Last night a while ago my longtime companion and I got together with diehard Asylum inmates Jennifer & Oleg Munro Olovyannikov and Inna & Andrew Scott (and their respective pets and Brad Kanes) for a raucous Premier Cru Jeebus or two.
I think we watched TV while we drank some white wines. Then maybe we were at a Russian restaurant, trying to find a few other English-speakers. And sometimes we were in Andrew's kitchen and Oleg's living room, although I forget when.
I also forget what was on TV. It didn't matter after a while, though. I was wasted. I may get wasted again tonight, all by myself. That's the best thing to do sometimes, you know?
Oh, and there may have been dancing. I think some people were dancing. Maybe it was somebody's anniversary. I KNOW there was a twirling mirrored disco ball on the ceiling at some point. That's the kind of thing you don't forget.
Me, I was too wasted to dance. Especially by the end.
Here are those wines we drank while we watched TV and I didn't dance.
Bollinger Grande Année 1990: Rich, big, creamy nose--cream soda, hint of orange rind. Very crisp, with some sharp acidity that is balanced by the wine's size. Smells like challah toast, hints of almonds and roasted walnuts, chalky limestoneyness underneath. A boisterous, rough glass of fizz that skips on the subtlety but delivers on the richness in spades, finishing with a smoky-toasty flourish.
Pascal Jolivet Sancerre 1998: A French wine. It seems to be a pale straw-tan color, smells lightly of yellow fruit, rainwater and fresh plaster, with hints of lemon. Tastes tart and crisp, turns limey on the finish, with a bit of heat. Not bad. For a French wine, I mean.
Domaine de Salvard Cheverny 1998: Another pale wine, possibly also from France. It smells quite green-grassy, bright and fresh smelling. Quite light in the mouth, brisk and tangy lemon-lime tinged fruit. Simple, pleasant.
Les Plantiers de Haut Brion Pessac-Leognan 1996: Pale gold color. Quiet nose, toasty-bready notes, almost a flat-champagne quality, along with lemon and rainwatery minerals. Tastes tangy with decent acidity, but a bit diffuse and watery through the midmouthroof, lacking density and focus. There's some unintegrated vanilla oakiness emerging on the finish, but the overall impression is of a decent, slightly pallid wine. Oomphless.
The Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux 1993 seems to have worked through the 2x4 phase that I've noted the past few times I've had it, as this bottle is showing less woody, more lightly honeyed and minerally. Nicely balanced and still quite young, this bottle seems rather boisterous, creamy and bright, still plenty of oak, but the other layers are beginning to peek through more than even a year or two ago. Still, time is needed. Drink December 2011-April 2012.
The Russian Mistress of Ceremonies keeps singing "Happy Birthday" to people, over and over again, but she isn't on to the notion of putting the person's name into the final verse. Instead of "Happy birthday, dear so-and-so," I keep hearing "Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday to you." This bothers me, but I'm not sure why.
Foreau/Clos Naudin Vouvray Demisec 1997: A beauty. Pale to medium lemon-gold color. Hints of flint in the rich nose are buried under waxy-lemon and yellow floral notes, smells vivid and friendly. A sip, and the yellow pear-tinged fruit is big and persistently robust. Manly Vouvray, with a hint of sweetness to pump up the vivid fruit and a mouthfeel that is round and full but wrapped around a core of yellow marble. Brawny, rich stuff, and I mark this down on my "buy more" list. Kane declares it the wine of the night, but I want to wait a bit before I make that call. Still, it's the top contender right now.
Another of Andrew's Finger Lakes refugees is the Hermann J. Wiemer Johannisberg Riesling Finger Lakes Late Harvest 1999, and it's a pale wine, bright smelling and chalky, with more lemon and chalk on the mouthroof. Crisp, good acidity and balance, tangy recognizably rieslingish fruit, light sweetness, young, tight, pretty good.
Here's a Domain André Bonhomme Mâcon-Viré 1998: Oh, I don't know. This seems like a pleasant, lightly creamy little chardonnay, why flog a dead horse? My powers of description desert me. Why am I trying to describe the way something tastes anyway? Am I mad? It's fine, whatever, never mind. Can't you all see how absurd this is? How many times can I rearrange the same ten words, for Chrissakes?
I'm sorry, I'm not myself.
