[Producer's Note: After judicious editing to escape the kiss-of-death NW-34 rating, this wine report has been rated NW-17 (no winos with under 17 years' tasting experience allowed). It contains frank and explicitly unflattering descriptions of wines that may shock and offend even hardened tasters, such as the comparison of certain wines to 'graveyard dirt,' metaphors relating to wine and human sexuality, and various other adult themes guaranteed to confuse and frighten. The producers would like to urge all winos to use their utmost discretion when viewing this sensitive material.]
The WLDG's favorite travelling Swedes, Fredrik and Lina, rolled into the Big Apple Friday night on the final leg of their 'Swillerific 2000' Tour, and New Yorkers, eager to prove our city is second to none in drunken festivization, turned out en masse to welcome them to town.
Gathered at Minetta Tavern, home of the half-price hallucinatory vision, were a nice cross-section of new and old faces including back-from-hiatus Mike and Kim Bassman, Joe Moryl, Andrew 'Gamay Slut' Scott, Jay Miller, Gregory Dal Piaz, David Ruth and his significant other (whose name I stupidly forgot to write down), Eden and Jody Blum and Joe Cz, who shows up to face his swill-spouting tormentors and takes the inevitable cries of 'watch out, Joe, that wine is FOUL' with grace and aplomb. You know wine is a fine thing when it can bring a nice guy like Joe to sit down with a bunch of crude boors like the New York WLDG regulars.
We mill about aimlessly for a while, momentarily lacking our usual irrepressible organizer to give us direction, but finally settle in and let the sweet sweet wine take away our pain and make social interaction a breeze.
First to grease the conversational skids is a bit of fizz, a Bellavista Franciacorta Brut NV: Pale straw color, very light. Bright yellow-apple nose with bready-yeasty hints, fresh and pleasant. Light and flavorful to taste, tangy and crisp with a hint of creaminess, a light but bright little bubbly that goes down easily and finishes with an appley tang. Not profound, but a very drinkable and friendly glass of fizz.
Now that we've got the ball rolling, it's time for the Mystery White Game! The assembled geeks gather round excitedly, noses and palates poised like greyhounds straining at the slips.
Mystery White 1: Pale straw-lemon color. Ooh, a lush, creamy nose, slighty honeyed, floral and lemon-waxy smelling, almost gewrzy-lush but with no gewrz character. Tangy lemon-floral fruit, big, waxy and thick in the mouth, but a bit soft and limpid, and finishes a bit abruptly. What is it? I have absolutely no idea, and I don't hear any other guesses, either. (McRea Viognier Columbia Valley 1997)
Mystery White 2: Pale straw color. Sweet-smelling, spritzy nose, some apple and gardenia. Yeep, this is another bigass wine, thick, not too complex, and with a touch of sweetness. Fairly low acidity and a bit of heat on the finish. A big Cal riesling? (Yves Pastourel & Fils Muscat Sec Vin de Pays D'Oc Cuvée de Liles 1998)
Sheesh, these guys don't make the Mystery White Game easy anymore. Humbled, we move on to nonmysterious whites.
Cotat Chavignol La Grande Côte 1998: I clench up when I see this coming, remembering my recent travails with the latest Mont Damnés Buster. Okay, breathe... Pale straw. Quiet, chalky-lemon nose with a tiny hint of kitty litter (which reminds me--the cat's doing much better, many thanks to all who sent email). I puckishly ask Andrew if it's the fake or the real kind of kitty aroma and he gives me one of those "You even have to ask?" looks that he does so well. Tangy, crisp, chalky and just oodles of things going on in the glass: lemon-lime, touch of grass or perhaps piney herbaceousness, minerals underneath it all, but there's also a good bit of RS that doesn't quite fit into the puzzle. Strange, but interesting and quite delicious (speaking only for myself, of course). In fact, it's swillsational!
At some point the WLDG's own Titanium Chef, SFJoe, meanders in all wired up like an air-traffic controller and continues conducting a conversation on his wireless, doubtless with bigshots somewhere across the globe, until hounded mercilessly to cease and desist and for god's sake come drink.
Herman J. Wiemer Riesling Finger Lakes Late Harvest 1995: Pale straw-gold. Nice rich aromatics on the nose, some honeydew & green apple form the pyramid while light honey and vinyl notes climb on their shoulders and wave and grin. A bit simpler in the mouth, with rich but monolithic fruit balanced nicely in a crisply acidic, lightly sweet body. Pretty decent. Not foul at all.
