As an islander both former and to be (Oahu and Roosevelt), the pig has an important, almost sacred place in my culinary pantheon. Manuel 'Two Sheds' Camblor, being an islander himself, must feel a similar intimacy with our swiney friends, as one day in early January he saw fit to declare the First Annual All Pork All the Time Jeebus, to be held at his swanky upper east side digs and to include an all-star cross section of wacky internet wine personae from across the eastern seaboard.
So it is that when we arrive at Casa Camblodad the place is already bustling with high-octane geek activity. There's Wine Baroness Denyse Louis with consort Joe Dressner, here's visiting dignitary Joe Perry, representing the Boston contingent. I peer across the floor, and there's Slick Lyle Fass, wine purveyor to the stars--damn, this must be a Grand Cru Jeebus!
Camblor welcomes me like an island brother, presses a glass of Pazo Pondal Albariño Rias Baixas 2002 into my hand. "The winemaker told me to put some away for a couple of years..." he whispers. "I don't know how well it worked!" He winks, and puts his finger aside his nose. I wrap my arms protectively around my middle, to protect in case of nudgeage.
"Why, is it old?" I ask, nosing the stuff. Hmmm, shy white honey laced with lemon zest, touch of plumeria. It's crisp but not sharp, with a stony streak coming out in the middle and hanging around for awhile. Firm, rather reserved wine Doesn't seem faded to me, but maybe it was electric in its youth or something.
The albari–izing continues with a Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes Albariño Rias Baixas 2004. Camblor mentions some shady character or other mistaking this wine for a Frederic Emile, and although he's kidding I find the notion not entirely crazy. There's a hint of vinyl, rainwatery minerals underneath, light honeydew note, brightly aromatic. A sip, and the focus continues--it's tight and stony and squeaky-dry, taut and pleasantly bracing. Very nice, a little stern but very nice.
While I'm mixing and mingling, Little Joe Perry wanders into the room carrying three bottles. He approaches people one by one and asks them to vote on which one they want to drink. When it's my turn I say "All of them." He replies "No no, I brought three but I'm going home with two. Pick the one you like!"
This strikes me momentarily dumb until I remember that last time he brought a '47 Rioja, showed it around, then (without even the decency of a vote) put it away and took it home for worthier companions. Perhaps it's a Boston thing? Dressner leans in, "Is he kidding?"
"No. It's a Boston thing. Or maybe just a Boston knowitall thing. Or maybe just a Joe Perry thing, but it's definitely a thing."
Dressner looks perplexed. "Huh. A multiple-choice jeebus, who could've imagined...."
"Joe Perry?" I suggest.
A Domaine de l'Ecu (Bossard) Muscadet 'Expression de Granit' 2004 is corked, beggorah.
Hiedler Riesling Kamptal Steinhaus 2002. Smells brightly vinyl/lemonstony, touch of white grapefruit. Gently sweet, brisk and vivid, with a long pure crystalline finish. Very nice wine, great balance, great vim. I suspect this is a Lyle Fass kind of wine, so I scan the room for him, and wha--? Why is he flipping me off? I peer over. What did I do to him?
Oh wait, I see now--he's got some kind of splint on his middle finger keeping it stiffened in the upright position. He's actually broken his middle finger? Jeez, it looks like he's constantly giving the room the bird. Wait, is he? Is this his idea of humor? He approaches me with a corkscrew, asking for help opening a bottle; if it's a gag he's certainly committed to it. I vow to keep a close eye on him, watching him narrowly to make sure he isn't giggling secretly to himself when we're not looking.
A Bernard Morey Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot 1987 is corked, acushla. I have a confession: when I see more than twenty bottles on the table a corked bottle or two gives me a second to recover and get caught up on the wines before it, and I sometimes breathe a tiny, whispery sigh of relief. Is that so wrong? Not that I did so in this case, oh no, it's just that... you know... sometimes.
We press on with a Joly Savennières les Clos Sacrés 2002. In an attempt to continue the theme, Dressner suggests this too is corked, although he later announces that "No, it's only corked on the finish." Nobody's quite sure how that would work, but what the hey. Anyway, it's fairly straightforward SavenniŹres, waxy-chalky smelling, hints of hay and lemon, with maybe just a touch of oxidative quality but nothing along the lines of some of his other recent wines. There's good midpalate heft and firm acidity, overall it seems quite foursquare and on the stolid side, but pleasant enough.
