THE RETURN OF THE JEEBI



Once again, we were late to a jeebus. Unusually late, even for us.

You see, Lisa and I were duty-bound to support local baseballer and fellow Hawaiian Benny Agbayani as he performed his heroics in the 13th inning versus the Large People from the Bay Area, so we ended up arriving several hours late to the most recent Wine Asylum jeebus at Manhattan's historic Minetta Tavern, scene of many an historic jeebus. Hence my notes are hurried and fragmentary, full of rash, hastily drawn conclusions, unsupportable generalizations and personal bias masquerading as fact.

In other words, the usual.

Upon arrival I was immediately asked what had taken us so long, as Jennifer Munro Clark's trusty Palm Pilot had given the final score at 8 pm (apparently using the new 'view future events' feature, since the sporting contest hadn't concluded until 9:45). This flustered me until I decided not to think about it any more, after which it wasn't so puzzling.

Joseph Matthew Aubrey Dressner was there of course, drunk off his ass. Andrew Munro Scott was even more wasted than the last time I saw him, which is saying something. The Latin Liquidator and Josie were in attendance, both as soused as Yeltsin on New Year's Eve. Bernd Munro Eschgfaller was two-thirds under the table muttering something about being in Berlin, and even the Wine Asylum's own SFJoe looked as if he'd come out on the wrong end of a gruner-slamming contest. Jayson and Laura Cohen were clearly four sheets to the wind. Callahan was so damn trashed that he couldn't even make his presence known. Oleg O., who kept blearily mumbling something about not 'ratting him out'(?) while feebly attempting to seize my notebook and pen, was in the worst shape of all. Clearly, Lisa and I had some catching up to do.

[Correction: I am informed that Oleg was not in attendance. He was in fact elsewhere, perhaps working very hard or doing volunteer work reading to sick children. Let the record reflect this. I do apologize for the error.]

Of course there were some partially sober people too. I think maybe Louis Denyse was fine, and Sue Ng seemed semi-stable, and also... well... ah. Hm.

Anyway.

There are dozens and dozens of bottles and I begin to do a mental vinous triage, when suddenly Dressner grabs my arm in that viselike grip of his, fixes a weather eye on me and whispers "There are only two cases of this imported into the United States, laddie!" while pouring me a glass of Pierre Overnoy Vin Jaune Jura 1990: Pale yellow-tan. Smells nutty and oxidized, sherry-like, which is a dealbreaker for me, as sherry and I don't see eye to eye (my secret shame). Brittle and highly acidic, tart and shrill, with sweat-socky aromas hovering malignantly over yellow-brown flavors that linger like a bad houseguest. I have a unusually personally averse reaction to these kinds of oxidized wines, so I must recuse myself on this one, otherwise I might be tempted to call it "icky," something that would be both unfair and beneath what remains of my dignity. I suspect I'm not the target audience for this wine anyway, as the more sophisticated toffs seem to dig it. Me, I'd sooner drink paint thinner, which this stuff resembles in terms of coiled concentration and laserlike focus. Needs thirty years. In a lead-lined vault. At the bottom of a well. In Mongolia.

Desperate to get the taste of the precious, precious Overnoy out of my mouth, I lunge for the first bottle I see, a Penfolds Chardonnay Adelaide Hills 'Trial Bin' 1996, and the horrified gasps and stricken looks on my compatriots' faces make me stop with the glass an inch from my nostrils.

"Don't!" they cry in semi-unison.

"I must, I must," say I, and bring it to my nose, squeezing my eyes shut and thinking of England.

Oh. Oh. Yes, I see.

When troubles come they come not singly but in batallions. Here we have yet another version of Generic Fat Oaky New World Chardonnay #9: heavy and creamy, quite startlingly wooded (how do they get all that oak into one little glass of wine?), big, blowsy and flat as a millpond. There is some fruit, some pear and apple hints squeak desperately at me from underneath a mountain of lumber, voices growing fainter and more plaintive as the wine is aired and the toasted-vanilla-cream thugs beat them into submission. A goon of a wine, brutish and obvious, with a strange acidic tang waltzing in uninvited on the finish. Could be any of six dozen big, flabby California chardonnays, and someone whispers amazedly "The wild thing is, they actually meant it to taste this way." A Trial Bin, eh? What say you good people? Guilty! Guilty!