Huet Vouvray Le Mont Demisec 1998: Pale straw-tan. After having the '71 earlier this month, this infant is like the ghost of wine yet to come. Limestoney, lemon, honey, wax, dried apricots and probably some other stuff on the nose, but tight, tight, tight. Tastes tight too. I think this swillperb wine needs about thirty years, when it will be something extra-swillnificent. Right now, it's sharp and wrapped almost painfully tight. With air the nose opens up a bit and spreads, but the taste is unyielding, at least in the five hours I had to try and coax it into submission.
That's all the whites? Mille millions du mille sabords, it seems everyone brought mostly reds tonight. Well, if that's the way it's going to be, then we must meet our duty with our chins held high.
On we go.
Marcel Lapierre Morgon 1998: Medium to medium-light garnet. Bit of funkiness has me wondering if there's been a visit by our old friend 2,4,6-TCA. I look in vain for my coal mine canary, but she is not yet among us. Eventually it blows off enough for me to smell a fleshy plum-strawberry nose with smoky underpinnings. A medium-bodied wine that gives the illusion of being lighter than it is because of its nimble mouthfeel, with rich earthy berry fruit hanging in for a long time and lingering nicely. No showstopper, but silky and straightforward and pleasant.
What's this up next? Something special?
Indeed, it's the Beaulieu Vineyards "Special Burgundy" Napa Valley 1990 (50% petite sirah, 40% charbono, 5% early burgundy, 5% napa gamay). After much quizzical label-peering and musings on the intended definition of the word 'special,' I get up the nerve to pour myself some of this. Hmmm... dark garnet, fairly dense-looking in a special kind of way. Plenty of smoky toasted oak on the nose, but also plenty of dark blackberry-plummy-earthy PS-style fruit to support it. There's a dark and dense core of earthy matte black fruit that's feathering a bit at the edges but maintains a good rough, rustic core and finishes tarry-dark. There's some decent enough acidity, and the fruit is a bit one note thick and matte black, but this ain't swill either and actually appeals to this occasional PS drinker on a rough-and-tumble level.
How disappointing. If you can't count on a ten year old ps/charbono/early burgundy/napa gamay concoction named "Special Burgundy" to be bash-worthy swill these days, what CAN you count on?
At this point, as if to cheer me up, in walks Lisa the TCA-bird (with freshly-ironed yellow flags), who immediately assumes the position around the Morgon, enters her TCA-trance and finally announces "This wine is CLEAN." We all breathe a sigh of relief and get back to work.
Marziero Rosso Ravenna 1995: Medium-dark purply-garnet. Slightly mushroom-fungal-funky cherry and leather nose. Tart, tangy, rich & tight, with some hefty tannins clamping down on the finish. There's a lot of richness here, but this wine is so hard and tight and tannic that I can't really tell what's going on. Hold 'em for a decade or so if you got 'em.
It seems many of us had the notion of treating our guests of honor by showing them the joys of our most exclusive American variety, so here beginneth the zinneth.
Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 1996: Medium garnet with some muddy-brown hues creeping in. Light nose, soft black cherry-raspberry and smokiness, I swirl, but I can't get much beyond that. A bit lean, dark and smooth and nicely balanced, an elegant style of zin but a bit leaner than I like. I find the 97 version of this wine more to my tastes, but that's just me. You may feel differently, and I mean no aspersions to be cast on those who like this. They are good people, honest people, who mean well and only want to have a glass of wine in peace with their children and pipe and slippers and labrador retrievers by their side. They are the salt of the earth, and where would any of us be without them? Where? I'll tell you where, buddy--MOSCOW, that's where, living under the iron boot of the Gang of Four and their attack dog Enver Hoxha and drinking beet wines and nothing but beet wines, all the while feeling the integrity of your precious bodily fluids being sapped, sapped a little more each day. Each day. A little. More. Each. Day.
So think of that the next time you tell someone you don't like a wine, why don't you?
Just in the nick of time, the irrepressible Brad Kane walks in, drops the sacramental sweet gewürz right in front of me, and hightails it to the last available seat before anyone else comes along to claim it and he has to squat in the corner. Suddenly, everything seems possible once again, now that Brad's back at the helm.
We taste on, confidence renewed.
Ravenswood Zinfandel Napa Valley Dickerson Vineyard 1997: Medium-dark garnet. Fairly generous black cherry-raspberry nose, Robitussin and dark freshly-turned earth. A bit leaner and sharper than the nose would indicate, with some wateriness in the midpalate. Tangy and racy, but a bit thin after the initial fruit wave, with some fine light tannins. Not bad, but not very inspiring. An older gentleman from a nearby table wanders by and offers that he used visit Ravenswood on his bicycle. We nod. It is a zen moment.
