This past weekend, local philanthropist and wine legend Andrew Scott, together with his studious new bride, Jennifer Munro Clark, were somehow tricked into allowing your humble narrator and Frau LisŠ, along with the ever-irrepressible Bradley Kane, to run roughshod through their once-impeccable home like a passel of wine-crazed baboons, climbing on the furniture, throwing food about and generally behaving poorly. Eventually, the long arm of the law in the form of several New Jersey State Troopers entered the picture...
But I'm getting ahead of myself--that's the END of the evening; let me begin at the beginning...
After careening about the backwoods of Jersey on a geek field-trip to various remote emporia (my most vivid memory of which is Bradley being seemingly unable to master the device which held his front seat in place and insisting on sleigh-riding forcefully into my lap every time Andrew braked), we boys take our new goodies and settle down for a giggly tasting and swatch-comparing session, while the girls settle fixedly in front of the North Carolina basketball game. We bring them snacks and try to engage them in conversation, but we know how our girls get when the 'big game' is on TV, and soon we give up and leave them to their devices.
Before we get to any of the new stuff, I stealthily decant and pour blind a little number that I think has great potential as a QPR gem. It looks young and purpley in Andrew's standard-issue 1000-ml. Erlenmeyer flask decanter, richly colored, redolent of peppery cran-raspberry and smokiness. A few guesses come in... syrah? Nope. Petite sirah? Nope. Zin? Nope. Tastes meaty and crisp, with a pleasant tartness to the fruit and a nice acidic backbone. Coming into the finish, the fruit turns a bit dark (what Andrew calls a 'coffee-crunchy finish') and there are some gritty young tannins. Nice stuff for $8.99, plenty of character. Okay, it's Altos Los Hormigas Malbec Mendoza 1999, and, although no mind-blower, it offers serious bang for the buck.
That bit of zany madcapperish tomfoolery being done, we proceed to some whites to while away the womanless hour or so until the game is over.
Château d'EpirŽ Savennieres cuvée Speciale 1996: Pale tan-gold color. Honey, apple-juice muck about in the base of the nose while high above a light minty note flits around. The wine is very waxy in the mouth, slightly apple-buttery and seems at first to be a bit limp. At second I decide it's just the waxy quality that makes it seem a bit limp. Then I go back to thinking it IS a bit limp. Then I change my mind, then forget which I just thought. This is the second EpirŽ wine I've had in a month, and I've not quite cottoned to the house style. I keep wondering out loud if this is a damaged bottle, but I am assured it most certainly is not. This is a richly aromatic wine, but I find it mostly puzzling. It's saying something, but I just don't read it, man.
Château Carbonnieux Pessac-Leognan 1998: Pale straw color with a decided greenish cast; some nice vivid grassy sauvignon fruit here, buried under a blanket of creamy toasted lumber. Creamy lemon-lime and toast. Too young and oak-dominant now for me--I would say this needs a lot of time. We are, however, collectively tickled by the hologram on the back of the label that twinkles merrily at us through the greenish fluid inside the bottle. It's like Crackerjack! What will they think of next, these wacky Bordelais...?
Lingenfelder Freinsheimer Goldberg Riesling Auslese 1998: Medium straw color; I smell it, and it's like I'm back in the islands--tropical-fruit, pineapple, mango and especially guava emerge to shake hands with my nose. A lightly sweet Auslese, it's very clean and crisp in the mouth, if a bit thinner and less expressive than the lushly fruity nose would have suggested. Pretty nice.
Andrew raids his fridge and emerges with a long-open bottle of CorbilliŹres Touraine Sauvignon 1998 and passes it around. Yow! This is the cat's pajamas! That is, if the cat is a bed-wetter, for this just reeks of clear, intense cat-spray, no doubt about it. It's so unmistakable that the giggles begin whenever anyone smells it. I forget to actually taste the stuff, I'm so boggled by the nose.
Well, the ladies have returned in a slightly glum mood, as the good guys seem to have lost the sporting contest. Andrew bustles around, preparing dinner and chasing away neighbor cats who are attempting to leave sauvignon blanc deposits in his garage. Gus, the feline of the house, seems to feel left out of the festivities, so he is quickly liquored-up on catnip, tripping happily in the background. We sit down to dinner and a few reds.
Domaine Pierre AndrŽ Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1994: Nice dark muted raspberry-red nose, soft and pliant, with peppery sweaty-saddle hints (Kane says "...here comes Mr. Ed!") and notes of new-turned earth. Soft and fleshy in the mouth, perhaps a bit too soft, but not quite. Good, quiet, small CdP. While we're making our way through the salad course, there is a sudden explosion of flying lettuce, tomato and carrot from Kane's direction and the table is covered with vegetable matter. We look to Kane for clues to this, and he avers that somehow "the crouton slipped."
Bad crouton! Bad!
We hose down Kane's end of the table and proceed with a side-by-side of reds with the animal flesh (being thankfully free of surly vegetarian-types).
Robert Pecota Cabernet Sauvignon Kara's Vineyard Napa 1994: Deep and dark, with purply-garnet hints at the rim. Pronounced cedar on the nose, along with some nice rich blackcurranty fruit. In the mouth a rich, flavorful cab, more blackcurrants, turning slightly candied and licoricey on the finish, which isn't quite choked off by some gritty tannins. I could do without the cedar, and Lisa calls it "a bit pushy," but I find it a very decent, rich cab that goes very nicely with dead, seared cow bits.