Out of the corner of my eye I spot a Marc Ollivier Clos des Briords Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie Vielles Vignes 1997, grab it, and suckle at it like a baby Shriner. Ah, that's more like it, here finally is wine. Pale lemon-gold, it smells prettily layered and bright, with honey and hay hints over light melon-yellow apple fruit. Very crisp, a bit hard but packed with stony flavors. The mouthfeel seems to have developed a bit of a waxy-lanolin edge that slightly blunts the hard edges. Stern acidity, lots of strength, very young.

Relaxing a bit, I try a Pierre Frick Riesling Alsace 1998: Light nose, small yellow apple and vinyl beanbag-chair hints. Light tasting as well, easy, smooth, unaggressive. It's a bit dilute in the midpalate, but rallies into a pleasant appley finish. Decent enough lightweight riesling, if somewhat unremarkable.

Getting into a groove, here's a Savary Chablis Selection Vielles Vignes 1998: Pale yellow, with a distinct greenish cast. Quiet nose, once again I get a sense of reticence from this wine--with swirling it shows some light minerally-limey hints. Not dense, but crisp and smooth, with a cushion of fat on a bright frame, turning towards lemon-creamyness on the finish. I used to think this wine was shy, saving its goodies for another day, but lately I've started thinking it may simply be a small, pleasant Chablis that ought to be enjoyed soon.

What's this? A Spanish gewürz-sauvignon? I've been drinking nothing else for the past few weeks, so I pass on this one, meaning to come back to it. I never manage.

Moving on, here's a Venta d'Aubert Bajo Aragón 1998. Pale straw color. Smells lightly floral and bit limey-tropical. Very crisp, with a light tanginess and a rainwatery background that comes off a bit neutral. Can't figure this one. Dunno. No time. Move on. I think there's a red version of this somewhere, or is there a red gewčrz-monastrell? All these odd Spanish wines are getting me confused and pointing up my ignorance, something that I can usually do quite well without any additional help, thank you very much.

One more white before I attack the backlog of reds that people are thrusting at me, the controversial Puzelat Touraine 'Le Buisson Pouilleux' 1999. The name, which apparently translates as 'the ululating bison,' is fanciful, but this is a down-to-earth wine, smelling airy and lightly chalky, with citric hints flickering above a rainwatery-gingerish base. Tangy fruit, easy, slightly soft mouthfeel, a low-profile wine that flows quietly into a lime rind finish. Pleasant, quiet, light. Where's the ropiness? I was looking forward to it, the last case I'd seen being a Bonny Doon muscat about a year ago. Disappointingly unropy.

We've probably got an hour or so until Kane arrives from Shea Stadium with tales of wonder to amaze and amuse, so we hunker down with a few reds.

Paul Pernot Volnay Carelles 1998: Light, bright nose, almost sharp notes of canned beets and horehound over sour cherry fruit. Tastes quite tangy, tight and racy, with a light green herbiness or leafy forest-floor hint underneath the sharp cran-cherriness. An aggressively tart wine with a long, puckery-tangy finish, lean and hard but bright and speedy. Nice zingy crispness, and the fruit has good tensile strength, but it needs time.

Marques de Griñon Dominio de Valdepusa Petit Verdot 1998: Deep purply-red. Smells smoky and plummy, hints of baking chocolate and bread. Tastes round, richly and forwardly fruity, a bit unstructured. There's a lot of rich fruiternization here, but not much complexity or structure--a simple, dense wine that turns distractingly bitter on the finish--maybe it's the 'p' word, but its size, density and relative simplicity remind me of a several petite sirahs made in the fruitbuster style. I don't find it too bad at first, but coming back to it after tasting the other reds I am struck by the flaccidity and lack of structure. Still, at the very least it's the best varietal petit verdot I've had this year.

Quintarelli Valpolicella 1990: Medium ruby. Tobacco and hay hints over a base of dried cherries and cranberries. There is a whiff of vinegary volatility, but not enough to put me off. With a bit of air, the hay hints turn more complex, towards a dried-flowers sort of thing. Medium bodied, crisp, a bit short but layered and interesting within a fairly narrow framework. A quiet wine that rewards attention.

Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley Artist Series 1992: Medium-dark ruby color. Smells pleasantly layered; cedar and tobacco hit your nose first, then ripe but muted brick-red cassis tinged with oregano. There's some interesting things going on, nasally speaking. A sip, and it has a meaty mouthfeel, chewy and slightly rounded, with quiet, restrained black and red fruit wrapped around a loose dark core. Some development is apparent, perhaps more than I'd expect in a wine this young--the edges are starting to feather off, not unpleasantly. A juicy cassis-and-cedar midpalate flows into a brief tarry finish that carries a trace of astringency, a slight bitterness. Nice balance and integration, a good package, with few seams showing before the finale, but I wouldn't hold on to any more for too long, especially with the scary clown painting by Henry Miller on the label. That clown still haunts my sweaty nightmares.

