The email comes in from Kane: "Come on over: I've got SHANKS!"
A few quick rounds of 'Brad, your physical problems are your own concern'-type emails follow before the misunderstanding is cleared up. It turns out this is an invitation to a louche lambshank dinner featuring personal appearances by some of the New York wine world's shadiest characters.
Ever curious, Lisa and I arrive at Bradley's fashionable Upper East Side digs toting our bottles to find the place awhirl with activity: reclusive financier SFJoe is puréeing avocados in the kitchen, Star Chick Sommelier Vanessa Trevi–o Boyd is taking the tour of the premises, slim hipster Asher Rubinstein is knocking on the door, hail hail the gang's all here.
No sign of the promised shanks, but here's something better, a Clos de la Coulée de Serrant (Joly) 1996. Medium-light gold color. Smells rich and appealing, a whiff of almond, paraffin, chalk and honey-lemon. A sip, and it's a big, solid wine, although not the stern monolith of past tastings. Substantial weight, powerful acidic core, seamless construction. Great stuff, lively and delicious, but also showing unexpectedly clear signs of development (though still younger than the wacky '01). When I last tasted this a few years ago I thought it was going to be a fifty-year wine, now I'm not so sure. Joe, concerned, swears that the provenance is impeccable: "Straight from the shelf at Garnet to Chelsea Wine Vault. I guess it's time to pull a few more out of storage," he sighs, "just in case."
I wonder aloud if this might be an example of the supposedly unsulfured 'Schnauzer Cuvée' of the '96 Coulée. The mere mention of this brings nervous titters and sidelong glances from the cognoscenti, but no one will go on record to confirm or deny the longstanding rumors.
Another old friend with a new side to show, here's a Scott-Clark Cellars Muscat Central Valley 'Shellack' 2000. Medium straw-gold color. Smells very floral, white flowers with a hint of attar over a quiet lychee base and a hint of potato-field earthiness. There's a whiff of nail polish remover, but nothing like I remember. Medium-low acidity, wanders into diffuseness in the middle, little bit of roughness on the finish. A quiet, soft wine; dry muscat is not my favorite tipple, but this has benefited from a few years in bottle. The overpowering volatile acidity that (according to the label) inspired the name has definitely receded. I don't know where it went (does VA normally resolve?), but it isn't here now. A surprisingly good showing for a wine that's always been an oddball. It's funny, every time I write a Scott-Clark wine off it will come back and show well in front of a crowd, as if to spite me.
I take this informal opportunity to attempt my first public use of the Miller Locution, which I've been practicing at home.
I clear my throat significantly. Heads turn, abrupt silence.
I try to keep my voice level as I recite the magic words: "May we please have a receptacle into which we can pour our excess wine?"
Works like a charm, the spit buckets appear as if by magic. Boy, this is going to be useful; that Jay Miller is a friggin' genius.
SFJoe being here, we've got the obligatory gruner, this time a Högl Gruner Veltliner Ried Schön Wachau Smaragd 2002. Pale, almost colorless. Sharp, minerally nose, stones dipped in ripe pear juice with a bit of a green-pea streak underneath. Rich and focused, a well-honed wine with serious structure that gives the initial impression of leanness, quickly dispelled by the racy musculature that flexes self-admiringly in the midpalate. A taut-bellied wine that seems to enjoy its own reflection, this makes a very decent match with Brad's lobster-mango salad with avocado dressing.
Another product of Joe's ongoing cellar-turnover project, here's a Kalin Cellars Chardonnay Livermore Valley Cuvée W 1992. Slightly cloudy medium lemon-gold color. Smells of butter, stewed apple and nail polish remover. Tastes flat and stagnant, with some unpleasant spiky-tart acidity the only sign of life. This wine is dead, a very poor match with Brad's lobster-mango salad with avocado dressing.
What does the 'W' stand for, I ask?
"Way old," says Asher.
Next up is a Clos Rougeard Saumur Brézé 1999. Medium straw color. Butterscotch and beeswax hints, a vague chalkiness peeps out from underneath. A sip, and it's a dense, compact wine, firm to the point of being unyielding. Showing a great deal of wood and little else, some quiet chalky hints and traces of waxiness. I'm a little less optimistic about this wine than I was a year or two ago. The wooding is abrasive and pervasive, and, quite frankly, unpersuasive: the creamy-waxy tone that held it in check has receded into the background. Probably just closed for business for a few decades. Hold and hold, and cross your fingers. Not a particularly good match with Brad's lobster-mango salad with avocado dressing.
