confused buzz runs through the crowd.
While everyone is on edge I try to get to the bottom of the Kane-Camblor feud that is splitting the winegeek world into warring camps. Jay takes center stage and explains the tangled history, sort of. It's a long and not entirely satisfying explanation and my increasingly muzzy attention wanders several times. We ponder the notion of getting them into the ring together to settle it pugilistically--Camblor can't see and Kane can't walk, so there's potential for amusement there, but no one can quite visualize how to make it happen.
Earl Alain Michaud Brouilly 1999: Smells strawberry-plummish on top, lightly earthy underneath. In the piehole the fruit seems darker, more raspberried. Light but nervy, a happy combination of crisp spine and soft flesh, flavorful and cheery, although someone claims it has "a bad hairpiece," a critique that's too abstract even for me.
Bob grows increasingly garrulous as the night goes on, spinning a fine yarn about an old Army buddy of his who returned to France with his wife years after the war and had a lot of explaining to do when it transpired that the one word of French he knew was "Combien?"
From there he starts to say something about Ashtabula, Ohio, where they have "the world's only and biggest Studebaker plant." But whatever story he was beginning ends there, as the crowd falls on this seeming conundrum like wolves on fresh meat.
It's cult Rhône time, with a Domaine Richaud Côte du Rhône Cairanne L'Ebruscade 2000. Medium-dark garnet color. Soft aromatics, plum-raspberry and smokiness. Tastes smooth, plummy and round in the middle, finishes with a bit of grittiness. Nice enough, unremarkable. I'd be happy to pay something like ten bucks for this, but does the world really need yet another sixty-dollar Cairanne?
Dressner explains why, due to peculiar market pressures that have nothing to do with quality, the disastrous 2002 vintage in the Rhône may well be the most expensive yet. Wine sure is a funny business, kids.
Hey, here's a sweetie, a Dr. Loosen Riesling Ürziger Würzgarten Auslese 1992. Medium straw-gold color. Smells of lamp oil, mango and apicot-lemon. Medium sweet, with an interesting coppery quality emerging in the middle to mingle with the mango-apricot-kerosene. Good crispness, nice cohesion, in a contented place right now. Small, layered, very pleasant, borderline delightful. Thanks, doc.
A drunken Andrew Scott is starting to yank bottles off the shelves. Before he can be wrestled to the ground he manages to open a bottle of Pierre Frick Pinot Noir Alsace Rot-Murlé 2000. Bright cherry-celery aromatics, touch of matchstickiness. Crisply acidic, on the lean side but tart and cheerful. Good, small, straightforward pinot. I ask what "Rot-Murlé" on the neck label means, if it's the vineyard or what. Dressner looks around, leans in and whispers conspiritorially: "Pierre Frick's dog."
Jay says that he never knew there were any good pinot noirs coming out of Alsace. Dressner says Yeah, there are two. He names the other, but I neglect to write it down.
Stymied in his attempts to pillage the wall racks, Andrew and Jen head for the hills, followed soon after by Jay and the guests of honor, all bid a fond farewell as they head out into the Manhattan night.
Now it's just the two of us again. And Lisa. Well, at least there's lots of wine.
We settle in and eat duck wings.