LIES, DAMNED LIES, AND TAIL MEAT



So I'm meeting Camblor, Kane and Jay Miller in midtown to have dinner with visiting dignitary Rahsaan Maxwell, now midway through his triumphal sophomore swing through the winegeek circuit.

As I stroll up Fifty-fifth Street towards Kane's latest find, I spot a lone figure meandering in aimless circles along the sidewalk. It's Camblor, who is muttering angrily to himself about having forgotten to bring something that he was supposed to bring for Jay. "Why not pop home and get it?" I suggest. "I mean, you live like five blocks from here..."

He doesn't care for that idea. "More like seven," he decides. "Anyway, where the hell is Miller? How did it come to pass that we're both here before him? Is this a sign that the end of the world is upon us?"

But here's Rahsaan, followed by Kane and finally the Miller himself, bringing up the tail end for once. It's a strange position, and he is properly sheepish and overly explanatory as we make our way indoors and call for the chef's finest meats and cheeses.

Jay has brung along something from his fridge, a Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Clos des Briords Vieilles Vignes 1997. Medium straw color. Chalky hay and lemon-grapefruit aromatics, though with a slightly pressed quality, largely missing the carambola whitefloral hints I've always associated with this one. Tastes lightly petillant, bit of a tongueprickle, followed by a wash of rather flat stonycitric fruit and some shrill acidity. Not a very good showing for an old friend, but it's apparently been open for a day or so already, so who knows.

Here's a Dirler Riesling Alsace Spiegel 1998. Smells shy, vinyl and more vinyl, lemon rind and rocks underneath it all. Comes at you rather squishily, seems puppyish right up front, with a touch of sugar plumping out the stony yellowfruit. But in the middle the structure shows up--better late than never--and the lemoncitric buzz it brings is what lingers longest at the end. Nice wine, a little two-ring circus in my mouth.

Rahsaan announces that he's just come from lunch, leaving his lunchmates with the excuse that he had to go have dinner now. Sigh. This is the problem with these unfortunately early Sunday dinners.

A Domaine du Closel Savennières Clos du Papillon 1992 raises a few eyebrows with its beef-broth/baked lemon/shoyu/mineral aromatics. Well, beef-brothy to me: Kane makes a face and says "Vietnamese fish sauce"; Camblor offers up "sweaty socks"; Rahsaan is silent, lost in contemplation. Tastes rather hard and austere, like older Muscadet. Well, older Muscadet with a bouillon cube dropped in it. At any rate, there's not much pleasure here.

Here's a Domaine Raymond Quenard Chignin-Bergeron les Damoiselles 2004. Bright, stonyfloral and lean-smelling, aromatically young and primary. Tastes like it smells, lively and pure, mineral water with hints of lemon and peachblossom. On the simple side, or perhaps just unadorned, a pleasantly uncomplicated glass of brightness.

Everyone has been understandably suspicious of the restaurant, given that Kane suggested it and made all the arrangements, but my short ribs are just great, and most of the other food looks pretty good too. "I guess even a stopped clock is right twice a day," I observe, to general nodding.

Marcel Lapierre Morgon 2004. Odd smelling at first, stinky reduced notes and a bit of volatility. With air the reduction mostly blows off, leaving gentle strawberries, earth and acetone. A soft, gentle wine, ethereal almost, that has a perfumed prettiness about it. It's vague but pure, a shy little wine that almost evanesces as you drink it.

Out of the blue, Camblor makes the peculiar assertion that I, I, I, Chris Coad, me, that I, Chris Coad "don't like Burgundy." Yes, just that, believe it or not. Me, the original Burgundy lover, whose oenopiphany was the '72 La Tche, who loves Burgundy above all things except maybe old Vouvray. I take a good look at him; does he even know my name, really? Does he think I'm a kind of taller, hairier version of Kane? It's a moment of deep disillusionment, and I grow uncharacteristically quiet.

Kane, who (unlike me) actually doesn't like Burgundy or any pinot noir, or any cabernet franc, or any of half a dozen other grape varieties, always feels obliged to tote along a Southern Rhne to jeebi to slake his unquenchable lust for low-acid gobbiness. This time it's a Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape les (la Crau?) Crau 2003, which smells and tastes like Big Red chewing gum that's been dipped in raspberry jam.

