Monday night (8-16-99) saw a semi-large, semi-sloshed gathering of the New York Metro-Area WLDG clan for a festival of mysterious double-blind and bagged syrahs.
We met way up on the west side at the still liquor-licenseless Café St. John, site of last June's Southern France event. Jonathan Herman, upper west side liason officer, was once again kind enough to do all the legwork.
Lisa and I straggled up from underground a scant fifteen minutes late to find these overly-punctual types already working on wine number two. The crowd was large and cheerful, with some familiar and some new (to me) faces. The confusion of trying to say my hellos, make tardiness apologies, catch up on the wines, rummage around for pen and notebook, match some new faces to familiar names and scan the menu for possible foodstuffs was a bit much, and I didn't quite get everyone's name and affiliation, or if I did it soon was washed away by gentle waves of plummy, smoky, peppery fruit, but in attendance were Jonathan, Jeff and Patrice Davidson, Bob Ross, Jayson Cohen and fiancée Laura, the irrepressible Brad Kane, Kim-less Mike Bassman, Bernd Eschgfaller, a gentleman named Eric who I'm afraid I didn't get much of a chance to speak with, Andrew "the bottle stands by you, sir!" Scott, Brian My Vinous Godfather (who I finally cajoled into coming out), the ever-fractious Lisa Allen and myself.
A special seat had been saved for me right next to Mike Bassman, in the hopes of getting a command performance of his patented elbow-flick-the-full-wineglass-into-Chris's-lap maneuver, but the hopes of the crowd were to be sadly dashed on this count. Pity. I even wore my special white space-age polymer pants...
At this point I came to a crossroads: at these kind of dinner party tastings I find that personally, due to my own snail's-pace palate, I always have to make a choice as to whether to be a) geeky and sit and stare intently into a glass mentally measuring levels of garnet-ness and so on, or b) social and actually interact with other folks on some level. Normally, given my very limited set of social skills, it's a no-brainer, but this time there were plenty of folks I'd met online but never face to face that I'd have loved to chat with, and I hadn't actually seen Brian My Vinous Godfather in quite some time, and besides, the first two wines had already gone by, and ... and...
I choked. I started to take notes, stopped, socialized, started again, giving half attention to both and proper attention to neither.
Bob Ross came to my immediate rescue, as he had a wonderful mad-scientist plot to test the mystical magnetic wine faux-aging device that we have all heard so much about. Apparently, he had devised an experiment using two half-bottles into which the contents of one bottle of syrah had been poured, with one of the splits being exposed to the effects of this device, the other being relegated to non-magnetic control status. We were to compare and vote on the results. He began passing Bottle 'A' around--
I used this quick interval to try and catch up on wines 1 and 2:
Wine 1: Dark purply-garnet; jammy plum-pepper-menthol, crisp and a bit shrilly acidic, rich plummy flavors, but fairly simple, with mouth-drying tannins. Aussie all the way. (Rosemount Balmoral Syrah 1995)
Wine 2: Slightly more reddish-garnet; plum, menthol, light burnt rubber on the nose. In the mouth a bit softer, not as jammy as #1. Pleasant, slightly crisp, medium-weight. Shrug. Napa? (Ojai Syrah California 1992)
Bob's wines come my way. I sniff briefly and compare. There seems to be something slightly funky about Wine B. "Cheesy" says Mr. Kane, and that sounds about right to me--a hint of ripe cheese-curdiness to Wine B is the only appreciable difference I can detect. To my rigorously scientific mind the causal relationship between magnets and cheese is clear, so I vote for B as the magnetized vino. I am in the minority and, sadly, am wrong, as Wine A is revealed as the victim of this technique. Later, sniffing at the remnants of the wine, I can't find the cheese anymore. Ou est le fromage, maman, ou est le fromage?!
After most people have poured their samples into the dump bucket, Bob reveals the wine: Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle 1990. I look up from wines number 1 and 2 and focus a little more intently on Lisa's sample of B: medium-dark rich red; soft leather, plum, blackberry; fairly reserved, but rich & velvety. Nicely balanced, smooth, pleasant, not too bad at all, not too shabby. Meanwhile, wine 3 is arriving:
Wine 3: Different kind of nose. Blackberry and a very rich vein of cinnamon, spicy and interesting, with hints of cedar. My first impression is that this might be old world, but the last time I came across a real cinnamony streak like this was in the '92 Elderton Command Shiraz, so I'm a little baffled. Dunno what it is, but it's tasty. (Swanson Syrah Napa Valley 1994)(26 pts--voted best wine)
Wine 4: Due to circumstances beyond our control, there is no Wine 4.
