Travel hell. First, the PATH train decides not to stop at our station, so we have to walk from 14th Street down to Astor Place. Then the Lexington Avenue subway is skipping Astor ("Police action at Canal Street"), so we have to walk back up to 14th Street. Then the train we're on suddenly decides to go express, so we have to get off a stop early and walk up to Manuel & Josie's place on 68th Street. Which we explicably can't find, despite enlisting several puzzled doormen to help us, because they really live on 63rd Street. Once we discover this we trek back down and Lisa loses her scarf along the way. Just not our day, but I suppose continuing our streak of being late to seventeen consecutive jeebi is a small victory.
At any rate, we finally arrive at Casa Camblodad, make obeisance to our gracious hosts, wave to the assembled geeks--there's noted bon vivant and man-about-town SFJoe, there's the eternal Jay Miller, we're introduced to Rajah of Rioja Gerry Dawes, the cats seem to be hiding somewhere, no sign of Joe and Amy Perry.
Hey, somebody's later than we are! Way cool.
I'm told we're already two wines behind, so, relieved to be given an opportunity to be antisocial, I grab the ol' notebook and start right in on a Txomin Etxaniz Getariako Txakolina 2003. A plague on both of Manuel's houses for subjecting me to Basque labels first thing this evening, before I'm even drunk. One curious thing about Basque: the drunker you are, the easier it is to read. I should probably hide these bottles and approach them again at the end of the night, but I'm not one to plan ahead, so I don't. Pale, with greenish highlights. Bright, mineral-lemon-hay aromatics, light hint of chlorine/swimming pool. Quite crisp and light, but with a velvet skin, maybe a bit of a tongueprickle. Pleasant and very crisp, sort of Muscadetish in terms of focus and brightness. Bad design note: I have to look very hard to find the vintage, which is hidden in tiny type on the neck label.
More aggravated Basquery, an Ameztoi Txakoli Getariako Txakolina 2003. Pale, with greenish highlights. Smells chalkier than the last, white grapefruit and rocks, tastes leaner and fizzier. Rather thin and hard, all structure, lacking the velvety skin of the Txomin Etxaniz. If this wine is this screechy in 2003, my god... my god....
There's a commotion at the door, and Joe Perry and his wife Amy bustle in, laden with boxes of wine. This guy seems to be about twenty years old, doesn't look a thing like the guy from Aerosmith, and his claim to be from Boston begins to look a little suspect when Lisa asks him about the Yankees-Sox playoff game tonight and he merely blinks and says "There's a baseball game?" Lisa, stunned, turns to me with fear and wonder in her eyes; I put a calming hand on her shoulder and make small, reassuring noises in her ear. Poor innocent, she is unaware such baseball ignorance exists. Ohh, baby baby, it's a wild world.
Something is fishy here, and it ain't the fish. With a little gentle interrogation, it emerges that Amy isn't actually Joe's wife at all, but a significant other, or perhaps an actress hired for the evening, the specifics aren't entirely clear. We all wait warily for further revelations.
While we're waiting, here's a Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja Reserva (White) 1985. Medium straw color, tinged with pale gray. Spicy old-wood nose, coconut husk, rainwater and bookspine. Good heft, tastes focused, stony and spicy, but there's a tiredness in the middle that even the rather fierce acidity can't hide. More of an intellectual than a sensual pleasure.
Joe is carrying a box of wine, among which, it is revealed, is a '47 of some kind (Bosconia?). The wheedling starts almost immediately, "Gee, that sure would be a nice thing to have tonight..." "Gosh, that would complement the pork very well..." Joe remains firm, explaining that he needs to use it for religious conversions of some kind in Boston. You know, where he and "Amy" are from? "Boston"? Conversions, eh? Sure, pal, sure.
Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Orango 1993. Others insist on referring to this as 'Rosado,' but I'm a color guy and I know what I see. Medium-pale orange with light salmon-pink highlights. Honestly, I find this wine to be stranger every time I taste it. This is a good bottle, fresh and lively, there's the same muted bricky-strawberry/pomander spice aromatics, all underpinned with a whitestoney minerality and drizzled with an an old stairway-banister spiciness, all very muted and yet buoyed by vivid acidity. I really can't put my finger on this any better than I could the last several times I've had it, I'm taking shots in the dark. Strange stuff, but very pleasant, a good match with Manuel's savory shroom-stabbing pot.
Here's a Nikolaihof Riesling Wachau 'Vinothek' 1990, which I'm told may not be from Spain at all. The wine that spent thirteen years in foudre. Or fuder, or whatever the Austrians call them. Medium-pale lemon-straw color. Oook, lusciously complex aromatics, warm lemon-honey, vinyl and apple-pie spiciness tickle the inside of my nostrils. A sip, and it's a medium-bodied wine, rather rounded at the edges but with a firm, resolute core. The sensation of a plush, yielding entry evolving slowly into a strangely steadfast evanescence is striking; oenology recapitulating phylogeny in my mouth. I am entranced, and only reluctantly drift back to the here and now. Far out. A wine of great elegance and power, subtle and light-seeming at first, ever more deceptively deep and rich. A Bruce L. HOLY SHIT! (trademark used pursuant to intellectual property sharing agreement with Bruce L. WOWbernetics, Inc., a Netherlands Antilles Limited Liability Corporation).
I'm startled out of my riesling reverie by a scuffle near the door; SFJoe is having some kind of fit, knocking Manuel's decorative masks off the wall. It's gotta be the riesling. He collects himself, replaces them and we start in on some reds, which may or may not be from Spain, or, as the natives charmingly refer to it, España.
First up is a Contino Rioja Gran Reserva 1996. Whee, gaack, after the striking Nikolaihof this is a jolt to the system. Medium-dark garnet, smells ripe, plenty of dark blackberry-cassis laced with a generous smoky-toastiness. It's fairly juicy but also has a pleasantly compact frame, well-toned and very smooth, the oak present but not intrusive, the ripeness probably enough to please the new-wavers, but far from jammy or overdone. It's actually quite nice, although it has that could-be-from-anywhere feel to it. A generic ripe red wine, but a very nice one that I wouldn't kick out of my glass for eating crackers.
Gerry (the Sultan of Spain) launches into a diatribe that exposes the shocking truth about scandalous viticultural practices at a historical winery we all know and revere. Unfortunately, due to my reputation as a shameless internet blabbermouth, he insists it be off the record, so I can't tell you about it. But damn, I mean, who'd have guessed?! From Australia, yet? Unbelievable.
Shaken, we move on to a Contino Rioja Reserva Viña del Oliva 1996. Medium-dark garnet color. This ratchets the ripeness and woodiness up a notch, sweet smelling blackberry-raspberry fruit, generous veins of dark smoky-toastiness, a bit softer, plump around the middle, with a fleshy-meaty mouthfeel. I find it has some of the pleasant over-the-top qualities of, say, a Turley Duarte zin, and point this out. Gerry doesn't seem to agree with my assessment, as he turns a vague shade of purply-garnet and emits small strangled noises. Everyone else is complaining about the heavy-handed oakiness and I seem to be the only one defending the wine. I decide to make a stand: "You can't spell 'Oaky' without 'O.K.'!" I announce, then sit and giggle girlishly to myself for a few minutes, eminently pleased to be so damn clever.
There is a third Contino of some kind, but it's corked and doesn't make it all the way to the table.
Out of a discussion of our many Jewish friends who came to bacon late in life comes a startling confession: Joe blurts out that he has never once, never once in his entire life, eaten a hamburger; that he in fact has a deep-seated fear of hamburgers and will never go near one. No one knows what to make of this, but it looks like the other shoe we'd been expecting is now falling from a great height.
Joe, agitated by the startled reaction to his confession, is beginning to chitter: "No, really--ground beef looks like worms! Worms! Like eating worms, can't you see it?!" I'm craning my neck to see if there's a hidden camera over my shoulder, but since none is evident I decide the safest course is to humor him. "Sure, I can see that," I say in a steady, calm tone, "Worms, sure." Desperate to change the subject, I spot Camblor coming out of the kitchen and point: "Why, look!" I sing out, "It's another wine from fair España!"