Château Plince Pomerol 1995: Medium-dark ruby color; not too much life in the nose--quiet, smoky-oaky muted herby cassis & graphite aromas. Tastes a bit thin and fruitless, lotsa toast and coal tones, a bit fleshy, not a lot of character. Disappointing.
At some point our crazily meandering conversation veered somehow onto Jennifer's Southern roots, her ancestors' participation in the late rebellion against the Federal Government (or, as she put it, "the War of Northern Aggression") and the St. Andrew's Cross-type Confederate battle flag flying over the Capitol in South Carolina. After a few warring shouts of "Treason! Treason!" and "Damn Yankees!" (or was that me talking to Kane about baseball...?) we unanimously agreed that the wounds from the conflict were simply too fresh to be discussed now, and moved on to more wine and less divisive issues before we refought Antietam all over the Scott's nice dining room table.
Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 1995: Great nose--rich cherry-leather-cedar notes, expressive, layered and sweet-smelling. Tastes fall more clearly into the too-young chianti zone, though, mouth-puckeringly tart, bracingly acidic and grittily tannic. Check back with this in a few years. Okay, a decade.
Andrew suddenly gets a jones on to have another mystery wine, produces another Erlenmeyer flask, and pours.
Mystery Wine #2: Medium garnet; light nose, slight funkiness, bit o'barnyard... candy-cherry.... Tastes bigger than the nose, medium-bodied, with some good tangy, fairly tightly-wrapped berry fruit. Still, it's well-balanced and smooth and goes down easily, with a dark berryish finish. French all the way. I vote for a C™tes-du-Rh™ne. Brad, who seems to like it, says "It's good. I like it, but I don't quite love it." It is revealed as Domaine Savoye Morgon Vielles Vignes 1995, and Andrew demands the date and time be noted (1-15-00: 10:49:22 p.m.), then leads us all in a rousing chorus of "Braaaad liked a Beaujolais, Braaaad liked a Beaujolais..." with Mr. Kane protesting vehemently all the while "I said I didn't love it! I said I didn't love it!" to no avail.
On to some sweets, served with a luscious confection that somehow mystifyingly combined ice-cream with cake(!)
Aigle Blanc Vouvray Moelleux cuvée ReservŽe 1989: pale straw color; lemon-limestone nose; tasting it, I am greeted by happy zingy acidity alongside a passing light sweetness. Not a dessert wine, but a good transition wine. With air, it opens up a bit and turns slightly creamier. Tasty.
Here's a handy tip to all of you apprentice cadges out there: if you can manage to get a few glasses of wine and many cups of espresso into Andrew, in addition to chauffering you around town, feeding & wining you and letting you trash his house and badger his cat, he'll actually start giving out gifts--that's right, suddenly it was like Christmas! I got a beautiful copy of Jancis Robinson's The Oxford Companion to Wine, Kane got a lovely book by an American wine writer named Robert Parker, Lisa got... well, I dunno, maybe a potholder or something. The moral: 'taking advantage of hospitality' is a notion that simply hasn't made it up to these parts quite yet, thank goodness.
Justin 'Obtuse' Paso Robles 1997: ("A 100% cabernet port-style wine"). Okay, I knew the minute I smelled it I was going to be the cheese on this one. Big, velvety-fruity nose, more like a LH zin than any cabernet. Big black cherry. BIG black cherry. If Turley made a 'port'... warm, creamy berries, desserty-sweet but with just enough acidity for me, clear hit of alcoholic heat both on the nose and in the palate, but I have a weakness for this kind of thing and the zinny-Robitussiny fruit is so forward that I don't mind much. It's a freak, but what the hey, I've always liked Freaks. We get into a debate about whether you can ferment cab to 20% alcohol, or whether this is a fortified wine (me: yes, it's fortified, Kane: no, it's not).
Domaine Jo Pithon Coteaux du Layon St. Lambert 1996: Oops. Cooked.
Torga Vintage Porto 1995: Dark red-earthy berryfruit and pepper predominate on the nose; this is a flavorful, lighter style of porto, as if it were one-third table wine--sweet, but not full-on sweet, with nice bracing acidity seeming to bring out the red berry flavors. Very tasty, with a nice earthiness that brings me back down pleasantly after the gonzo Justin.
After stalling and stalling and finding out that the midnight showing of Rocky Horror wasn't playing this week, those of us who had to leave piled into Andrew's car and were chauffered down to the station to wait for the last train back to civilization. And wait. And wait, alternately shivering in the nasty windy cold and being assaulted in Andrew's car by Kane's choice of radio stations. Finally, after a conversation with a local derelict, Andrew, in true saintly fashion, offered to drive us all to that hub of the northeast, Newark New Jersey.
Of course, we got lost.
We had bottles and a corkscrew, but it seemed the better part of valor not to begin the second phase of the tasting in the car. And a good thing, too, for after Andrew finally unloaded us he was interrupted in the middle of an urgent espresso-related stop on the turnpike by some of Jersey's finest. Not to worry, though, everything came out all right. The boys in blue went on their way, leaving our beatific hero feeling seventeen again.