Wine 5: Soft, cherry nose, vanilla, oakiness; under the upfront cherry/vanilla a bit of herbaceousness lurks, a bit o'basil. In the mouth soft and simple, fairly spineless, medium-weight dark-cherry flavors... ZIN! Someone has brought a zin in by mistake! I do like zin, but this seems a bit out place here. (Château Reynella Basket-Pressed Shiraz 1994)
Wine 6: Plum, pepper beast. Big plummy-shirazzy nose, tart, bit sharp. Rich ripe, pleasant, tangy. The wines are coming too damn fast. Slow down! (Wild Duck Creek Estate Heathcote Spring Flat Shiraz 1997)
Wine 7: Lighter than the others so far. Blackberry, nutty, bacon, earth nose. This is Rhône. Côte-Rôtie? Light-bodied, smooth & crisp, slightly tart. Light, but very nice. I go out on a (sawed-off) limb and say Ogier La Rosine. (Delas Côte-Rôtie 1991)
Wine 8: Deep dark black-purple--blackberry nose, hint of menthol, rich, fruity, velvety. California? (Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz Mclaren Vale 1997)
I chat with someone for a moment, the route the bottles are taking around the table changes, and wine 9 (Château Reynella Basket Pressed Shiraz 1995) and 10 (Qupe Bien Nacido Syrah 1996) go right by me...
Wine 11: Menthol, cherry, blackberry, Aussie?, tartly acidic, tart... shiraz? (Zaca Mesa Zaca Vineyard 1996)
Wine 12: Sweet blackberry & bandaids on the nose. Smokey, pleasant, Rhoney. Crozes-Hermitage? Brian goes out on a limb and proclaims it St. Joseph. (Cuilleron St. Joseph 1997) (Brian gets an ovation for the good call)(8 points--voted fourth-best wine)
Wine 13: Nice and stinky--muddy brown garnet, stinky, barny, muted raspberry, slightly carroty, rich and crisp, with a lot of character. Medium-bodied, nice. (Domaine de Rochepertais Cornas 1990)(13 points--voted second best wine: "And, for all of you who liked it--this is a nine-dollar wine!" says Andrew)
Wine 14: Dark purple; rich, velvety nose, whoo-boy, A-1 steak sauce, plum, smoked meat, this is the bigass freak of the night. Medium-low acidity, firm grainy tannins. Aussie big boy? Like soy sauce, rich & concentrated. Brian calls it the 'boob-job wine' because it seems so luscious and pumped-up and voluptuous, but when you get it home and live with it on a daily basis its appeal will probably dwindle rapidly. It's very concentrated, but I feel a little steamrolled by it. Others (Mike, Lisa) love it. (Rosemount Balmoral Syrah 1996)(9 points--voted third-best wine)
Wine 15: Oops. Corked.
Wine 16: Menthol/band-aid smell is a bit odd at first, but some nice cherry/berry flavors, good acidity, crispness, pleasant meaty mouthfeel. (Renard Syrah Napa Valley Cuvée Jacques 1997)
Well, there we are. Sixteen syrahs/shirazes. Well, fifteen since there was no number four. And fifteen was corked... well, a passel o'syrah at any rate. We all take a deep breath and vote for our three favorites. Bob tallies up the votes, and here are his totals:
Top wines/ Points
03 - 26
13 - 13
14 - 9
12 - 8
07 - 7
08 - 5
05 - 3
09 - 3
06 - 2
10 - 2
After this garnet-water-white-death syrah frenzy had come full circle there were a few dessert wines to enjoy:
Château Pierre-Bise Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu Les Rouannieres 1996: class act, rich apricot/pineapple notes; sweet, but with plenty of zingy acidity, not as densely sweet as the '97, one of my favorites, could drink this all night.
Domaine des Baumard Coteaux du Layon 1997: Crisper, thinner, sharper than the Bise, more botrytisy, also a lovely wine in great balance, bit of an interesting aluminum note in the finish.
Anthony Road Vignoles Late Harvest Finger Lakes 1995: orange-amber; sweet apple/mandarin orange nose. Thick, richly sweet & monolithic, simple & with a streak of sharp acidity. I'm afraid it doesn't stand much chance in this company.
Chambers Rosewood Vineyards Rutherglen NV Shiraz Port: Amber red-brown; nose of dark leather, caramel, soy sauce and rust. Weird nose, but it does kind of grow on you. Rich and rusty in the mouth, tangy & slightly medicinal, light to medium-sweet.
And that was the final note to a lovely evening. I only wish I could have sat at both ends of the table as well as in the middle. Three and a half hours later we the survivors staggered out into the breezy Manhattan night, plummier/pepperier but wiser, and scattered to the four winds.