Ridge Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Lytton Springs 1995: Medium-dark garnet, with a deep purply-black core. Sweet creamy oak on the nose over dark purply-toasty fruit. The fruit has settled into the background and spread out a bit from when I last had this, gotten dark and muted and taken on kind of a petite sirah purple-black tone compared to the more cherry-raspberry Dashe and Ravenswood, but there's plenty of life here, a strong, earthy-dark wine but a bit oakier than I remember it being.
Turley Zinfandel California Old Vines 1996: Fredrik takes one whiff and declares it massively corked. I should have known, because it's a bottle I brought. My tally now: three of the last four bottles I've brought to offlines have fallen victim to this plague. Who will stop the insanity?!
Speaking of insanity, just at this precise moment there is a commotion from the entryway, and in bounds the Cap'n himself, Joe Dressner, with a cheery "Ahoy, maties!" He bustles past offered hands with a gruff "Arrr," deposits half a dozen bottles on the table, professes that he can't stay because he has to pack tonight for his virtual Hiatus, and swings out piratically on the nearest lanyard.
Much confusion and consternation. Who was that masked man?, ask the new folks, and what can we do but say we have no idea, never seen him before, must be some deranged Greenwich Village character, the streets and restaurants just aren't safe anymore and so on, let's move on to the Italians....
Scavino Bric del Fiasc Barolo Riserva 1978: Medium muddy ruby, turning towards amber at the rim. Pretty, velvety nose, notes of cooked tomato, cherry, leather, clove and baked yam mingle beguilingly in a delicate earthy base. Some decent acidity gives nice balance, but the wine is soft and feathery-shroomy-earthy around the edges with a core of tart muted cherry fruit still alive and kicking. This is a wine that divides the company, with Fredrik driven to colorful metaphors about older wines being like women who have acquired just exactly the right kind of amatory experience and Kane saying it tastes like 'graveyard dirt.' I'm with Fredrik on this one. It's certainly funky-earthy and faded, but in a good way, and we shout down Kane's bleats of "Swill! Swill!" as best we can.
Prunaio 1990: Medium to medium-dark garnet. Cherry-smoky-leathery fruit smells bright and sharp. Good rich dark cherry fruit starts off very tight, fleshes out minutely with air, but remains coy and hard. There's good balance here, but this is another wine that needs a lot of time.
Tommasi Amarone 1981: Translucent medium ruby. Soft nose of muted red fruit shot through with traces of brown sugar and raisin. This wine is a bit soft and low-acid, but layered, complex and enjoyable to sip. A small, soft Amarone. Drink 'em up if you got 'em.
Fredrik cries out plaintively "It's going too fast for me!" and I commiserate, as it's always going too fast for me. The hard-core types only take this as a sign of weakness and up the tempo even further, damn their black souls.
Vietti Barolo 1982: Medium muddy ruby. Small, soft earthy-dark nose, muted fruit, some fuzzy tannins, comes and goes too quickly for me to get a good read on.
Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County Cinq Cepages 1994: Medium-dark garnet. Smoky oak, slightly candied monolithic blackberry-cassis fruit. Well balanced, fairly rich and forward, with a lesser dosage of overt oakiness than this year's version. Of the last few years of this wine, I think this is the best. Decent simple cab, glad I have a few left at home to have with burgers.
Domaine du Clos du Fief Julienas 1998: Medium garnet. Smells of plum-berry fruit with a rich dark earthy-graphite undercurrent. Great balance here, nice rich fruit, plenty of structure, layers of flavor. Nice full-bodied Julienas, drinking very well. You want good Cru Beajolais? Here's one.
Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Gamay 1998: Medium garnet. Light nose, cherry-strawberry fruit. Tart & juicy & simple. Okay, I guess, but doesn't ring my bell. Andrew gets all weepy and can moan only the words "beautiful, beautiful wine," but Fredrik compares it to a transvestite and the Julienas to a sweaty woman who loves sex. These Swedish metaphors are a little hard to transcribe, but a constructive dialogue about the notion of growing gamay in Touraine follows, so all ends up well, with no punches thrown or crockery broken.
Château Leoville-Barton St. Julien 1989: Medium-dark garnet. Rich, smooth smoky cassis-blackfruit nose, mmm, smells good, nice hints of cedar, coffee & gravelly rocks. Past its first flush of youth and still fairly coiled, but surprisingly delicious, supple and silky, with impeccable balance and length only very slightly impeded by some fine tannins. I would love to try this again in ten years; great young claret, probably my favorite red so far.
