Super Bowl Sunday is traditionally a time of meditation and reflection in our household. We know that it means the end of the ugly game with the limp bodies being carted off on stretchers and players gathering in circles and praying loudly and ostentatiously, and that spring training and the return of our American pastime are a few scant weeks away.
Plus, they always show the zaniest commercials. Those wacky talking lizards were whacking good fun a few years back, weren't they? Can you beat Madison Avenue for the most bang for your infotainment dollar? I am compelled to answer my own rhetorical question with a jaunty "No way, Josˇ!"
We attempt to set up a perfect balance between geeks and nongeeks, but at the last minute two of the nongeeks cancel (Isn't that just like a nongeek? So lazy and unreliable...) and the balance of power shifts towards a 70-30 geek preponderance. With a geek quorum firmly in place the tenor of the evening is set, and there is much vigorous groaning and eye-rolling whenever the conversation strays far off the vinous track.
Here's a Chidaine Montlouis Brut 1996, which has loosened up a little since last I sucked it down. It's now a smooth, slightly rounded glass of crisp fizz, with a slight waxiness and a dash of polleny yellowflowerishness. Not terribly layered, it's nevertheless a clean and crisp glass of bubbly that goes down easily.
In another realm entirely is the Huet Vouvray Petillant 1987, which beguiles mercilessly upon first sniffage. Delightfully layered and complex aromas, hints of tea, lemon, lightly singed bread and a rich truffley-earthy streak mixing with the usual minerality--there is much offering up and revealing going on here; first the wine offers up some pretty smells, then it reveals more pretty smells, finally blooming into utter and complete pretty-smellishness. Light in body but intensely flavorful, I sit and quietly enjoy as the flavors swirl and flicker in my mouth like fireflies.
The Huet wins the Thunderbird Prize easily, a joy and an impressive lesson for the nongeeks, who ooh and aah in best protogeek fashion. Moved, I stand and proclaim that I will drink no more young Huet forever. It's obviously a lie, but it seems the thing to do at the moment, and I am indulged in my fondness for the dramatic proclamation with some friendly catcalls and a supportive shower of snack-related items and kitchen utensils.
Next up is a Petit Chambord/Cazin Cour-Cheverny Cuvée Renaissance 1997, and this seems a kindler, gentler romorantin, smelling lightly beeswaxy, with a flinty-gunpowdery note under the waxy lemon yellow fruit. Seems like the mellowest, ripest, roundest version of this wine I've had, still crisp and bright, but without the rollercoaster shriekiness of other years. A very nice match with Lisa's tiny thimble-size baby quiches.
Domaine de Roally Mâcon-Viré Cuvée 54-H 1998: As proud owners of 1.5% of the total production of this wine, I advise all of you fourteen other people who are going to drink it to give this one some air before slamming it down. We use it ill-advisedly, as it seems somewhat reticent in its first hour or so out of the bottle, only opening up and blossoming into the wine I remember from the late spam tasting after some aeration. Ah, here we go, here's the pear jam and apple-spice aromas that I remember, although still more reserved than the last bottle, which oozed sexuality.
Mr. Connell takes the opportunity to field some questions from our token nongeeks "Nina" and "John" (I use their real names). "Nina" and I are simpatico as a result of our shared voluntary decision to join Lisa's family, and she's curious about the extravagant aromas and flavors in the 54-H, wondering where they come from, if they have to do with the wine's two-year fermentation (which we've been nattering about, geek-fashion). Mr. C. is patience and pedagogy personified, smiling and calm as he explains how a wine can be both old and young at the same time, and the muggles sit at his feet and learn the Way of the Peaceful Winegeek.
Then, of course, as a responsible citizen he disclaims all his financial connections to the wines we're drinking tonight. I decide to keep mine secret, as doing so would take me even longer, and this way it's easier to fool people.
After the intermission we switch to reds and I throw my hand thrown inoculated-yeast pizzas one after the other onto the table, where they are made swift work of, despite their lack of authenticity. I am chagrined to overhear dark mutterings about 'industrial pizza,' and Andrew complains loudly that the three-cheese pie is a bit too oaky for his tastes, but he certainly doesn't seem to have any trouble scarfing it down, hypocritical sanctimonious prig that he is. I mean that in the nicest possible sense, of course, lest I frighten or offend, the two last things in the world that I want to do.
What's up with the Avignonese Sangiovese 1995? When I tasted this wine upon release it was as tight as a drum, knife-hard and as closed up as a librarian sucking a lemon. Now it seems like a different wine, with a more robust and velvety cherry-iron-leather nose with vanilla highlights and coppery-bloody undertones, and it marries nicely with the pseudo Italian fare. Rather generic but still pleasantly balanced and crisp, it was only $10, so I probably I should've bought more. Drink, but don't hold. Get someone else to hold while you drink, it's more fun that way.
A wine that is not at all generic is the Breton Bourgeuil Clos Senechal 1995, which is a muddy medium garnet in color, and smells lightly cran-cherry-tobaccoish with a dark forest-floor streak that keeps my nostrils coming back for more. A sip, and the first impression is lightness and silkiness, as the tart fruit is couched in a medium-crisp body that gives it some softness and ease slipping down my throat. But the easy nature of the first impression quietly and smoothly gives way to wondering at the evolution of the wine in my mouth, passing through feathery striations of earthiness, firm fruit, underbrush, other stuff, then some more other stuff, finally slipping quietly away and leaving you wondering what just happened. A light wine with hidden strength and wine with the power to surprise, and it begs to be poured, sipped and pondered just one more time before I move on. Mr. Connell snuggles up to it and won't allow his fingers to be pried from the bottle. One small fine-grained Prong polished to an ebony sheen and dipped in milk chocolate.
