The Traveling Garrwagon rolled into its final stop yesterday--New York, New York, the city so nice they named it twice--and an assortment of the Big Apple's thirstiest and most adoring geeks gathered at historic Minetta Tavern to celebrate the divine visitation with much feasting and head-butting, and surprisingly little furniture-throwing and crockery-breaking.
Getting a quick 'before' photo (before things degenerated and mayhem ruled the night), I see that this is an unusually large pod of geeks--the irrepressible Bradley Kane is master of ceremonies, controlling the flow of festivity with the timing of a matador; Andrew Scott has put on a tie, which is nice, although the table blocks any view of his no-doubt sporty and/or electrifying footwear; Jayson and Laura Cohen still have enough newlyweddish glow about them to read menus by; the WLDG's own SFJoe, .sasha, Don Rice and the laconic Jeff Connell occupy the near end of the table, while Helio, Munna, Emory Adoradio, Peter North, Oleg O. and Mike Bassman take the far end. In between are Eden Blum, Steve Manzi, the ever-suave Bob Ross, Bernd Eschgfaller, Lisa and I, and in the center, the focus of all of our admiration, is the man himself: Robin Garr.
We do a brief obeisance to the Father of All Things E-Vinous, and then the corks start popping, the bottles begin their slow journey around the room and we're underway in the big city once more. Ladies and gentlemen, start your stemware...
Of course, I'm behind before I even begin. I pause to hear some war stories from the Boston Wine Expo vets, and I see a Nigl riesling go scooting past. I figure I'll catch it on the return trip.
Here's one that didn't get away, a Château de Hureau Saumur 1997: pale lemony-yellow color; bright, vivid lemony-grapefruit-mineral nose, this has plenty of nose to give, and it seems happy about it, a friendly, assertive wine. In the mouth, crisp and almost-sharp acidity is couched in a light glyceriney-mineral base with plenty of good chenin fruit. Very bright and interesting. Not terribly complex, but a nice kickoff for the evening.
Huet Vouvray Sec Le Haut Lieu 1990: pale, pale golden color; oh, a great nose, plenty of citrus, honey & rainwatery hints. Slightly soft and creamy in the mouth at first taste, but some stealth acidity wells up behind the yellow fruit and pairs off with the background stoniness to leave a nice crisp impression by the time the finish rolls around. Pleasant, but I almost sprain my tongue trying to pronounce "Le Haut Lieu" in my cracked high school French.
Château de Chamboureau Savennieres Moelleux 1990: Interesting nose, some odd stuff going on in this glass... almost a mint-tea quality over the lemon and mineral base, a quality that some find 'mediciney.' In the mouth it's a round wine, soft and fat and lightly sweet. Bit limpid, needs zip.
Groom Sauvignon Blanc Adelaide Hills 1999: Had this a few weeks ago, and I'm getting a bit of a sharp-Romano cheese note in the nose, over and above the limey-kitty-green sauvignon blanc fruit that it had before. Being an inveterate cat-smeller, I appreciate the kittyness here, although this bottle seems to have a real fadeaway in the midpalate that I didn't get with the last one. Odd, but it rouses in the end to a good lime-tinged finish. A slightly creamier version of sauvignon blance, but tasty enough.
Müllër-Cättöïr Scheurebe Häärdtër Mändëlrïng Kabinett 1996: Whee, here's a carnival ride! Aggressive notes of tropical fruits & kerosene jump right up my nose and jangle my brainpan. A taste, and I recheck the label to make sure it's a Kabinett, because it's easily Spatlese-sweet, with sharp acidity battling side-by-side with the sweetness in a slightly waxy, mango/citrus-tinged body. This wine is wacky and all over the place, but eminently likeable for being a bit of a freak.
Grunhäuser Hërrënbërg Riësling Spatlësë 1998: Very pale, almost colorless; tight nose, some green-appley hints, swirl, swirl, it's not giving much up, hints of honey and white flowers. Hmmm. A taste, and hello, some zingy tongue-yanking acidity kicks in, causing an involuntary puckering. Lightly sweet (not as sweet as the Kabinett above), racy and aggressive lemon-lime flavors ride the wave of acidity into a bright puckery lip-smacking finish.
Remelluri Bianco 1997: I am assured by reliable (if anonymous) sources that this contains various and sundry grapes of a contraband nature (viognier, xynisteri, lemberger...) . I will take this information to the grave with me. You too, please. But wait, before you do that, here's a pale wine, with some light floral-honeysuckle notes struggling to emerge from under a blanket of smoky vanillin oakiness. On the palate an oak leisure suit nailed onto a frame like Manute Bol. On second thought, this wine's not worth dying for after all.