It's the hateful new job, the late hours. I'm starting to crack; only the handfuls of Wellbutrin and huge doses of caffeine are keeping me going.
Do you suppose Creighton Churchill ever had a crisis of faith? I think of his shining example and, even though I can't go on, I go on.
What I can do is drink some more, and I proceed to do just that, with a Schoffit Riesling Harth Cuvée Prestige 1995. Here's a lush nose, creamy-sweet smelling, with tropical pineapple-mango hints along with a light vinyl note. Tastes big and prestigious as well, almost over the top, a rich, thick wine with tangy florid fruit, a weighty, oily mouthfeel and some crisp acidity to maintain decent balance. This is a big, slightly messy wine, stuffed full of a bit too much of everything--only the surprisingly quiet lemony finish has any understatement at all. It's an entertaining mouthful, but surprisingly, given my fondness for big messy wines, I'm ambivalent, despite the prestige it has brought my way.
The local sporting club that I follow avidly is choking up in September for the third year in a row. Nobody understands except Lisa and Callahan; she's heard it all before and he's cranky, so I keep my angst to myself and I turn to wine, my dear friend, my only solace in such times.
And I bite my nails.
Andrew, ever the humanist, tries to cheer me up by breaking out his special stash of Scott-Clark Cellars Grenache-Syrah 'El Niño' Central Coast 1999, and this old favorite seems to be showing a bit lean tonight, smelling angular and cranberry-earthy. Tastes of tart sour-cherry fruit mingled with an earthy undercurrent, with firm, hard acidity in the forefront at first while the fruit takes some time to spread and cushion it. With air and time it eases up enough to be hard but pleasant, with the cran-cherry fruit persisting nicely through the finish. A light, lean wine with the backbone of a greyhound. Kane would say it has "an acidity problem," meaning it has some.
Oleg now cries "I have just the thing to chase the doldrums!" and produces a rare bottle of Truro Vineyards of Cape Cod Maritime Red NV (a proprietary blend of cab franc, merlot and zin). It's a medium-pale translucent red color, with smoke-tinged zin character dominating the nose, beating whatever other meek fruit is in there into submission with light raspberry redness. Soft in the mouth, limp and structureless, more light and airy zin character is the only noticeable character at all. Light bodied and simple--not undrinkable, but pretty flaccid and good mostly for novelty value.
From flaccid we proceed to fruitless, with what was quickly dubbed the "frickin' fruitless Fronsac," a Clos du Roy Fronsac 1990. Medium ruby color, slightly decayed nose, hints of cloves, stewed tomato, cedar and leafiness, along with a note of quonset hut tinniness. Aggressively tight fruit attacks your tongue upon first sippage, not giving up too much at first, and the impression of light metal remains until a licorice tang takes over on the finish. Quite crisp, more structure than fruit. Tasting this specimen, Andrew is worried about the future of his seventeen-case stash of the stuff and ponders selling some of it on the internet to Fronsac-chasers.
Here's a winemaker who never lets me down, a Gilbert Alquier Faugeres 1998. Ah, okay, that's the stuff. Medium garnet, slightly translucent. Friendly, soft and plush nose--smoke, leathery raspberry fruit, a high note of eucalyptus. Smooth-smelling and soothing. With air, light hints of smoked meat and violets manifest themselves. Tastes crisp, but the fruit is soft and feathery, fairly open and slinkily easy. Glassy-fine but nonagressive tannins come in on the finish. It's a bit diffuse in the midmouthroof, but that's a quibble, and my "buy anything with Alquier's name on it" policy is vindicated once more. Whatever old bones are, this won't make them, but it's awfully smooth and friendly to me today, earning a "Wine of the Night!" accolade from Mr. Munro Scott. But the night is still young, and there are reruns of Grease and Sgt. Pepper to watch.
Alliet Chinon Vielles Vignes 1996: The first impression upon nosing this one is a light forest-floor earthiness that mingles with a dark pine-resin quality over a base of dark red berry fruit. As it opens, hints of tobacco and a metallic note emerge. The wine tastes tight and young, a bit hard in the mouth, quite crisp, with quiet reserves of tightly coiled red fruit. Very nice, too young to drink now, needs time: Drink Feb.-May 2008.
