(With apologies to the international contingent, who will once again most likely find my annual tribute to our national game to be utter gibberish....)
New York, for the space of a week or two this fall, turned into baseball central. The two remaining local teams were involved in a contest for the championship, turning brother against brother, tearing families apart and capturing the attention of even those who wouldn't know a slider from a splitter if they had a diagram.
What has this got to do with wine? Not a helluva lot, but it certainly gives us an excuse to dip into the stash for some goodies to either a) celebrate a victory, b) console ourselves after a defeat or c) numb ourselves until it's time for the next game.
So we gather around our wide-screen televisions and don our lucky game garb to jeebus the night away as the days of October whirl away one by one and the dark night of the wintry, endless offseason approaches as inevitably as death, taxation, or the Y*nkees having the highest payroll in the game.
We begin chez Lisa.
Andrew has brought along a special treat for us. We are to be treated to a special preview of what is in my opinion one of the finest unwooded California chardonnays being made today. He unscrews the top of what looks like a medical specimen jar and pours us all a generous splash of Scott-Clark Cellars Chardonnay Central Coast 2000. This is not the 'Pigeon' luxury cuvéee, at least not yet, but some of it may go into the final blend. It's a pale yellow-gold color, and offers up placid, restrained notes of yellow apple and pear with light butterscotchy hints--several of us smell this and question the 'no oak' statement, but we're assured that it comes entirely from the new program of extended lees contact that they've been toying with this year. A sip, and it's jarringly large and rich, surprising to me after the light, elegant 1999. This year's version rings in at a whopping 14.5% alcohol, reflecting the unusually warm growing conditions, and it's a mouthfiller, robust and weighty, leesy and richly creamy, finishing with a fine apple-pear flourish. Perhaps a bit shy in the acidity department, but happily gobular and lush. Quite a departure for this adventurous producer, but it's an exciting experiment that has the room buzzing. Triple off the left field wall, rattling around in the corner before the left fielder can corral it, headfirst slide into the bag just beating the throw.
A new release, a Philippe Naddef Marsannay Rosée 1999, enters the scene just in time for winter, the prime season for rosée. It's a pretty light garnet color, pinking slightly at the rim, and displays lightly beety-cherry-earthy fruit. There's some pinot character evident here, it's like a Burgundy cooler, with supple pale red/pink fruit tinged with clovey earthiness. There are some very light, very fine tannins on the finish. A pleasant though somewhat insubstantial wine, well balanced and decent. Base on balls.
Here's a Chinon from That Other Raffault, a Jean-Maurice Raffault Chinon Clos d'Isorée 1997: Medium to medium-light garnet color. Hey, this smells like Chinon! Quiet dark cherry-berry fruit suffused with pipe tobacco. Sip, sip, sip, and the flavors follow the nose, dark tobaccoey redfruit in a slightly soft, lightly round wine. Not terribly concentrated, an easy sipping wine that goes down smoothly, with some pleasant cabular francisch character. Andrew says merely "I'll drink too much of this." We nod agreeably, more than willing to watch. Bunt base hit.
Andrew, feeling his Chinon and free from the odious peer group pressure of his bad-influence Loirehead buddies, now sends up a plaintive cry for some zinfandel. "Ziiiiiiiiinnnnn..." he wails, threatening to wake the neighbor's stoats. I fumble with the key for the storage unit while he continues to carry on, his keening turning to piteous moans of "Tuuuurrleeeeey, bring me Tuuuuuurrrleeeey..." I yank all the half-bottles of Sauternes off the top shelf only to find to my horror that the only Turley wines that I have in the house are varietal petite syrahs[sic], which simply won't do and only increase the pitch of his wailing.
As I stand there momentarily aghast it's Lisa who comes to the rescue with a cry of "The other Aida! The other Aida!" and I remember the Trophy Wine that I won six months ago at a blind tasting. I snatch the Oliver Caldwell Cellars Zinfandel Napa Valley Aida Vineyard 1997 from its resting place on the Don't Pour for Callahan shelf and in two shakes of a lamb's tail I have the capsule off and cork out, finally stopping the awful ruckus. It's a medium garnet color and reveals a velvety zinny nose--bright raspberry infused with toasty accents, pepper and smokiness. In the mouth it's got fine balance, is bright and supple, a medium-bodied wine with happy berry fruit and crisp acidity. The only drawback is a slight wood-tannic astringency on the finish, but that's a quibble, as this is a very pleasant, balanced zin. These folks took over the Aida vineyard after Turley Cellars, and this wine actually resembles the '96 Turley Aida (a triumph of terroir), although not as explosively supple and lithe. Still, a very nice effort, and by far the favorite of Cheryl the Token Nongeek, as well as winner of the Thunderbird Prize (if you don't count the specimen jar Scott-Clark sample). Plus, it matches wonderfully with Lisa's masterful chateaubriand. Double off the right field wall, runner takes third on E9.
The Mets have given the game away in the ninth inning, and there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth among the faithful. We make an executive decision to make coffee so as to be awake to get drunker still, and out comes a Robert Denis Touraine-Azay-Le-Rideau Vignes de la Gaillarderie 1989. Turns out that a loose translation of 'vignes de la gaillarderie' is 'vines that drink up!', and we proceed to do just exactly that: Pale, pale gold color. The aromas that drift up are rich but a bit stern, honey and muted pineapple, hay and perhaps a touch of botrytis over a stony-rainwater base of minerals. The wine tastes strong and vibrant but a bit austere, holding much in reserve. The yellow fruit is deep and tangy, the feel of the wine is an iron hand in a velvet mitt, rich and densely-packed but showing some softness and development right on the surface. Hold until 2014. Safety squeeze, scoring a run from third.