Deiss Gewürztraminer Altenburg de Bergheim VT 1994: Ah, sweet gewürz--my fatal weakness, my Achilles' heel, subject of my next book Smart Gewürzhounds, Foolish Choices: pale gold color, rich fat gewürzy nose--plenty of lychee, honey & attar. Only lightly sweet, it's soft and round in the mouth--doesn't have the acidity or balance of the 94 SGN, it's a bit oily, a bit flabby, but I forgive it its transgressions, accept its apologies, take it back one more time, and enjoy the rich ripe fruit.
At this point Robin says "I think I'm ready for some red wines," and instantly the whites disappear, replaced by a flood of red gems. Robin is so grateful he immediately shows off the two-handed pouring technique that made him a legend in his own time.
And fake gems, for the first two reds, Delas Crozes-Hermitage 1983 and Delas Chateaneuf-du-Pape 1983 are not something you'd want to put in your crown. The Crozes has a weird, funky, burnt sweet-potato & wet fur nose. What little fruit remains turns brown and bitter and astringent very quickly. Ick. The CdP has a bit more life, with a big stinky ("have you ever been on a chicken farm" asks Robin) nose, some faded red fruit remains but also passes quickly into bitterness. Pour 'em into the sink if you got 'em.
Our confusion and disappointment over these two wines is assuaged only by .sasha's Howard Cosell impression, which seems to lift everyone's spirits in a dark time. We move on.
Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Mountain 1994: Dark garnet. Okay, at least this is wine-related matter. Nose of ripe cassis & smoke--rich and forward-smelling. Tastes smooth as well, cassis-plum fruit coming at me right up front until WHAM a wall of coarse tannins strip-mines my tonsils. Boy, that came out of the blue. Too tannic. Too too tannic. Give it a lot of time. Then give it some more.
Château Pradeaux Bandol 1991: Medium muddy garnet; light nose, hints of muted black raspberry & leather. Lean, elegant Bandol, a bit light in the midpalate, fades a bit at the end, but well-balanced and crisp. A quiet, whispery wine.
Château de Fonsalette Côtes-du-Rhône Réservé 1989: Smells of light redfruit, smoked meat & herbs. Well-balanced & medium-crisp, the fruit is spreading now, feathering out over the palate nicely. Light in body but with a many layers of flavor. Very nice, and ready to go.
Clos des Trufferes Coteaux-du-Languedoc 'Hommage a Max' 1997: Apparently Max is the proprietor's pet oak tree, as this has plenty of lumber packed into it. However, there's a lot of friendly plum-peppery fruit as well. Interestingly, I get more oak on the palate of this wine than I do on the nose, although there's some obvious vanillin aromas. But it tastes woodier than it smells, which is unusual for me. Seems a shame, with all that good fruit that seems to be under here, to douse it so thoroughly with wood.
Now the lights are dimmed.
A hush falls over the room as Oleg, clad in monk's robes, slowly and carefully brings the sacred ark containing the Wine Of The Year to the head of the table. The seal is broken using Robin's own manly-bladed corkscrew, and not a word is spoken as the precious, precious juice is passed from trembling hand to trembling hand.
I briefly consider auctioning my pour off to the highest bidder, but hey, you only live once.
Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 1996: Color of the Year: Dark garnet. Nose of the Year: Candied dark cassis/blackberry & smoky oak. Taste of the Year: Round, fleshy, forward candied plum/blackberry/cassis fruit, bit light on backbone but enough decent acidity to get by, slightly artificial candy-fruity-yeasty flavors, finish is medium-short but dark and ripe. Not a bad $15-20 cab, although a bit redolent of winemaking for my tastes. I don't think I'd buy much of this at $15-20, but I can see how it could be popular, as it's fairly sturdy and clean and the fruit handles the oak pretty well, although it's also fairly characterless.
Anyhoo... we move on to an actual candidate for Wine of the Year, Breton Chinon Les Picasses 1997: Another go at this one only confirms all the good things I said the last time I tasted it--I find this Picasses much more accessible than the 96 at this stage; it even seems a bit rounder than I remember, but still impeccably balanced, rich and full of lean powerful fruit on a supple coiled spine. A Chinon to please someone who isn't the biggest fan of Loire reds, and just delish.
Best's Great Western Thomson Family Shiraz 1997: Best Western? I think I've stayed with them... Anyway, it's a deep purply-black color, plummy vanilla, toasty coconut, yup it's shiraz all right. Chocolatey-plum-pepper in the mouth, forward and oaky and typical. The notion that this is a 'restrained style of shiraz' leads Robin towards musings on the relative nature of the word 'restrained'--"After all, who's more restrained, Bozo or Clarabelle?"
Château Pichon-Longueville-Lalande Pauillac 1986: Medium-dark garnet; blackberry & smoke on the nose, permeated by a musty tang. Corked. I think it's corked. Most everyone thinks it's corked. But .sasha does not. He mounts such a spirited Alamoesque defense of the soundness of this wine that I am compelled to record it for posterity.