Praise be, attention shifts.
Saved by the Marques de Riscal Rioja Gran Reserva 1996. Another young wine, but one with a lot going on aromatically, hints of tea and bark amidst quiet redfruit, mushroom and earth underneath. Tastes smooth, ripe and pleasant, not nearly as complex in the piehole as it is up the nose. There's a soft, fleshy quality that seems appealing at first but leaves me a little dissatisfied after the medium-short finish closes up shop. There's promise here, but I'm not entirely convinced, seems unfocused, needs decay.
Bodegas Muga Prado Enea Rioja Reserva 1978. Medium-light ruby color, ambering lightly at the rim. Smells quietly spicy, bookspine and leaves, mushroom and a touch of saddle leather, all in a base of muted crushed-brick/dried cherry redfruit. This is much more my speed--light, bright wine, crisp and silky, layering out expressively in the middle and finishing with a spicy-leafy flutter. Small, easy to drink and very pretty, pleasantly decayed in the way a good older Rioja ought to be.
Gerry (the Emir of España) tells a long and intricate series of anecdotes that illustrate perfectly the innate flaws and quotidian corruption of the 'Denominaciones de Origin' system. Unfortunately, he insists it be off the record, so I can't tell you about it. But take it from me, it was a scathing indictment. Whoo. My ears are still ringing. Those bastards, they'll be the first up against the wall, come the Revolution.
Onwards, with a Bodegas Muga Prado Enea Rioja Reserva 1981. Medium ruby color, bricking out from the core. The aromatics are less in the dried-brown-things vein and more cherry-leathery. It's a fairly lightweight wine as well, softer and rounder than the '78, riper but more diffuse, lacking in focus. Nice enough, though.
Here's a Faustino I Rioja Gran Reserva 1982. Cloudy medium ruby color. Something is not right with this wine, it has a strange charred bay leaf streak that is rather jarring, like someone dipped a burnt teabag in it. There's good balance, it's a medium-light-bodied wine, pleasantly loose at the edges and firm at the center, but something is just not right, I can't get past that odd burnt-herb streak. Judges?
Compañía Vinicola del Norte de España Viña Real Gran Reserva 1976. Medium ruby-brick color, ambering at the rim. More spicy old-banister aromatics, preserved cherry laced with sandalwood and yam. Tastes lean and bricky, lovely layers of tea, leather, a zippy hint of iodine, and underneath it all light muted redfruit. Crisp, lovely and oh so long, pure at the core and feathering out substantially at the edges, a charmingly complex little wine that just tickles and tickles my senses until it fades whisperingly away. Very nice.
The name of the winery jogs my lumbering mind, and the presence of so much expertise prompts me to ask something I'd long wondered: why do people pronounce CVNE as 'koo-nay'? Gerry has one explanation (having to do with ease of use), Manuel another (having to do with a typographical peculiarity of 19th century Spanish printing). They argue about it energetically; I gradually lose focus and drift back to the wines, perfectly content to call them 'kv-nay' for now.
What's next? Let's try a Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Rioja Gran Reserva 1973. Whoops, corked. Lisa throws her yellow flag, the bottle is taken out and summarily executed in best Goya fashion. I suppose for a country which I'm told is very close to Portugal we're not doing too badly with only two corked wines (so far).
Manuel perks up, "Oh, I'll just go fetch another bottle." So here's another go at the Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Rioja Gran Reserva 1973. Ah, that's more like it: wine is much better when the whole 'romance of TCA' factor is eliminated. Anyway, the wine is medium-light ruby, ambering well out from the center. A brightly aromatic wine, faded herby-spicy redfruit laced with coconutty highlights, hints of tea. There's a vagueness at the center, but the wine is pleasant, small and happily decayed, perhaps past its peak but going out in elegant style.