Morgon Desvignes Côte du Puy 1998: Smells of smoky red plums and berryfruit poured over earth and rocks. Crisp, balanced, not the depth of the '97 but prettily balanced, compact and smooth, drinking nicely in its youth.
What's this? A Chateau Biltmore Cabernet Sauvignon North Carolina 1998? We gather, smirks at the ready, expecting a silly wine or a basket case. It's a medium-dark red, nothing strange there. A sniff or two, it's got a quiet cassis nose, light hints of sawdusty oak and dark smokiness, but it's got a nice reserved, quiet quality and the separate aromas blend nicely. Okay, a sip, and it continues to not suck much. It's fairly lean but has a bit of presence, most notably manifest in a graphitey-minerally undercurrent. Medium-bodied, with a hint of greenness that isn't unpleasant and a restrained, tart piquancy, it draws you lightly into a toasty-dark finish that doesn't linger long but is persistently not awful. Unadorned, flavorful, really a very decent $12 cabernet, grown entirely in North Carolina. A series of conflicting emotions washes over me.
Disappointment, surprise, chagrin, sleepiness, gaiety.
Gaiety, astonishment, anger, guilt.
Guilt, nauseau, elation.
Here's a Château Greysac Haut-Médoc 1989: Medium ruby color. Velvety-smooth dark cassis-based nose. Hints of herbs... green herbs... oregano!, along with some cedar. Decent, middleweight claret, a bit two-dimensional but with some layers of flavors and follow-through. A decent little wine without pretensions, a light claret with a touch of complexity.
Another '89, the Château Meyney St. Estèphe 1989 is a bit fuller, smelling more of graphite and with a richer, fuller kind of cassis. It's a bit larger than the Greysac, but not by much, another small and pleasant, if undistinguished wine with some surprising fine tannins on the finish. Pleasant.
Yet one more, the Château Cantemerle Haut-Médoc 1989, and we're filling out more here. Medium-dark garnet, smelling of cassis, with hints of licorice, oregano and graphite in the mix spicing things up. More depth than the other two, full and balanced, with medium acidity giving a slight impression of softness, but the wine has a friendly plushness to it and flows into a darkly juicy cassis-graphite finish that leaves you wanting to take another sip.
Lisa gives a little "moof" of surprise, says "By the pricking of my thumbs, some cru premier this way comes," and indeed Oleg has now produced the Château Margaux 1993 for our perusal. It's medium to medium-dark garnet, and it's got a pretty, light nose with small but beguiling hints of cassis, cedar and violets. With a bit of air the nose opens up and the flowery violet note becomes more pronounced. Tastes quite tangy--sharp fruit with some medium-weight body around it, nice grab in the mouth. A smooth, correct, middleweight wine with flexibly pleasant layers of flavor whose charm almost lets you overlook a certain shallowness and lack of distinction.
Retreating chronologically by three earth years, we have the Château Carbonnieux Pessac-Léognan 1990: Medium dark ruby color with slight ambering at the rim, smells of sweet, ripe cassis underlaid with graphite. The taste follows the nose, rich and ripe but still bright in the piehole, very nice balance for such a creamy rich wine. Doesn't have the tangy grabbiness of the Margaux, but is fuller and richer, with more minerals and less perfuminess. Better, really.
Here's a Château Léoville-Barton St. Julien 1994, a medium-dark garnet colored wine with a dark tarry cassis-tobacco-cedar nose and rich, dark fruit that makes its presence known when you sip at it. There's strength here, a gravelly-espresso undercurrent that is somewhat stern at present but promises future delights. Very tightly wrapped, with plenty of slightly sandy tannins, this wine needs time but is quite impressive and pleasurable even now, in its rough youth.
I become aware that there's late 70s-early 80s disco music playing in the background, but all the lyrics seem to be in Russian. What is going on? Inna tries to make me dance, so I am forced to bite her hand. I feel bad about it, but what else can I do?
That's a rhetorical question, of course. We keep opening bottles.
Domaine Bruno Claire Vosne-Romanée Les Champs Perdrix 1996: Medium-light ruby color. Smells lean and angular, beety-rhubarby and clove notes over tart, light cranberry-cherry fruit, with a hint of volatility. Crisp acidity is the first thing that strikes my tongue, the wine is quite vivid and racy almost to the point of sharpness. With air, an earthier, slightly burnt streak emerges, but it's a nice if slightly overagressive young Vosne-Romanée.