Domaine Sainte-Anne Saint-Gervais Cotes-du-Rhone-Villages 1998: Medium-dark garnet, richly saturated color; mmm... aromas of raspberry, smoked meat & black olive reach out to beguile me. A young wine, crisp and richly fruity but showing a lot of layers and finesse. Very, very nice. Wine of the Year.
Quinta do Carvalheis Touriga Nacional 1996: Medium garnet, bordering on medium-dark; cherry, berry & smoke on the nose, with a hint of menthol. Very acidic & tart but it holds your interest. Smoky dark berry flavors on the midpalate, turning into a long licoricey finish. Not terribly pleasurable to me, but interesting.
Breton Bourgueil Les Perrieres 1997: Medium garnet; light berry fruit--soft, medium-bodied, pleasant and balanced. No time, no time. The bottles have been slowly building up into a great big bottleneck right in front of me, and Eden & Steve, the next people down the line to my right, are getting crabby with my slowness. I am not a machine! Leave me my dignity! Here, take 'em, ya speedsters!
Dehesa del Carrizal Cabernet Sauvignon 1995: Classic cassis-green peppery cab nose--forward, light and rich. Tastes soft and round, some forward plummy cassis & pizza herby notes, small and structureless. This is kind of a small, routine wine.
Scheutz Oles Zinfandel Napa Valley Korte Ranch 1996: Medium red color. Elegant, nicely balanced style of zin, almost claretlike, reminds me of a Hendry zin. Very light on the nose, but velvety rich light fruit on the palate moves into a long black-cherry finish. Balanced and lovely, for a cult wine.
Rosenblum Zinfandel Sauret Vineyard 1997: Medium garnet color. Black cherry & raspberry, another fairly light-styled zin that has good rich berryfruit that turns a bit tarry and dilute in the midpalate going into the finish, doesn't have the follow-through of the Scheutz Oles. Some surprising tannins kick in on the finish. Still, pretty decent and balanced.
Lava Cap Zinfandel Reserve El Dorado 1996: Soft in the mouth, black-cherry-chocolate-milkshake in character. Soft, lots of lush black cherry & raspberry-tinged fruit, but a vinous invertebrate, a jellyfish of a zin after the lean and balanced pair above.
Somewhere down at the end of the table, Jeff Connell speaks. I don't hear what he says, but I wish I had.
Château Bourgneuf Pomerol 1995: Medium-dark garnet. Tangy smoky-cherry-coffee nose, slight oregano hint. A big wine, a bit chunky now with wood sticking out at odd places and the flavors not melding well, but lots of tight dark red fruit. Give it a few years.
Now is the very sweeting time of night upon us. We begin lightly, with a Pinon Vouvray Moelleux 1er Trie 1996: Minerals, light lemon & rainwater nose, pretty and velvety-vivid smelling. This wine has impeccable balance, lightly sweet, not a dessert wine, but a highwire act balancing crisp acidity, vivid stonyfruity flavors and small sweetness into a seamless and rich package that manages to be light and rich at once. Lovely.
Quinta do Infantado Vintage Porto 1997: Dark purply-black. Brambly-nettley-raspberry reduction sauce nose. A dense and tight wine, hard and a bit unyielding. Not as overwhelming as the 97 Niepoort, this is a slightly smaller-scaled version. Very rich, fairly sweet and full-bodied, hard & tannic, a bit much now, but there's lots of potential here a few years/decades down the line.
Gould Campbell Vintage Porto 1980: Deep garnet, very slight browning around the rim. On the nose, toffee, muted raspberry & caramel. Soft & fleshy in the mouth, the edged of this wine have gone soft and feathery while the core is still rough and grainy. Slightly medicinal-Robitussiny, a soft, open wine with a lot of sweetness and a lot of accessible, if slightly simple flavors.
Oh, yeah, that Nigl Urgesteins-Riesling Kremser Ried Kremsleiten 1997 finally makes it back around the table. A sniff, and there's a limestony-floral nose, vivid and bright & exciting. Crisp mineral-tinged flavors, light hints of gardenia. Stern, very lightly sweet, a racy wine that turns limey on the finish. Didn't think this had much chance after the palate-bombing sweeties, but it cut right through the deadness in my mouth. Very nice. Vivid.
There is a 95 La Louviere somewhere, but it never makes it past me (or if it does I'm napping).
And finally, the piece de resistance, Robin has brought his highly-allocated stash of Moet Nectar Imperiale NV Demisec. We all wait breathlessly, our glasses poised, as Eden pops the cork. Pours all around! We toast our electronic host and savor the sweet, impossible-to-find nectar. I won't burden you all with yet another note on this one, but suffice to say we were all quite moved, none more so than Joe, who held his glass up to the light and wistfully compared the fat bubbles to "catfish floating up after the dynamite." I couldn't have summed up better myself.
With that grand gesture we all fall into each others arms and sing 'Auld Lang Syne' before breaking up and heading out into the Manhattan night, leaving a trail of destruction in our wake.
Bless us, every one.