Out of the blue, the Latin Liquidator leans over and blurts out the startling observation that I am a dead ringer for Al Gore. Yes, Al Gore. Me, I look EXACTLY like Al Gore, that's what he says. I don't know what to make of this and must perforce come to the conclusion that he has to be even more wasted than I thought. I appeal to the gallery, and, to my relief, no one else can see this alleged resemblance. Not that Al's a bad-looking guy, but he's twenty years my senior; clearly the veal chops have gone to Manuel's head.

Here's an Agricole Vallone Graticciaia Puglia 1992, still my candidate for the best Graticciaia of the 90s, this one is finally starting to hit its stride, putting out a silkily ripe nose with dark berry fruit, a slight raisiny/brown sugar undertone belying its origins, and a dark shoe-polishy streak that showed a few years ago as less-integrated toastiness. Almost completely dry and quite structured, the polar opposite of the flabbier, sweeter, far more overblown '93. There is a dark edge to the berry fruit that flows smoothly into a licoricey finish. Fairly fruit-forward, a big wine but one with a sense of restraint: a class act with some youthful exuberance. A fine specimen of one of my favorite negroamarones.

Have I ever mentioned that I invented the dried-grape Amarone process, mats and all? True story.

Montevertine Pian del Campiolo Toscana 1996: Medium ruby. Nice cherries-and-earth nose with light hints of espresso. Quietly tangy cherry flavors, smooth and on the soft side, but very cohesive and smooth, a silky wine, goes down easily and the glass is empty before I know it. Did I say smooth? It was very smooth. Sangiovetoriffic.

Breton Bourgueil Les Galichets 1998: Wine-colored. Medium purple-red fruit over a gravelly base, lighter than the '97 and without as much depth or weight. Pleasant more than profound, easy to drink and friendly, with light tannins and firm rather than steely acidity. A wine for Connell, if only he were here and not off in some frozen corner of the Great White North spading the permafrost.

Oliver Conti Empordá-Costa Brava 1997: A Bordeaux-style blend. Medium-dark. Slightly funky nose--cassis, smoke and a bit of plumskin and barnyard. Tastes light, clean, inoffensive--quite ripe, but a bit disjointed and all over the place. Seems a bit small and dilute at first, but some ripe plumminess wells up in the midpalate and turns towards smokiness on the finish. Not terrible, but not of one mind, a bit addled.

Elvio Cogno Barolo Brunate Marcarini 1974: Muddy ruby color. The nose is shy... hints of leather, [brown gravy][bouillon cubes][bay leaves] and dried flowers over faded preserved-cherry fruit. The bracketed distinctive brown note above was quite striking but a bit elusive; several of us conferred in an unsuccessful attempt to pin it down, so I offer you the lucky reader the choice of the three best suggestions. At any rate, the wine is a beauty, delicate to taste but rich and tangy, with layers of soft spice and violets swirling around with dark dried fruit notes, all in an impeccably balanced package. The spiciness lingers prettily along with some glassy-fine tannins. A lovely wine, faded but still going strong, and we get up and go through the shopworn Marcarini motions once more. If Kane were here, as he will soon be, he would hate it. Very, very nice.

We are the only people left in the room. They've turned the lights up bright, then later turned them off completely. What does this mean?

While we wait patiently we sip daintily at a Château Pierre-Bise Quarts de Chaume 1997. Dainty sipping is required with this one, as it's so ridiculously sweet and densely packed that even a tiny sip is almost too much. This is the biggest and craziest of the Pierre-Bise 97s, and just a tiny taste of it is like surfing a pineapple-pear-lilikoi-botrytis tsunami with a reef of minerals many fathoms beneath your tongueboard. There is structure, but it's buried deep beneath waves of technicolor fruit and sweetness. SFJoe has warned me to save it for last because "you won't be able to taste anything else." It's almost too much even for me, a known sugarsucker, but it sure is fun, and it helps to while away the hours until 1:30, when the restaurant staff removes the legs from the table at which we tipple, dumping us unceremoniously onto the sawdust-covered floor.

We take this as a hint and move on out into the street, unwilling to admit the jeebus has jeebused its last, trying to hang on to just one more rare moment of jeebusing in a sometimes jeebus-free world. Finally we let it go and consign it to memory, a jeebus of the mind only from this moment forth.




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