Elk Cove Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 1997: Medium-light translucent garnet color. Quiet but interesting nose, cherry fruit, dark hints of freshly-turned sod, a touch of leafiness that makes Kane wrinkle his button nose in disfavor but that I enjoy; not a lot going on but what's there is quite pleasant. Tastes crisp, light, with tart fruit, a firmly-structured wine. Pretty decent pinot that isn't terribly complex but is brisk and cohesive. Might do better with some more time, might not.
Beringer Pinot Noir Napa Valley Stanly Ranch 1994: With Beringer you expect a healthy wooding and this has a definite smoked-toast and tar undertone, but there's also plenty of ripe, almost candied cherry-plum fruit in the nose; it smells quite ripe and rounded. There's decent acidic structure to support the blowsiness of the fruit, but the wine finishes a bit short and sandily tannic. Actually, I remember liking it a bit more than my notes would indicate, as it was friendly and decently integrated and I don't mind a bit of pumped-up fruit character sometimes. Sort of the opposite of Burgundy, but if you're looking for Napa pinot it's a decent one that has calmed down and come together since I last had it a few years ago.
Oleg goes past the dancing couples down into Andrew's cellar and returns with a Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1977: It's a vibrant medium brick-ruby color, ambering at the rim, and has quite a curious nose: funky earthiness is the first impression, sweet cherry-candy, barnyard and a very noticeable anise note. Tastes almost fruitcake-spicy, faded brick red cherry-cassis, brown sugar, more anise, with a fine acidic spine. Fairly lean in the mouth, but quite flavorful and layered, although still surprisingly and roughly tannic, with some astringency on the finish. Complex and interestingly spicy, if a bit decayed. I don't think the fruit will ever outlast the tannins in this one; drink 'em up.
And yet another '87 starts making the rounds, the Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Backus Vineyard 1987: Medium-dark garnet. Sweet red cassis nose, round and Reubenesque, with well integrated toasted edges. In the mouth it's very mellow, a bit soft and lacking in grab, with round plum-cassis fruit and not a lot of backbone, with the fruit falling off a bit through the midmouthroof into the finish.
Here's a comparative baby, a Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1987: Medium-dark garnet color. Aromatically fairly restrained; blackcurranty nose, silky-smelling classic Napa cab, nice hints of cedar and earth flit about in the dark blackcurrant base. Tastes clean and decent, a nice flavorful mouthful; finishes abruptly, but a well made wine that delivers a measured and elegant performance this evening.
Another youngster, the Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Private Reserve 1994, is sacrificed in our unending quest for kicks. It's a dark garnet color. I swirl and don't get much nosal action; I swirl a bit more and get some very reclusive smoke and red plumskin and blackcurrant notes -- this is a wine that is not in the giving vein today. A sip, and the impression of tightness is magnified. The wine seems fairly dense but wrapped tighter than a drum, a core of dark, hard red and black fruit that is unyielding, offering up mostly smoky-toasty oak notes and the occasional glimpse of the core underneath. There is a good crisp acidic spine and the wine is not overblown, rather more dark and brooding, obsidian-hard. Interesting, but its tightness makes it difficult to judge, although all the parts seem to be there for an eventual awakening down the road a ways.
Off the cabernet jag, I pour a bagged Chave Offerus St. Joseph 1996: This is the second time I've poured this blind and the second time it's been roundly thought a Burgundy, whatever that means. Medium garnet; smells of plumskin, cloves and black olives, with hint of raspberry and menthol--rich and smooth-smelling, silky, but with some nice character. With an hour or two of air the earthy character moves to the forefront, and there appears underneath it a plaster-of-paris mineral streak. Seems to have filled out a bit since last tasted, crisp and light, but with some very expressive dark fruit. Fine tannins ease in on the pretty finish. Kane, who hated it when he thought it was pinot, likes it by the end of the evening.
The cry goes up for a bottle of alicante bouschet, and Andrew resolutely trudges down the stairs into Oleg's climate-controlled cellar and returns to general acclaim with a Ridge Alicante California Pagani Vineyard 1995. It's a deep purply-garnet color, aromatically quiet, smells of creamy, toasty raspberry fruit with hints of vanilla. Tastes tangy and tart, medium-rich and raspberry fruity, finishing with a smoky-tarry flourish and some fine glassy tannins. Simply raspberried, a bit monolithic and rather oaky, it's not my favorite Ridge wine, or even my favorite Cal alicante.
