It's all a bit of a blur. We began the evening meeting up with Andrew Munro, Jennifer Clark and cousin Tony Scott (bigshot vigneron at Scott-Clark) at a funky little wine bar in Manhattan's historic East Village. There we downed several glasses of prosecco and a nameless woody lagrein while listening to Tony bitch at great length about volatility in his dry muscat. Tony, in his Grateful Dead/Lithuanian Basketball t-shirt, fits right into the funky scene, although I think he scared Lisa by swearing eternal vengeance on the people at the unnamed winery (it starts with a 'P') who were supposed to provide him with some used barrels for his first-ever cabernet release, but abruptly reneged.
After a brief dissociative period (which involves sitting next to Sarah Jessica Parker at an Amish comedy and letting Andrew win at billiards) we reconvene at the Temple of Dionysos, aka Ch‰teau Connell, for a period of sitting jeebis with assembled luminaries from the New York metropolitan area.
By the time we arrive the crowd has been in deep jeeb for some time, so I compound my usual slowness with my usual lateness to arrive comfortably at my usual shoddiness. There were the usual suspects, plus some friendly new faces, most of whom I either ignore or am forced to stiff-arm out of the way if they block my access to the bottles. Takers of serious notes on serious wines, after all, have no time for idle chatter.
Mr Connell, knowing that we would be late, brings a tray with the evening's white wines arranged in the order that SFJoe has dictated that we taste them. Then, in his ongoing campaign to speed me up, he sets the stopwatch going.
Quickly now, here's a Huet Vouvray Petillant 1995, which was decanted for several hours. The aeration has caused a slight loss of petillance but there's a fair amount of petilling going on nonetheless. The wine seems to have put on a little weight since last we met, seems to have filled out a little, gotten more... more... ah... Hm. No, no, no, scratch that, I've mistasted. A clear mistaste, my bad. Turns out that it's pretty much the same after all. Starting off an evening with a mistaste is not auspicious, but we all have days like that.
Here's a Chêteau d'Epiré Savennières 1994: Pale to medium gold. Light apricot and mandarin-orange citric notes over a base of quiet honey. Somewhat limpid, not terribly concentrated, crisp, with a lightly oily feel in the piehole, slightly oxidizated. Decent, unremarkable. Shrug.
Tick... tick... tick...
The Konzelmann Riesling Late Harvest Niagara Peninsula 1995 is a pleasant surprise. Smells lightly grapefruity-limey, tastes easy and smooth, spatlese-sweet, with plenty of simple, friendly flavor. There's good balance, no perceptible minerality in the background, more of a forward-bright style of riesling, but I like it as much as I've liked any Canadian semi-dry riesling from the difficult 1995 vintage.
Why not assay a Pierre Overnoy Arbois Pupillin Savagnin 1998? It smells like lemony soil, earthy, with hints of yellow and a smoky-mezcal streak. Tastes shrill and agressively tart, sharply honed and smoky-puckery, more sensation than taste, with a knifelike finish that just won't stop. I opine aloud that I can't understand why the wine press goes crazy for this stuff, it's never done much for me; as a result I am given the silent treatment by several of the faithful, and later I will find that my shoes have been shockingly vandalized. Not that I'm accusing anyone, just stating the facts.
Domaine Alfonse Choufleur Gris de Toul 'Jardin de Lutz' 1999: I know there was some talk among the Louis/Dressner brain trust of making this cuvŽe an official Buster, but the irascible M. Choufleur wouldn't bite. Still, it's got all the hallmarks--fuller and deeper than the regular bottling, with white-floral and pit fruit hints rising easily from the glass. Riper than last year's version (although that's not saying much), with almost-stern acidity but enough fruit to clothe it with a layer of velvetiness. A bit rough, but not bad at all.
F.X. Pichler Loibner Gruner Veltliner 1994: An oddly dark shade of gold. Indeed, gruner madeira.
Clos du Poyet Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sûr Lie Vendanges Manuelles 1997: Pale, almost colorless. Smells rocky, chalk and white coral chips, with white-flowery notes that catch my nose and beguile it. A sip, and it's surprisingly robust, quite ripe, almost fleshy in the chowhole, with a strong backbone surrounded by velvety fruit. Impressive, an imposingly silky Muscadet that flows richly into a sustained white-flowery finish. A muscadet for fans of bigass hooties. As the kids like to say: this wine rocks!
Albert Pic Chablis 'Pic 1er' 1990: A little thin, a little oaky. Light flavors. Watery. Not very good.
F.X. Pichler Gruner Veltliner Dźrnsteiner Kellerberg Smaragd Wachau 1999: Pale straw-gold color. Smells lightly tropical and white-peppery, pineapple, banana hints, very rich in the nostrils. Tastes robust, a big bruiser of a wine, full of deeply flavorful fruit and with a glyceriney feel as it blusters its way down my throat. Yow, I see why SFJoe decreed that this one be the last of the whites. Great stuff, perhaps a little topheavy, but it's hard not to be impressed by it.
The alarm sounds just as I finish off the last of the Pichler, and everyone relaxes perceptibly. SFJoe's kind friend Sharon vacates her place at table, allowing me a sample of Mr. Connell's delicious all-taupe menu, and the conversation takes its usual relaxed turn towards cult wines, circumcision and TV's Mr. Rogers.
Sharon doesn't understand the whole Overnoy 'cult wine' phenomenon, and there are many tortured attempts at explication until finally Andrew crystallizes it with "Imagine the Hula Hoop--but there's only TEN of them."