We've gone into extra innings, and I promise that, should the Metropolitans survive to the next inning, I will open some port. As the bases are gradually filled with Y*nkees, as the climactic pitch is thrown, just as the moment rises to a fever pitch of tension, the poor fusebox, overloaded by the coffeemaker as well as every other light and appliance in the house running in unison, decides to give up the ghost. We become momentarily hysterical, then Lisa gropes around in the dark long enough to find a battery-powered radio and I race downstairs to the superintendent's apartment in order to have him replace the blown fuse.
Eventually we get the lights back on, the Mets have survived, and I open the promised Quarles Harris Tercentenary Porto 1980: Medium ruby, with more sediment than I've ever seen in a porto, the bottom inch of the bottle is solid chunky goop. Smells soft and sweetly earthy-cocoaberryish. This has come along nicely, now seeming quite smooth and complex, with good grab. Not a big wine, it's well balanced within a limited scope, but the fruit is mellowed into earthy red-brickiness, soft and pleasant. There is a bit of heat on the finish and the fruit does not have a long sustain, but this is in a good place now, feathered out nicely at the edges but with a tangy dark core. A subtle wine with nice manners. Slaps an outside pitch the other way for a single.
Alas, it does not help, as the game goes to the Steinbrenner-bots, another triumph for Renta-Players-R-Us.
For the next Subway Jeebus we are required to journey to the heart of darkness itself, the bleak flat that the Wine Asylum's East Coast Correspondent calls home. We bring our own orange and blue napkins to avoid sullying our hands with his pinstriped ones and arrive just after the ugly Cl*mens javelin-hurling incident. In the den of the unholy we huddle together and avoid drinking the water. Kane dodges all questions about his reported upcoming exposée on the evils of pinot noir, saying only that no Y*nkee fan would be caught dead drinking wine made from such a wimpy ununctuous gob-less grape. By now we expect this kind of thing, so we only stare bleakly at the screen as things get uglier and uglier. Humiliated and heartsick, we turn to drink as our kind host cackles with thuggish glee.
Clos Roche Blanche Sauvignon Touraine 1999: I've posted on this one so many times... blah blah reveals a display of gobs of yadda yadda melon-ginger fruit blah blah balance... just buy the wine if you see it, it's only ten bucks and it'll get you pleasantly toasted if you polish off the whole bottle. Clean line drive to center for a base hit.
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl 1992: This is in a nice place right now, the nose has settled into velvet-toned light lychee and white flower notes, calm and perfumey. Tastes bigger than it smells, lightly sweet, big and boisterously white-flowery with a slightly oily mouthfeel. It's a big wine without many layers of flavor but with a lot of juiciness. .Sasha calls it 'sugar water,' but I'm a sucker for gewürz and it's okay with me. Dying quail over the second baseman's glove.
Vignobles Brisebarre Vouvray Demisec 1989: A pale wine that exhibits a light chalkiness under some bright honeydew and kiwifruit notes. Lightly sweet, nice crispness, a middleweight wine that is friendly but doesn't have a lot of character. With some air light tea hints emerge and mingle with the chalk. It's not profound but it's a perfectly serviceable middleweight demisec that has some friendly bright fruit, a bit of zing and the beginnings of complexity. Sacrifice bunt, moving the runner into scoring position.
There is a brief flurry of hope in the ninth inning as the good guys manage to come back far enough to finish one run short, with Zeile missing yet another homer by a foot, and all that's left to do is plow through the remaining bottles in glum desperation, searching for solace that stubbornly refuses to come in from the bullpen.
Domaine Clavel Coteaux du Languedoc 'La Copa Santa' 1997: The name means 'The cup of St. Nick,' but the jolly old elf is not present in our hearts. Medium garnet, revealing a smoky-meaty nose, bright and frisky in my nostrils. Pleasant fleeting layers of smoke and barbequed-meat hints flicker about in the glass over a base of dark raspberry-cherry fruit. Lean and a bit hard in the piehole, tangy-smoky tasting, with a slight astringency on the finish showing up along with some stern tannins. This is a racy young wine with a tight, fast body, lightly clothed with shy smoky-red fruit, but it's a bit difficult right now. Liner off the left field wall, thrown out at second trying to stretch a single into a double.
We glumly sample the last wine to come around, a Warre's Porto 1994: Deep dark purply-garnet. Cocoa, plumskin, earth, cloves--a big, rowdy Maldenesque nose. A sip, and it's quite sweet, with a tight core of young plum-earth-spice fruit. Weighty in the mouth, rough rich fruit and plenty of sugar. Really quite tasty but much too young and hard to judge now. Pulled for a pinch hitter.
That done, we leave.
There were more Subway Jeebuses, but they were so disheartening that I'm not going to burden you with them. You probably heard how it all turned out.
Four months and two weeks until pitchers and catchers report for spring training... it's going to be a long, dark winter.
There is no joy in wineville.
(Well, okay, maybe just a little, when the good stuff is poured...)