Here's a Pierre-Jacques Druet Chinon Clos de Danzay 1996. What say you, Chinon? Chinon says it has a warm cran-cherry nose laced with light hints of tobacco and pine resin. Rich and quite tart at first tastage, there is a happy rush of gravelly backbone in the midpalate along with a touch of pine. Medium-bodied, the wine has the lightness and tensile suspension of a frigate bird. A strong, sharp wine with some pushy fine tannins, it's bit of a rough ride, but there's certainly a lot going on. Needs time. Two foot-long burnished stainless steel Prongs with leather holsters that clip onto your belt, one on each side, but are a little bulky and don't sit quite right on your hips.
There is a Ch‰teauneuf of some kind, but the bottle is drained dry before it comes round my way, and I curse my guests as vividly and profanely as I am able, given my duties as host.
Once again, as often happens at these events at my place, the cry for zinfandel goes up. Something about the environment seems to free the zinlover that lurks deep inside even the most hardcore Loirehead. I oblige with a Turley Cellars Zinfandel Lodi Dogtown Vineyard 1998, and it draws appreciative sighs and slurping noises. It's ripe smelling and slightly candied, boysenberry-raspberry liqueur laced with dark tarriness. With air the candied quality fades and a plummy-earthy streak comes to the fore. Slightly hot on the finish, with a light astringency, it's quietly mellow and rich, another middle-of-their-road style of Turley zin much along the lines of its 1997 incarnation. Doesn't manage quite the highwire balancing of the past few Haynes or Black Searses, but gives off a warmth and velvety richness that ultimately charms us all, although others are more enthusiastic about it than I. Mr. Connell can't seem to keep his hands off the fat-bottomed bottle, cooing softly about the "honest winemaking," and the conversation roams lazily afield to other good, juicy zins, a grape that both men have sadly neglected in their late intemperate lust for trendy grapes like savagnin and poulsard. Ridge Vineyards comes up, but Andrew claims to be allergic to the American oak influence in most of their zins, and says he will drink only Turley from now on, with perhaps an occasional Dashe zin thrown in because they have that cool monkey label.
Still, I am an optimist, and the Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1998 seems like an ideal next wine, if only we'd had some. It's a lighter Geyserville than the past few years, more elegant and silkier in its youth, showing a lighter vein of oakiness. The color is surprisingly light and the wine, although not big and dense, has a lot of character and strength. A nimbler than usual young Geyserville, lacking the chunkiness of last year's version or the roughness that sometimes makes this wine difficult as a baby. Very decent, an earlier drinker than I'd normally expect. Four and a half velveteen-swathed Prongs nestled in multicolored aquarium gravel and placed in a formal American oak presentation box with a small commemorative plaque, possibly one made of brass if the wine continues to develop as I think it should over the next five years.
Somebody wins the sporting contest. I forget who, but I don't think it was the football club from New Jersey. Lisa is irate, stomping around muttering things unprintable about Cleveland under her breath. I wasn't even aware Cleveland was involved. What's the frequency, Lisa?
Here's a Château de Puch Monbazillac 1990: Puch, Puch in the buch, goes the familiar refrain as the pale straw-colored Monbazillac makes the rounds. It's aromatically light, lemon and cream, hints of vanilla, no botrytis to speak of. Tastes bright and crisp, on the lean side, lemony-light, with medium-plus sweetness. Simple, friendly, perhaps the best Puch since the '89.
And finally a Château Pierre-Bise Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu L'Anclaie 1997, a wine that I've written far too many notes on. It's not terribly different than the last two notes, although it has more brightness than the note from March of last year and seems to be deeper than was indicated in the note from this past summer. The color is much like the note from September of 2000, and the mouthfeel most resembles the extraordinary showing of early December '99, with the finish coming in halfway between that March showing and the "lost" note from our Hawaii trip a year ago January. In other words, it's a pip.
After most of the guests have staggered out the door and fallen down the stairs, we begin the exhausting task of scraping the cheese off the ceiling and getting the tomato sauce out of the cats' fur, fortified by a bottle of Torga Port 1997: Rich deep purple-edged garnet color. Smells of red clay, Play-Doh. Sweeter than the 95 but still not terribly sweet, dark and brambly, meaty-textured in the piehole, dark red berry fruit over a crushed-brick stony earthiness. Great balance, young and a little hard, flavorful and nimble. Give it a few decades and it'll be a killer. Or drink it tonight, whatever, it won't be terrible no matter what you do, okay? Sheesh. What do I look like, a psychic?
Sorry, sorry. The port always does it too me. It's just so sweet and so smooth and goes down so easily.
As he's heading out the door after helping with the cleanup, Andrew grabs my arm and pulls me aside. "What would it be worth to you" he says slyly, "to know the name of the last retailer in the city who is selling uncooked '96 Closel Papillon Speciale at the release price?"
I haggle. I wangle. I even finagle, but finally I have to give something to get something.
I get my Closel, half a case. Andrew gets his car washed and waxed once a month throughout this summer. I'd make the same deal again anyday, I would, and happily too.
Now if anyone has an idea how to break the news to Lisa that she's travelling to Metuchen once a month I'm open to suggestions.