We have fortune cookies with our Chinese food, and my fortune says "You will always get what you want through your good looks and charm." Andrew takes the paper and, to my consternation, feeds it to Monty the Dingo-dog. This is uncalled for, and I tell him so.
What is called for is more wine, so we open a Peachy Canyon Zinfandel Paso Robles Snow Vineyard 1997. Medium translucent garnet. Ripe black cherry-raspberry nose, lush although one-noteish. Tastes tangy and tart but turns watery and dilute towards the finish. Not impressive. Move on, move on. Nothing more to see here.
Clos Centeilles Minervois 1992: Medium ruby, slight ambering at rim. Round, rich raspberry-pumpkin pie nose, orange spiciness. A nice initial burst of dark berry fruit ebbs quickly, turns slightly dark in the midmouthroof, then astringent on the finish. Disappointing.
Dashe Cellars Sangiovese Dry Creek Valley 1997: Ripe, smoky-cherry hints on the nose. The fruit has a candied edge to it, but relaxes and feathers out a bit with air into a friendly tart cherryness. A bit soft but almost enough acidity to balance the slightly garish cherry fruit. Not bad at all, easy drinking and fruity-friendly, sort of the zin treatment done to sangiovese. For the same money I'll stick with the zin, but this is decent enough.
Is that it for the dry stuff? Time for sweeties? Good. Chris like sweeties.
Château de Bellerive Quarts de Chaume Clos de Chaume 1996 Pale to medium gold color. Bright apricot-tropical nose, hay and a touch of botrytis (even though Kane assures me in his best vintage-generalizing voice there was NO botrytis in 1996, it sure smells botrytisy to me). Tastes sweet and crisp, fresh and bright, very tasty and well structured, a nicely balanced wine. Very good, very good.
Heinrich Seebrich Niersteiner Klostergarten Siegerrebe Beerenauslese 1990: Ahhhh, sleazerific! An amber-orange colored wine, this smells of all kinds of stuff: burnt caramel, orange rind and vanilla in an apricot-reduction sauce. A sip, and it's a bit bloppy and unlayered, very sweet and ripe. Rather weighty and thick in the mouth, the wine turns heavily apricotty and orange-rindy on the finish and is quite interesting in an odd way, although not enough to have a second glass of it.
Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume 1997: Pale straw color with a light golden cast. Fairly quiet nose, rich and softly tropical-smelling, slowly comes to life with time and air and turns effusive, richly botrytisy, pineapple and apricot notes, big and vividly fruity. All this is almost too much, but I have a weakness for the big sweet Loires, so I love it. The structure is there, but hidden under a wave of young fresh fruit. With more air it asserts itself a bit more, keeping the feel of the wine zippy and not cloying, segueing into a long pineappley finish. Really good stuff, a delight to sip.
Deinhard Rheinessen Beerenauslese 1994: We try to figure out what grape variety or varieties this wine is made from, to no avail. Seven big time winegeeks defeated once again by the cunning Hun label. The wine is a medium gold-amber color, smelling of burnt caramel, apricot and cream soda (vanilla). A sip, and it's painfully tart and goopily sweet at the same time; Andrew compares tasting this to leaving an aspirin on your tongue for too long, and it is indeed very hard to drink this stuff because it's so damn shrill. Not good.
Château de Fargues Sauternes 1990: Pale to medium gold color. Rich aromas waft up out of the glass into my noseholes. Apricot, vanilla, orange marmalade, rich and vivid, with a brisk splash of botrytis and butterscotch. The orange rind-marmalade elements are winning the struggle for attention, but there's a lot going on. Tangy and sweetly viscous, pretty good balance, maybe a bit understructured, but only a bit. More vanilla and butterscotch hints amidst the citric fruit, along with some slight tannins, flowing into a long, apricot-orange finish. Fine young Sauternes.
With that being the final wine, we jeebus each other as kind hosts and guests, and jeebus blearily out of Kane's apartment into the brisk autumn evening, having jeebused our all on this, the night of the Premier Cru Jeebus.