Here's a Robert Chevillon Bourgogne Passetoutgrains 2003. Broad, floppy-eared and goofy, a big turnaround from the crisp '02. The overall impression is of slightly gritty fruit punch. Strawberry-plum juice aromatics, short on acidity, lightbodied and plump and merry. At least the wine is rather poised, and not ponderous. Kane downs a glass, refills quickly.
A knock on the door and a guy named Clark joins us, I guess he's Elissa's boyfriend or date or pal or colleague or spiritual advisor or something. Clark looks strangely familiar to me, from somewhere... a while ago.... "Do we know him?" I ask Lisa. She takes a look, shrugs uncertainly. I set my brain on simmer; it'll come up with it eventually.
Hey look, it's a Huet Vouvray Petillant 2000! Shy aromatics--touch of yeastiness, touch of chalk. It seems a smallish wine but an expressive one, turning towards lemon-waxiness in the middle, finishing with a happy prickle. Very nice, although as I write it occurs to me that my last phrase sounds like the lead-in to ribaldry: Did you ever hear the story of the Happy Prickle?
Hey, I got it! This Clark guy, he used to work at Circle Rep in the Village, doing shows with my ex and her pals, like a dozen years ago. I point this out, he admits the affiliation. "Wow, Donna Jean Fogel," he says, surprised. "I did a bunch of stuff with her. I haven't seen her in a long time. YOU'RE the boyfriend? She used to talk to me about you."
"Um, it was complicated," is all I can think to say. "Everything worked out in the end, though--she went Sapphic, I married the Other Woman, it's an American success story."
From there the conversation essentially goes berserk. All I can remember is the one line that rings to me even now with a crystal purity that raises it above the rest of the chatter, the words that Elissa spoke, the truest truism that truth ever truthed.
And this is what it was, that truism...
Thus spake Elissa: "You can give away all the pussy you want, and still have plenty left for yourself."
I grab my pen, nerves tingling.
This may be the best pussy line yet. We reminisce about Sweet Melissa's 'My pussy's gone to sleep!' coup, another classic in the genre, and lament the fact that far too much wine writing these days is dry and utterly devoid of pussy references. "I've made it my mission in life to remedy that," I state proudly, "And as god is my witness I will do so, before the end of this decade!" (I pronounce 'decade' in the Kennedy fashion, with the accent on the second syllable.)
Thus I vow on to be the first to publish a wine book containing the P word, before January 1, 2010. Someone claims Jancis used it in Tasting Pleasure, but I've read that book several times and I'm sure I'd remember that.
Finally though, a life goal! If Lisa can learn to heal the sick and bring the dead back to life, surely I can do this, which seems simple in comparison.
So it is with a renewed sense of purpose that I approach the Weingut Salomon Undhof Riesling Library Reserve 1991. There's a persistent flinty vein in the vinyled yellow apple fruit, the aromatics are muted but kind of interesting. Rather diffuse in the middle and shortish on the finish, this wine seems tired. It's quite stony but rather blandly so, without much oomph. Decent enough, but that's about it.
Pussy pussy pussy. There! Three more, and utterly gratuitous! Top that, Hugh Johnson!
Ooh, a Foillard Morgon Côte du Py 2001. Earthy strawberry aromatics--if strawberries grew like potatoes this is what they'd smell like when you dug them up. A light, layered wine, pure and loose tasting, caressing the tongue right up until a touch of bitterness on the finish. Gentle, expressively seductive Morgon.
I'm relating the recent story of Kane accidentally jamming a second cork into an already-corked bottle when he picked up a loaded Rabbit, when he gets quibblous. "It wasn't a Rabbit," he snaps.
"It was too a Rabbit," I protest. "Or it sure looked like one."
"It was a Rabbit-style corkscrew yes, but not a Rabbit brand," he says smugly. "By the way," he goes on, "Did anyone know that there's a very popular vibrator that just also happens to be called 'The Rabbit'?"
It seems no one besides Kane is aware of this fact. Or is willing to fess up to it in public, at any rate. In truth, I think we've all been there, haven't we?
Moving on, it looks like the winner of the Joe 'Going Home with Two' Perry Multiple Choice Election is a Quinta do Côtto Vinho Tinto Grande Escolha Douro 1995, and it's a big ripe earthy thing, smells smokily cassisberried, leathery hints emerging with air. There's a candied edge to the middle, but the texture is matte overall, so the overall effect is of a slightly slick rusticity. Medium acidity surrounded by gently plush red ripeness, there's a generic quality to the wine, it could be from Paso Robles, but the 'rustic wine with a new coat of paint' is a genre I like, so it's okay with me.
