They are waiting for me when I arrive home in the wee hours.
Scraps. Leftovers. Odd lot remnants left on the kitchen table with a note with some version of "We all had a great time tonight--everyone says hi, sent these along for you to see what you missed, see you tomorrow, goodnight..."
I consume them while sitting on the rug, illuminated by the hypnotic blue glow of Larry Sanders and Mr. Show reruns, stewing in my own jeebusless juices while the rest of the east coast sleeps.
I put a tiny chicken pot pie in the oven and settle down with a bag full of bottles with an ounce or two left in them. My mantra: I am a party, I am a party, I am a party...
I'm looking for a promising start, so I pull a Ridge Monte Bello California 1993 first: Medium to medium-dark garnet color. Quiet, soft nose, cedar and tobacco with a hint of coconut over dark cassis, aromatically shy. A small-scale Monte Bello California proprietary wine, balanced and pleasant but lacking in oomph and mouthgrab. Medium-weight stuff that comes off in the piehole as rather dilute, lacking in sustain. I've rarely been disappointed by a Monte Bello California proprietary wine, but this is an exception. I alight briefly on a Salad Shooter infomercial as I sip. Late night ads seem dull these days. Whatever happened to the fellow with the large head who was going to change everyone's life and make them powerful and happy beyond their wildest dreams for a very low introductory fee? I miss him.
It's proprietary wine night at the Coad household as I move on to a Viader Napa Valley 1989: Medium dark garnet color, with a tobacco-drenched cassis nose, sweet and velvety-brown smelling, earthy and interesting with a high hint of bright mintiness. Rich and well balanced, a silky wine that flows well down the gullet, in a pretty good place right now. Only a rather disagreeable burn on the finish keeps this from having its four burlap-wrapped Prongs dipped into a tub full of nice dark English ale and then placed near the radiator to dry, filling the Prongroom with the warm smell of toasted hops and barley.
Tiring of proprietary wines, I reach now for a varietal cabernet sauvignon, a Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Volcanic Hill 1989, and am somewhat surprised to find a very restrained, elegant nose; dark blackberry-cassis fruit and light spicy-toasted cedar, tobacco and earth hints. The tangy subdued fruit seems a bit hollow at first, a touch wan, but it rallies and finishes well, with a certain pleasingly dark reserve and a touch of licorice, as well as sandy tannins. Lacks focus and concentration in the middle, but a decently balanced and nicely layered varietal wine.
It's only now that I notice Lisa asleep on the couch, mostly-empty bottle of Screaming Eagle clutched in her hand, wounded half bottles of Yquem scattered all over the kitchen floor for the cats to play with. Clearly this is the aftermath of one of her Lucullan dates with the Plotnickster. I tease a few bottles out of her handbag and settle back while the freezer pizza warms up.
Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Eisele Vineyard 1994: Medium dark to dark garnet color, deep and dark. Interestingly layered nose that is not effusive but gives a sense of power in reserve; dark concentrated cassis with a graphite streak and hints of black olive and smoke. A tightly coiled, racy wine with a strong spine of acidity and tight layers of red fruit that moves from a tart cran-raspberry up front to a dark raspberry-slate flavor as the minerality emerges in the midpalate and flows into toasty-coffee tarriness on the long finish. Quite tight now, but it's a mouthfiller with good highs and lows, well honed and deep without being massive or clumsy. Seamless up until the rather aggressive smoky-oaky tannic finish, this needs time but seems quite promising.
Galleron Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1994: A classic Napa cab nose, juicy dark cassis, coffee and cedary woodshop hints. A sip, and you're greeted with a big burst of dark planky red fruit, dense and friendly, that simply stops dead more than finishes. Slightly soft, very ripe, chunky, a solid big ol' foursquare woody cab that could well be called routine but has a certain St. Bernard-puppyish appeal. I do have a soft spot in my heart for big, clumsy Napa cabs, and this appeals to that spot, but it's quite a gawky wine. I think it may even wear overalls.
Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 1996 is an ogre, a hugely fruity, hugely oaky beast that inspires a quiet 'yeep' upon first sniffage. Muddy dark purply-garnet color. Taxonomically classified as vitis cultifera, the fruit hasn't the glossy candied quality that often turns me off to some of its culty brethren, nor does it have the ticklish complexity of Lisa's pet Harlan Estate proprietary wines nor the focus and purity of Shafer or Araujo cabernets at their best; it's quite simply an unreconstructed bigass hootie of a wine, brawny and slightly startling.