Brad manages to stop the conversation dead in its tracks by straightfacedly declaring himself a metrosexual. Indignant after the storm of hooting and eye-rolling that follows, he produces from his drawer photographs of himself a few incarnations ago, indeed looking buff and snappy enough to possibly be a bench-warmer on Queer Eye. The point "At least you'd actually know something about wine, as opposed to the guy they have now" is conceded. But stop admiring your old self and get crackin' with the shanks, will you please?
While Brad races into the kitchen to get the shanks moving, I entertain the crowd with speculations on the potential outrage that would follow one of the Fab Five's being outed as a heterosexual. It's interesting and a relief to see that the popular culture has just about caught up to, say, my senior year in high school.
Back on track with a Claude Courtois Romorantin les Cailloux du Paradis 2000. (There doesn't seem to be a vintage designation anywhere on the bottle, but Connell says it's the 2000, so I'll live with that.) Medium gold color. Mmm, interesting flowery-spicy nose: fragrant gardenia, light honey, minerals, a dusting of cinnamon. "Hyacinth!" declares Vanessa. I want to agree or disagree, but can only confess my ignorance: I've never stopped to smell the hyacinths. Tastes surprisingly plush, almost squishy; a warm wave of honey-spicy flavors washes over my tongue, there's a hint of oxidative character, all couched in viscous, almost oily flesh. A strikingly individual wine, velvety and lush but rather uncharacteristic for romorantin; this could almost be pinot gris, or perhaps a Zind-Humbrecht version of romo. Where's the domineering acidity? At any rate, it makes a great match with Brad's lobster-mango salad with avocado dressing.
Lisa and Joe lapse into arcane chemistry talk, titrating for all they're worth. I'm not one of those guys who gets off on his wife titrating with other men, but it's a curiously compelling spectacle: Socratic in style, heads down, pencils scribbling little drawings of molecules. Eventually it becomes so heated that all other conversation stops and the rest of us just watch blankly until whatever problem exists is mercifully put to rest.
No shanks being forthcoming yet, we plunge forward with reds, first a Marqués de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Rioja Gran Reserva 1994. Joe sniffs at it dubiously: "Smells like it wants to be a Pi–a Colada when it grows up...." Indeed, there is a good whiff of coconut hovering above the high-toned blackcurranty base. Taut, vivid, woody and tightly wrapped, it's a very young wine, albeit one that has good focus and balance. Yes, there's a bit of acetone, but not enough to put me off. Hard to judge now, give it time. Clashes horribly with Brad's lobster-mango salad with avocado dressing.
Hey, here's a Mystery Wine: Bit of funk right up front, some dark toastiness, cranberry-raspberry hints, touch of pine needles. Tastes dark and smoky, medium acidity, fairly classical in style; medium weight and well put together. I'm thinking maybe lesser-vintage Bordeaux with a good dose of cab franc, and end up guessing '93 Angelus.
So what is it? Turns out it's the Abadia Retuerta Pago Negralada 1996. Hm, didn't see that one coming. Hit the continent right on the head, though, so I give myself a good pat on the back. The decade, too. Damn, I'm good.
Joe accidentally tips a glass with his elbow and makes a quick recovery by grabbing the stem, thereby urging the contents of the bowl to swirl in a graceful arc right onto his shirtfront. An extremely efficient system of wine delivery: the glass, still upright, is quite empty. He excuses himself for a moment and returns wearing one of Brad's T-shirts.
Having been stymied by the Abadia Retuerta, I turn the tables and pour my own Mystery Wine Number Two. Medium garnet color. Lightly layered aromatics, quiet cassis, crushed brick, graphite, pinecone, calm and warm-smelling. Medium-bodied and earthy-red, with a rather easygoing, loose quality, an amiable wine that rolls straight down the middle of the road--medium ripe, medium acidity, medium weight. The structure is sufficient, there's enough acidity and some quiet tannins. Almost elegant in its mediumness, darkly redfruity at first, turning towards graphite minerality in the middle, then finishing with a barky-earthy hum.
This one baffles everyone, the opinions split halfway between Pauillac ("lots of lead pencil") and Napa; when I rule those out we move through the Rhône, the Languedoc, Italy and Greece before I finally just say, "Okay, it's from SPAIN, all right?" at which point the first guess is "Anywhere but Priorat."
Seems like a good time to unveil it as the Daphne Glorian Clos Erasmus Priorat 1997. Interestingly, some time in bottle has been kind to this wine. It's always been light for a Priorat ("Where are the candied gobs of plum and blackberry?! The toasty new oak?!"), but that just brings it nicely into the realm of elegance and balance. The puppyish layer of loose redfruity fat that it had on release has receded, allowing a decent core of quiet acidity to make itself known. I'm told this is a wine much scorned by the goblover crowd, which would explain its popularity tonight.
Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco 1985. Medium red color. Lightly aromatic, saddle leather and preserved cherry with some light band-aid brettiness. Tastes light and lively, a supple little wine that comes at you quietly, then impresses with purity and sustain more than complexity or power. Goes very poorly with Brad's lobster-mango salad with avocado dressing.
Brad, where are the damn shanks?
No shanks, not yet. Instead we've got a Monarchia Nimród II Eger Cuvée 2000. What the heck is this? Nimrod II? An ESPN promotion? ("Without wine, who would cheer for the Nimrods?"). No, it's wine from Hungary. Hmmm. Medium-dark garnet color. Smells ripe and jammy, black cherry and smoke, like wine candy. Tastes jammy as well, with blowsy black cherry fruit coming right at you, then turning diffuse and vague while at the same time some pointy acidity jabs at the underside of my tongue. Flabby on top, spiky underneath. Ripe and simple and a bit of a mess, simply bloody awful with Brad's lobster-mango salad with avocado dressing.
A much better match is the Domaine de Marcoux Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes 1995. Medium cloudy ruby color, bricking at the rim. Smells rootsy, a pronounced yam streak in the leathery cherry-kirsch aromatics. The flavors spread out softly on my tongue: it's a fleshy wine with a big presence and perhaps a gob or two. Loose at the edges, cohesive at the core, it seems like it's quite ready to drink. Pleasant and easy to drink.
Vanessa being present, I take the opportunity to cast aspersions on the New York Times tasting panel, which invariably strikes me as a useless mishmosh of vague statements and contradictory opinions ("Asimov thought the wine 'flowery' and 'fat,' Hesser thought it 'stony' and 'bland'... etc.) She doesn't rise to the bait, deftly changing the subject to her misadventures with the Doghead and general puzzlement at Brad's taste in furniture (especially that rococo mirror that's propped up against the wall in the living room), then detailing the complications involved in arranging a large formal dinner for Marc Ollivier when he's next in town. Or something like that, I forget the details, the point being that a man may work from sun to sun, but a Star Chick Sommelier's work is never done.
Here's a Vinum Cellars Mourvedre El Dorado County 1999, and damnit, it's corked. Rather annoying, because I know these folks have gone over entirely to synthetics in recent years: just our luck this one is from the days before they wised up.
Hey, someone's opened up a J.L. Chave Hermitage 1988. Smoky. Very smoky. Quiet aromatics: dark hints of black olive, violets and iodine mixed into a base of muted brickberry fruit. Bracing acidity, fine sense of composure, rather severe at the moment. The finish is especially rough, a fast ride down a gravel road with no shock absorbers. Maybe if we had some food, but unfortunately I've finally exhausted my supply of Brad's lobster-mango salad with avocado dressing.
No sign of the shanks and we've run out of dry wines, so we start on the sweeties, with a Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito 1997. Light leatherberry aromatics, hints of earth and black olive. A sip, and it tastes smooth and a bit simpler than it smells: light sweetness, matte cherry fruit, dark licorice streak wells up in the middle and lingers on the finish. There's a pleasant feathery quality to this wine, lightly caressive as it slides down my gullet. My initial impression of insubstantiality gives way to a rather tickled sense of warm earthiness. Pretty nice little wine, subtle and sneaky-smooth.
There's nothing else sweet on the table, so I start whimpering "Braaaaad, bring us something sweet... Braaaaaad, Braaaaad, we need something sweet..." and so on. Vanessa calls me a brat, but it works, for here comes a Château Pierre-Bise Quarts de Chaume 1996. Medium gold color, ambering slightly at the rim. Smells rich and vividly fruity, lots of lemon/apricot/lilikoi notes laced with orange rind and a touch of hay. Tastes big, glossy and crisp, a firmly-packed mouthful of sweet sweet chenin. I've always liked this wine, which I find to be the most robust of Papin's '96 sweeties and the only one that seems to have a soup¨on of botrytis. It's got some development but it's holding up nicely, still very poised for all its size and density.
The shanks finally arrive sometime just before midnight, all we have left to drink with them is a Huet Vouvray Cuvée Constance 1989. This is as always a wonderful, intensely flavorful wine, but this bottle isn't quite firing on all cylinders, not as vivid and vibrant as it ought to be. The usually phosphorescent pineapple-lemon fruit seems more laced with marmalade than usual, a little more advanced, and the botrytis has faded into the body of wine instead of hovering spicily above. Still, even a slightly off '89 Constance is a delight, layered and impeccably balanced and beautifully complex and seductive, a class act all the way.
Wonderful wine, but not the best match with lamb.