Dressner really hates the Côtto, and gets into a diatribe with Joe Perry as to why the Foillard is real wine and this is some fakey-spoofy kind of beverage product. I'm sipping and watching the fun when Dressner whirls on me, "Do you like this, this stuff?" he asks, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the C™tto.
"Um, yes I suppose I do," I offer apologetically.
He frowns. Oh dear, that may not have been the right answer. "Well, good for you," he says, and turns again to Perry. But a second later he's back at me again, "But is it complex? As complex as the Foillard?"
Hey, I know that. "No. No, it isn't. It's less distinct, slightly candied....." I think for a moment. "It has heft."
"Oh, heft," he says, "That can be added artificially." He pronounces the word 'heft' as one might say "Oh, pus." It sounds so, so... filthy.
Shake it off. Here's a new vintage of the old favorite, a Ferrando Cariola Erbaluce di Caluso 2004. Smells stonyfloral, there's a light white honey streak, lemon blossom, pure and bright smelling. A firm wine, with medium-plus acidity and a racy mouthclearing quality, it's clear they're back on track after the curious but atypical '03 (should we be figuring out a shorthand abbreviation for 'atypical '03'? Like @03, maybe?). Really quite lovely despite being rather secretive about the core. Actually, its secretiveness gives it a hint of mystery. Charming, almost cheninlike wine.
Some kind of toasty chorizo-cheese thing is coming around, and they're so dang tasty that I have to restrain myself. Must... stop... eating... toasty chorizo-cheese things... before... it's... too... late....
"Ah, they're Puerto Rican potato chips," says Josie, "Nobody can eat just one."
Finally at the ten-year mark, it's time to begin digging up some '96 Bourgueils and see if they're beginning to come around. I've toted along a Pierre-Jacques Druet Bourgueil Grand Mont 1996. Lyle spots the bottle and says "DUDE! I was going to bring that! I almost brought it! Dude, I came THISCLOSE!" He's quite enthusiastic, but the fact that he's flipping me off puts me off my game.
"Um, great minds and all, you know..." I stammer. He beams enthusiastically, flipping me off all the while.
Hmmm... lessee... smells lightly tree-barky, pine forest notes over a dark loosely earthy cran-cherry base. With air tobacco and gravel hints emerge, nice smellage here. A sip, and loosening out from the core, the edges feathering lightly, this seems like it's finally heading into adolescence. There's still a shadow of shutdownitude, but it doesn't seem like infanticide, there's development here. The acidity is firm but not assertive, the wine carries a sense of easygoing looseness. Damn good stuff, kind of tricky and mysterious, hard to pin down.
Now for the genius move. As a preemptive strike on Kane's endless whining about cabernet franc I've also brought along a Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel Howell Mountain Black-Sears Vineyard 1997 for him to use as a blending wine with the Bourgueil. Weighing in at a boisterous 17%, this is a whopper of a table wine, more like an odd kind of dry port, but it has a certain quizzical balance all the same; all of its pieces are uniformly outsized. It's lost the zanyfruity quality of its youth and gained a bit of pepperberry calmness. It's still a silly wine, but not so gonzo. Actually, it's aging decently for such a palooka; there even may be a note or two of complexity leaching into the black raspberry wave. After some experimentation I mix two shots of the Druet with one of the Turley, and Presto! we've got ourselves a Kane wine. It turns out Dressner was quite right--heft can be added artificially!
Two-thirds Druet Grand Mont '96, One-third Turley Black-Sears '97. The Kane-gagging piney streak has been snuffed out by a velvety pillow of black cherry-raspberryness, the broad simplicity of the zin adds heft and plushness to the lean, complex Druet, draping the ballet dancer in a 20s-style raccoon coat. She doesn't dance very well with it on, but she's much more plush to cuddle up to. Kane smacks his lips appreciatively, "Finally, there's a cab franc I can get into!" he crows triumphantly. We beam appreciatively, happy for him.
What's this? An Azienda Agraria Bianchi Bardinelli Toscana Rosso "Geggianello" 2001? Damn, I enjoy saying "Geggionello," and to me that's an important quality in a wine, that the name be fun to say. Every time the bottle goes by me I grab it and hold it up. "Geggianello!" I shout. No one is quite sure what to make of this, and after the second or third time I'm roundly ignored. Bright simple taut cherry flavor
Chave St. Joseph 'Offerus' 2000. Baconberry, blackberry and earth. It's a bit glossy-textured, but quite pleasant, with medium acidity and an easygoing, almost silky mouthfeel. "It's not Chave," says Joe 'Two Bottles For Me' Perry, "But it's Chaverus." Yes, it is Chaverus, and with Chave prices being the way they are these days it may be the wine with the highest Chaverusness/dollar ratio.