This seems to do the trick.
No time to socialize: the reds await.
Grande River Vineyards Syrah Colorado 1997: Bit of nail polish or plastic over smoked candy-cherry fruit. Seems interesting upon first tastage, somewhat anemic candied cherry fruit hits your tongue, but veers into a ravine of astringency and bitter wood tannins. Not good.
Pernot Volnay Carelles 1992: Smoky, lightly barny-funky aromas, dark earthy-cherry fruit hints. Tastes lean, cranberry-cherry suffused with earth and cloves. Good acidity, quite crisp, a small, lean wine that is pleasantly layered and bright. This is the wine that Dressner said to avoid; tonight he eats his words. And, I might add, they go very well with the wine.
Domaine de L'Oratoire St. Martin Cairanne Cote du Rhone Villages Cuvée Serious Prestige 1999: Smells dark and ripe, raspberry, blackberry and yeasty-smokiness. Ripe, young, slightly candied impression, oaky, tannic. Seems good, but quite harsh now--needs time for all the elements to integrate.
Why does Mr. Connell have dozens of stacks of pennies arranged on his end table in curious patterns? I ask aloud. Shhh, I am told, it's biodynamie.
I might have known.
Joey Taluau St. Nicolas de Bourgueil Vielles Vignes 1996: Muddy medium ruby color. This is much warmer and looser than I'd have expected; there's brick dusty tobacco- and cranberry-edged fruit that settles earthily on my tongue in a light matte layer. The whip-strong spine makes its presence known in the midpalate as the baseline turns from brown-spicy earthiness towards a gravelly minerality, with a long buzzy finish. I had planned to not touch another bottle of this stuff for ten more years, but this one makes me reconsider; perhaps I'll give one a shot in seven.
Konzelmann Gamay Noir Niagara Peninsula 1997: Medium-light garnet, with tutti-frutti strawberry aromas over a light earthiness. Tastes a bit wan, lacks concentration. Seems serviceable, though, but turns towards bitterness on the finish. Still, I'm not sure I've had a better Canadian gamay. Or another Canadian gamay.
Tony asks to borrow my notebook, which makes me nervous as it leaves me open to have people attempt to converse with me. He writes something in it, then gets lost in conversation until I finally have to snatch it back, possibly jeopardizing my position on the mailing list. I look, and he has written:
3. Richie Greenburg"
None of which makes any sense to me at all, but it is now very clear that he is related to Andrew.
The crowd gets apprehensive at the appearance of a Flowers 'Perennial' California 1997, but there are mutterings of surprise when it is passed around. Dead medium red color, smells of ripe raspberry and plum, with smoky-toasty bass notes. This wine, very tight on release, has opened up nicely. The zin is dominant in this blend, but there's a certain plumminess as well. Turns smoky-tarry on the short finish. Too oaky, but not the horrorshow that many of the other Flowers wines I've tasted have been--this one is drinkable enough, if a strange combination of oddness and generic ripe red-oakiness. Tony declares it "Weird," but it's the best wine I've had from this producer.
Hoping for better things, I try a Domaine LŽchenaut Chambolle-Musigny 1998. It too is too oaky, with smoky cherry aromas and hints of vanilla. Tangy and crisp, with robust bright red cherry fruit, but it's fairly simple and too woody for me.
We watch Dressner fall asleep on the couch. It's a beatific scene.
Here's a Joseph Swan Côtes du Rosa Russian River Valley 1996, a wine that Kane is trumpeting as his latest discovery. It's a medium-dark garnet color, with jammy red-berry and plum aromas with a hint of eucalyptus singing high soprano. Quite ripe and meaty-textured, well balanced and correct, with a pleasantly rough mouthfeel. Dressner wakes up long enough to complain that it smells like "that yeast they all use in Cotes-du-Rh™nes, that LC-201 stuff," but it's a pretty decent Cotes-du-Rh™ne imitator in the New World style, and would be a pretty good buy at $8 or $9.
Another go at the Gorelli Rosso di Montalcino 1997, and it's a pleasant young whippersnapper, velvety plum-cherry smelling over a background of sod and bomber jacket. Firmly packed yet pleasantly smooth now, with a good spine and firm, proud buttocks. Good stuff, although the tannins sneak up and rassle with your tongue on the finish. Give it a little time, say seventeen months.
SFJoe and Sharon have had their coats on for the better part of an hour, trying with increasing desperation to get out the door. But just as they finally begin to say their goodbyes and make a run for the door Mr. Connell cannily heads them off at the pass with a bottle of Huet Vouvray Cuvée Constance 1989. The wine is showing very atypically tonight in that there is no trace of corkiness, breaking a two-year streak of consistently tainted '89 Huets of one stripe or another. Without the usual TCA the wine shines like a beacon, lighting up the inside of my glass with vibrant smellies and tasties: pure pineapple, apricot and botrytis, dessert-sweet but only just, with a whiplike acidic spine behind creamy dreamy fruit and spicily noble rottiness. It's a tremendous relief to finally taste this the way it was meant to be tasted; it's a philosopher-king among wines.
We thank our most accommodating host profusely, and retire to what Tony insists is "the coolest bar in New York City," a place in an undisclosed location in the East Village that serves Quinta do Infantado ruby port and shows R-rated cartoons on big screen TVs. Tonight's feature seems to be the 80s classic Heavy Metal, and we eye both the animated naked folks and the magnum of Moët Nectar Imperiale that sits over the bar with wonderment as we sip our port quietly long into the night.