A small but festive gathering of several NY/NJ area winos got together on the Upper West Side at the lovely Café St. John on June 14th, 1999 to explore the wines of the south of France (which sort of ended up meaning everywhere except Bordeaux, Burgundy & the Rhone). Jonathan Herman gets the credit for discovering this little place, across the street from St. John's cathedral, which is in liquor-license limbo for the moment, hence very amenable to our kind of get-together. The prices were very reasonable and the food was more than decent, so any NY wine folks who want a good place to get together might want to head up there before they get their license back!

There was much carousing and mad scribbling being done among the many fervent grapeheads in attendance, so I'm sure there will be many impressions of the evening's wines. Here are my sketchy notes, scribbled down between bites of softshell crab:

Started off with a nice little white, Mas Julien Coteaux du Languedoc 1996: bright & spritzy, with touches of honeysuckle & citrus on the nose, slightly round mouthfeel, a slight butteriness to it, yet nicely crisp & easy-drinking. Very pleasant.

Another white came around the table, Château Helene Corbieres Cuvée Penelope 1996: striking, sweet nose of honeydew melon & mineral; light, low-acid, apple-juicy, slight tartness on the finish.

The whites were moving quickly, so I was scribbling as fast as I could; another came at me: Château Jolys Jurancon Sec 1996: Slightly funky nose, coconut & wax, with some kind of animal funk in there. In the mouth a bit of butteriness, but also some good crispness, apple-betty notes.

I'm not getting much of a handle on these whites, and here come the reds already. Okay, slow down, breathe....

Château de Lascaux Coteaux du Languedoc 1995: Medium garnet; rich, cherry/menthol/chocolate nose; tight, with nice cherry/berry flavors; fairly rich & deeply flavored--bit of Robitussin floats up from the glass--nice firm tannins... this has kind of a nice zin-like thing going that I like a lot; not complex, but rich and nicely flavorful.

Château La Coste Coteaux D'Aix en Provence 1986: Medium-light ruby; nice, complex, interesting nose--smoky, a touch bacony, perhaps, muted cherry notes along with a slight hint of eucalyptus and just a soupcon of barnyard to round things out. Smooth, light & complex in the mouth, delicate and flavorful, with some fairly firm but light tannins easing in. Lisa and I brought this one, and frankly, it surprised us: the twin of this bottle started out much like this, then fell apart rapidly. We kept waiting for the fruit to fade, but we waited in vain....

Domaine des Terrisses Gaillac 1995: 80% Braucol (Braucol?), 20% Syrah. Ahhh, the classic Braucol nose... bright cherry, with undertones of smokyness. Tart cherry flavors rush the palate, then melt away a bit; firm fine tannins. Kind of sharp in the mouth--does it need time?

Domaine Gauby Cotes du Roussillon 1994: Blueberry & smoky bacon notes on the nose. Light, smooth & round mouthfeel; pleasant & grittily tannic, a little fat.

Château De Gueyze Buzet 1993: Medium ruby; muted cassis/earthy/light green bean; pleasant enough Bordeaux-type flavors, but it too is a little fat, a bit limpid. Just kind of sits in the mouth. Light, fine tannins. Where's the spine?

Prieuré de St. Jean de Bebian Coteaux du Languedoc 1989: Mmm, smoky/bacony nose, with muted raspberry notes; rich in the mouth, meaty & smooth, raspberry/smoky flavors with light gritty tannins, but (and I feel like a bit of a broken record) just a bit round, a touch fat for me. Still, a very tasty, flavorful wine, and the one I went back to when the night was winding down.

Château de Cayrou Cahors 1990: Muted cherry/earthy flavors; slightly round in the mouth, okay, I'm starting to see a theme developing here. Not much of an impression, I'm afraid.

Château Les Ifs Cahors Cuvée Prestige 1994: Okay, finally some spine. Crisp earthy cherry/tobacco & bright lettuce-water notes; tart, toasty & slightly oaky, but good grip & firm tannins.

Château Bouscassé Madiran 1995: Deep purple; rich blackberry/band-aid nose; in the mouth rich, fierce & sharply tannic; mostly black, but a hint of redfruitiness. Tannins aren't over-overdone, merely overdone, but I confess to a weakness for these kinds of wines; after all, in these high-tech times tooth enamel can always be replaced....

Château Montus Madiran Cuvée Prestige 1993: Dark, dark garnet, actually not as black/purple as the Bouscassé; nose of rich blackberry/earth/burnt-rubber/fir tree smells, with only a trace of tannat bandaidyness; very rich & concentrated, startlingly tannic, mouth-drying. Not exactly pleasurable, but strangely captivating. A very unusual wine, more complex that the monolithic inky-black beast I'd been expecting. I hadn't found this earthy/green streak in any of the few Montus wines I'd had before. Go figure.

So that was the lot of 'em. Quite an assortment of styles and characters, with nary a real dog in the batch, in my opinion. I found a few in a row there a bit flabby, but others had no problem with that at all. It was interesting coming across the Buzet wine, which seemed very Bordeauxish, and watching it get a 'been-there/done-that' reaction from several of the people around me.

The Madirans were a little tough; really interesting wines, but, as I said, more captivating than truly pleasurable. When the tasting was done and we were lingering over dessert I poured myself a little more of the St. Jean de Bebian and the Ch. La Coste.

Well, as the night ended with the sight of a dozen wine geeks running their tongues over their teeth trying desperately to moisten them, we all headed out into the warm Manhattan night a bit tipsier and a bit wiser for our foray through the south of France.

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