I hear a rustle, and see Lisa eyeing me sleepily from the couch. She cuts right to the chase: "What do they do to grapes to get them to taste like this?" My response: "I haven't the faintest idea." Rough grained and rich, with a light hint of dill and undercurrents of graphite and cedar fronting a wall of dark brickdust-textured cassis, it actually has a curious kind of balance, in the sense that everything is on a very large scale and all the elements are oversized and slightly freakish, an NFL linebacker in tights and toe shoes. A great big, matte-textured, meaty-oaky redfruity wine that impresses with sheer heft and density but, apart from being just plain odd, is way too young to drink now, although I do keep sipping out of sideshow curiosity. Will it ever smooth out, or will its overblown pieces just collapse under their own weight? Slightly larger and more sandy-tannic than the 1995, which it resembles in most other respects. The specter of gigantism rears its outsized head, but I actually grow to enjoy it (as witnessed by my persistent Turleyphilia I have a weakness for bigass hooties). It is certainly a good match with Tombstone pepperoni pizza--the tangy tomato sauce helps mute the disjointedness--and the Mr. Show 'Jeepers Creepers' musical extravanganza.
Mr. Show is over and there's some dumb comedy special on next. I flip around a bit, no not The Matrix yet again god save me from Keanu, and settle momentarily on yet another viewing of American Beauty, which I pick up three-quarters of the way through, on the final day of Lester Burnham's life.
To the strains of The Seeker... I move on to a Château Brane-Cantenac 1982, a wine we've been able to grab cheap, our local retailer tells us, because one of those "points" critic guys (the American writer Robert Parker Jr.?) hated it. People who like wines with "points," he explains, don't want to buy this, because the bottle contains fewer "points" than other wines. Score! Still lovely, although this bottle hasn't quite the vibrancy of others I've had and seems a mite tired around the edges, which are bricking slightly into amber-brownness. It takes a second or two to adjust my noseometer to a different calibration after the Shrieking Grackle, but I smell a pretty mix of light cooked tomato, violets and cedar traces, light and complex in my nostrils, hints of barnyard also in the mix. The first tastal impression is a bit leaner than I'd remembered even after adjusting downwards for the preceding wine, but soon the muted red and black fruit wells up softly in the midpalate and warms into a long, quietly humming finish that just percolates along for a while. Quite nice, quite satisfying if not moving, and, although other recent bottles have shown younger, there is a deep vibrant core at the heart of the wine.
Not quite as satisfying, though, as the Château Cheval Blanc St. Emilion 1964. We were lucky enough to have this on New Year's Eve, and this bottle, apparently having been open for some hours, is showing more fruitcake-spiciness than that one, along with dark toasted-walnut hints and the same note of the bowl of an old meerschaum pipe that hasn't been smoked in decades that you find in a closet in your friend's family's house. Seems as lean at first as the Brane-Cantenac, perhaps even leaner, but comes back stronger with spicy earthy and dried-fruit flavors, cherry-earthy, just taking forever to finish. A slightly weary soldier that has given its all, and bravely too. I would've liked to have tasted this young.
One last Bordeaux, a Château Pichon-Longueville, Comtesse de Lalande Pauillac 1983 is a medium ruby color, ambering slightly at the rim. Smells stony-cedarish over a base of sweet muted cassis and blackfruits. A sip, and it has a pleasant refined velvet-coated hardness at first, smooth sweet dark fruit that develops a very interesting white marble streak, then there is an odd clashing of gears as some unintegrated acidity comes at me somewhat harshly and fights with the fruit, ultimately flowing into a pleasant if quite glassily tannic finish with a bitter-coffee undertone that detracts from the final impression. Good grab and balance, but a bit out of whack, elements out of joint.
I come across a piece of the midsection of The Right Stuff and pause for a moment, as Lisa has something up her sleeve. Turns out to be a Château d'Yquem Sauternes 1988: She's hidden this one and pours it for me blind, and I startle her by calling it the minute it hit my nose (I got lucky with the year). Really, though, it's hard to mistake a wine that so invariably gets me giggling and muttering little happy noises to myself. Here there be gobs. Rich, sensuous aromas, velvety cream custard, vanilla, hay, botrytis, orange rind and honey, more stuff I can't think of now in the first flush of love. A sip, and when it hits the tip of my tongue I feel it in the soles of my feet: thick and concentrated, almost oily, but wonderfully crisp and impeccably balanced, fêtes and fireworks in my mouth. Tongue-coatingly rich and crazily flavorful yet impossibly elegant and reserved: a paradox. Awe-inspiring, the wine I want to drink on my deathbed.
Well, assuming I'll have finished off the '97 Huets by then, of course...
A wise man once said to me "Don't drink Yquem young; you won't get it, and it's a waste of good wine." Well, he's gotten some other advice right, but I get this wine, oh yes o best beloved, right in the solar plexus. Perhaps it will be transcendant in fifty years, but, as another wise man once said: "How could this wine ever be any better?" Soars heavenward along with Ed Harris's John Glenn amid the insistent pulsations of Mars, Bringer of War. Godspeed, little Yquem.
And so to bed.