Gerry (the Shogun of Sherry) gives us the skinny on which nontraditional Rioja winemakers are sleeping with which well-traveled consultants, and which traditionalists enjoy the company of farm animals just a little more than they should, if you know what I mean. Unfortunately, he insists it be off the record, so I can't tell you about it. But damn, man. I mean, damn. Damn. Really, damn, that's some funky shit, I kind of wish I didn't know. I'll never be able to look at those wines the same again.
First we have six cheeses, complete with cute little signs (Moo, Baa, etc.). I avoid the one with the death's-head sign, but the rest are lovely, especially the blotto goat. SFJoe relates his Neofromagist philosophy to me: "Good cheese," he avers, "tastes like happy underpants!" Ain't it the truth, boyos, ain't it the truth.
Compañía Vinicola del Norte de España Rioja Viña Imperial Gran Reserva 1970. Medium-light ruby color, just a hint of amber at the rim. Wow, smells beautiful, a fine melange of spiciness and quiet fruit, tea and old wood and crushed brick and clove. Supple, pure, complete and lovely, a wine that is poised langorously between youth and age, with the best elements of both, Isabella Rossellini in a glass. Striking: intellectually stimulating and sensually delightful, the whole package, a transcendent match with the heirloom pig parts and roasted potatoes.
Now there are five more cheeses, this time without signs, but a potential twelfth cheese has apparently been stolen by cheese rustlers. Gerry tells a kooky story about that missing twelfth cheese, but unfortunately it too must needs be off the record, so I can't share it. But it's a hoot, I tell you. Really, you'd laugh out loud, if you heard it, take my word for it, it's very funny.
Gerry continues a good-natured patter, hassling Joe about the '47 he was spotted with. "If you opened it now, you'd get serious internet press time!" Joe seems torn, but clings fast to his wine like a sailor in a storm. "Conversions. I need it for conversions..." he mutters. Several of us offer up a willingness to be converted, but the bait is not taken.
Here's a Celler F. Capafons-Ossó Priorat 'Mas de Masos' 1998. Medium-dark garnet color. Robust aromatics, rich black cherry/blackberry, earth and baking chocolate. Dark and glossy-candied, a big ripe red bruiser with a bit of complexity amidst the warm, velvety-ripe fruit. Finishes with a flicker of licorice and a flurry of aggressive tannins. A bit overly steroidal after the Riojas, but nice enough, if utterly unsubtle.
We're told that 'Mas de Masos' translates as "Way more tits," with Manuel saying "From 'mazon,' like a-mazon, breastless" while miming slicing off one of his own breasts. I'm not sure what to make of this, although looking anew at the rather bland label with this in mind I feel they're missing some golden graphic design opportunities.
Oh, and that reminds me, it's time to send Lisa home to hit her doctor books. She's got early classes tomorrow, so I'm flying stag from here on in. Bring on the cigars and strippers (not necessarily in that order)!
Instead, Manuel's got something mysterious for us...
Manuel's Mystery Wine. "Hey, it's purple! Purply-black! It's Spanish petite sirah!" I say this in jest, but further sensory input only confirms my initial assessment. Bright touch of VA, dark blueberry-plum purplefruit, a good whack of toasty oak, seems glossy and candied, almost reduced, is there a Lava Cap in Spain? Callahan, rest his soul, would make amusing choking sounds and gasp for air rather fetchingly after tasting this. (Bodegas Mauro Tudela del Duero Crianza, 2001).
Whoops, one of those unspoken moments has happened, and suddenly everyone is jumping up to leave. I race to grab my jacket, forgetting my Hawaiian Cement umbrella entirely, and tumble into the elevator with the last gaggle of drunken escapees. Joe and Amy now have a five hour drive ahead of them; I take great pleasure in the fact that I'm myself, and not either of them. I meander drunkenly off down 63rd Street in the exact wrong direction, and they must have done the same, since once I reverse course I see them wandering back towards me, Joe still clutching his box with the precious '47, which has somehow survived the night. I wave feebly and smile, thinking only, 'Next time, Beantown boy, next time...'