Von Strasser Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Diamond Mountain 1995: Medium -dark garnet. Tight nose, hints of black fruit, maybe a hint of chocolate-covered oregano. Can't get much nasal action going here, so I taste it. Big and rough and tight, some big dark cran-cassis fruit comes right at you like a linebacker, but it's hard and unyielding, fades in midfield and is soon brought down by a swarm of defensive tannins. What's up with this wine? It's quickly dubbed "The Vonstrosity" by the wags at one end of the table, but I disclaim responsibility for the negative speech of those thoughtless bounders. I don't know if it needs time or what, but it's not delivering the goods tonight. Four and a half prongs, with an upside potential for five prongs, given a few years' positive development. Okay, I'm being optimistic. My gut tells me this will never see the far side of four and a half prongs and could come unglued and slide down to a flat four prongs.
Jaffurs Syrah Santa Barbara County 1997: Medium dark purply-garnet. Raspeberry, black pepper and soy sauce on the nose. Crisp in the mouth, good structure, good solid syrah fruit that has a nice racy leanness to it and comes to a pleasant purply-licorice finish. Not having had much luck with Cal syrah lately, I'm pleasantly surprised by the balance of this wine and the fact that some rich but not overly ripe fruit hasn't been smothered in new oak. Good.
Ah, right on schedule, we hit midnight with only dessert and sweeties yet to come. Andrew is whining that's he's not drunk enough, but he's been spotted drinking water, so it's his own damn fault.
I start in on my lemon meringue tart and hold out my glass for the first dessert wine.
Hardy's Sparkling Shiraz NV: Eep. Medium-dark purply garnet. Candy-peppery plum and fruit hits my nose. Strange and stranger, not a good match with lemon tart. Seems very candied and simple, medium bodied, odd--mostly, if not entirely dry. Can't taste too much of this stuff now. Perhaps a hot summer day sometime?
Domaine Bott-Geyl Gewürztraminer Furstentum VT 1994: Pale straw-gold. Honey, white flowers & a good hit of spicy botrytis on the nose. Medium-sweet, tangy and crisp, but lacks any real gewürz character, fairly neutral-tasting and a little disappointing. I like my sweet gewürz a bit more extravagant and gewürzier.
Chateau St. Michelle Riesling Columbia Valley Horse Heaven Vineyard Chateau Reserve Late Harvest 1993: Pale amber. Light vinyl and proto-gasoline notes hover over shy honeyed apple-peach fruit, aromatically light. Very sweet and thick, with hints of orange rind saying hello in the midpalate. Almost goopy, with some pointy unintegrated acidity running parallel to the thick sweetness.
Venturini La Brugnine Recioto del Valpolicella Classico 1995: Medium purply-garnet. Choco-raspberry on the nose. Quite sweet, although lighter in body than the Horse Heaven, a bit soft and fleshy, with some pleasant meaty choco-berry fruit. Kane compares it to the Dashe LH zin, but it lacks the exuberance and complexity of that fine sweetie. Still, I find myself going back for more. Nice.
A pair of happily intoxicated sisters have wandered over from the bar--one apparently knows Lisa, and the other alights by me, examines our bottles and carries on at great length about the joys of New Jersey Port. Andrew gamely tries to interject a question, but she is off on a filibuster. When she is done, her sister comes over and cheerfully insults my shirt at great length. This introduction made, we all shake hands, they go off back to wherever it was they came from, and I look down at my plate to find that Andrew has taken the opportunity of the distraction to begin shaking copious amount of salt onto the remains of my lemon tart. I enquire as to the reasoning behind this odd endeavor, and he says only "I thought you were done."
Nonplussed, I go back to the sweeties.
Château Rieussec Sauternes 1989: Pale straw-gold. Soft spritzy tropical fruit-hay-botrytis nose. Lemon cream-tinged in the mouth, tangy and elegant. There is a hint of dilution in the midpalate, but that's a quibble for a delicious young Sauternes. The '88 is one of my favorite young Sauternes, and this is slightly smaller and a bit more loosely knit, but equally fine, although a poor match with salty lemon meringue tart. But is there a wine in the world that is a good match with salty lemon meringue tart? A lovely young wine.
Hardy's Vintage Port 1983: Matte dark purply-garnet with a black core. Slightly grapey dark earthy plum nose. Tastes tangy and very muddy-earthy, shot through with peppery-plum shiraz flavors that have turned nicely layered and semicomplex. Medium-sweet, with some interesting stuff going on and good balance. Pretty good 'port,' if you don't mind a shirazzy riff on the theme.
In the moderated postprandial discussions that follow, it turns out that no one agrees on anything. Some like only the zins, some like only the Italians, some unnamed soul says there was an unusually high Swill Quotient (SQ) tonight. You already know what I think.
We start wrapping things up at around one a.m., when the proprietors turn on loud disco music from the 70s and 80s and turn the lights out. Sheesh, you'd think a bunch of geeks hogging half the restaurant for six hours was some kind of a drawback or something.