Brovia Brea Barbera d'Alba 1999. Fresh cherry-raspberry aromatics, very plain, very straightforward. Fresh-fruitedly bright and quite devoid of character. Still, decently made wine that may be too young or too old or too something else to impress at the moment.
Pignan Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1988. Ha! Pignan, get it? "Pig"-nan! Haaaa hee, good one! Medium-pale ruby color, ambering out to brown-orange at the rim. Smells of muted strawberry-rhubarb, asphalt and earth. Smooth, layered and loosely fleshy wine. Faded but pleasant enough, with shy acidity and a certain crisp meatiness. Getting on past its prime, drink 'em up.
"Geggianello! Everybody dance!"
Rotllán Torrá Priorat Reserva 1999. Dark sod and brickdust, richly blackberry-cassis aromatics, all laced with a kind of light sour milkiness. Tastes smooth, dark and brawny, toasty wood-spiciness thrashes around a bit in the middle, then settles down in time for a dirtberry finish. There's a lot of flesh here, and the acidity is sufficient but the wine is a bit loosely-wrapped and has a certain vagueness. Still, pretty nice.
Bodegas Riojanas Viña Albina [indecipherable]. I can't read my own writing here, plus my notebook is smudged. I can't even tell which vintage of this wine we supposedly drank. What to do?
"Geggianello!" And everybody dances.
Cascina 'tavijn Grignolino d'Asti 2004. I'm not sure why, but I've decided that the apostrophe + lower case T thing represents a Bushman-like click sound; as a result of this bad decision I spend entirely too much time trying to pronounce the winery's name correctly. Anyway, the wine is a medium-pale garnet color, smells interestingly spicy, cherry-talc laced with a gentle rootbeery character, this has a certain pineau d'aunisishness about it, it's a bit hard to figure. The overall impression is of a light earthy-spicy wine that is whispering to me in a language I don't understand, but that sounds cool. What say you, little wine?
Domaine Richaud Côte-du-Rhône Villages Cairanne 2001. Something of an odd mallard, a ripe, gentle, pleasantly young Cairanne. Dark red raspberry and black cherry aromatics, plush chewy flesh, medium-firm acidity. Despite some broadness and unsubtlety it's actually quite a pleasant C™te du Rh™ne, plainspoken and robust without being overly bumptious. Still, there's a Jethro Clampett quality to this wine that gives it, in this company, contextual issues.
The rare dessert wine at a Camblor event, a Ratzenberger Riesling Steeger St. Jost Auslese 1993 makes an appearance. Quiet pineapple/yellow apple aromatics, glazed with lamp oil. Tastes gentle and medium-sweet at most, with a mellow minerality rising briefly in the middle, then sinking under whispery yellowfruit on the prefinish. Yeah, it's pretty decent, if a bit undereverythinged.
Lisa leaves to go hit the books some more, which gives me a rare opportunity to sit with the remaining bottles and have second and third chances to see what they're trying to say. Unfortunately, the remaining stalwarts are in a rambunctious mood, and the late-night discussion turns towards matters peculiar and arcane. I try to get down to business, but I can't understand why anyone would want to have their um, intimate hair removed. I need clarity on this before I can continue tasting. Fortunately, Jeff is kind enough to explain. Personally, I'm kind of fond of hair, but each to his own gout, as the Dutch say.
Anyway, back to the wines....
But you know, I've also never heard the word 'starfish' applied to anything other than an aquatic arthropod. It's a big wide world these days, and my provincial ways must change.
So, um, here's another try at the Pignan Châteauneuf...
Wait, Joe Perry has Amy shave his back? Then he shaves her chest? It's all very confusing and tribal, these strange rituals. Who is Manuel's friend Boris the razor-toting ball trimmer? I'm trying valiantly to go back and appraise the wines, but things like that keep intruding on my conscienceness.
Okay, shake it off, ah, wait, here's the Chave Offerus...
Now just wait a second. I find the fact that Jeff continues trumpeting hairlessness as an incontrovertible virtue somewhat maddening, as I'm rather fond of strategically placed hairiness. But to each his own, eh? There's room enough for all forms of hairy or hairless expression, no matter how wrongheaded.
And so on, late into the night.
Then when I finally do get home and turn on the TV, there's Clark, shoveling dirt on Uma Thurman. Damn, small world.
Geggianello! We dance!