Jay and I have subconciously settled on a ten-years-past-the-vintage-it's-time-to-open-the-1996-Bordeaux theme, beginning with a Château l'Arrosée St. Emilion 1996. Medium dark garnet color. Funky and disjointed aromatics at first, with a sour milk and burnt toast streak suffusing the dark redfruit. With about an hour of air it's much better, cinnamon-laced berry-cassis, light oregano and a hint of graphite minerality. Tastes tightly wrapped, hard and rough-edged, still basically shut down, not giving much. There's middling acidity wrapping around the cinnamonstony fruit, rough tannins on the finish, which is lipsmackingly long. A well focused wine, substantive, with good heft, but too young now. Good wine, although perhaps off the quality of many of the delightfully rough-edged l'Arrosées of the '80s that so warmed my cockles before the turn of the century.

Next theme wine is a Château Léoville Poyferré St. Julien 1996. Smells stonily cassisfruity, still rather monolithic but warm and aromatically appealing. Tastes similarly smooth, silky and round, with middling acidity but a certain vagueness in the middle. I like it, but the character is buried under a blanket of gentle redfruit, mostly potential now but still enjoyable in a fuzzy-snuggly sort of way.

Here then, at long last, is the BEST RED WINE IN THE WORLD which, more prosaically, is Abadia Retuerta Sardon de Duero Selección Especial 2001. We examine the neck tag, which does indeed confirm that this is the BEST RED WINE IN THE WORLD. An eager sniff gives my long-suffering nasal passages a jolt of buttered popcorn dipped in scorched plum-berry jam. Somewhat less eagerly, I sip at the thing. Yow. Boringly ripe and flabby, shrilly and disjointedly acidic, abrasively tannic and just generally horrible. Jay, a model of restraint, just manages to avoid spitting his mouthful back onto the tablecloth, then moans and twitches as if his tonsils had been extracted with a pair of rusty pliers. "Very interesting," I observe, "I do believe that absolutely everything is wrong with this wine. It's a veritable Cirque du Soleil of ickiness!"

There is much speculation on the notion that someone seems to have dubbed this noxious potion BEST RED WINE IN THE WORLD. Josef Goebbels' name comes up in the ensuing discussion, as do the phrases 'The Big Lie,' and 'Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,' but no satisfactory conclusions are reached.

With dessert on the way, we assay a Domaine Raymond Quenard Chignin-Bergeron Vin de Savoie Vendange de Novembre Eléve en Futs du Chne 2002 (500 ml.). I'm under the firm impression that this is a sweet wine, at least until Kane, who of course is first at it, makes a squinchy face and yelps "Hey! That's not sweet, it's dry!" I assume that means it's medium sweet, not the kind of sugar syrup he likes, but no, a quick taste proves he's right, it's not sweet at all. Not only that, it's muted and firm, neutral-stony-tasting and not at all what we need right now.

Disappointment begins to creep over the assembled geeks. An executive decision is called for, and I'm just the man for the job. "Gimme the sugar," I command, carefully selecting two of the little 'Sugar in the Raw' packets and chaptalizing my glassful with it. Or perhaps chaptalizing isn't the right term for post-pour sweetening? "What's the right term?" I ask, to blank stares. "We'll have to call it Coadalizing, then, until informed otherwise," I declare, and settle in to enjoy my newly-coined dessert wine.

Domaine Raymond Quenard Chignin-Bergeron Vin de Savoie Vendange de Novembre Eléve en Futs du Chêne Cuvée Sucre 2002 (500 ml.). Medium gold color. Smells ripe and honey-tangerine citric, with minerally undertones. I take a sip, and ahhh, that's better. The middling sweetness plumps up the stonycitric fruit, taking the edge of the previous severity and filling out the lean midpalate. The previously austere finish takes on a ginger-candy hint and lingers quietly. Very nice molleux-style dessert wine.

Camblor, eager to join the fun but wanting to avoid sucrose, grabs some sugar substitute and quickly whips up a batch of Domaine Raymond Quenard Chignin-Bergeron Vin de Savoie Vendange de Novembre Eléve en Futs du Chêne Cuvée Splenda 2002 (500 ml.). Similar to the Cuve Sucre, but maybe a bit sweeter, although the sweetness has a bit of an edge to it, without the roundness that filled out the Sucre. Nice, but I prefer the previous version.

Kane, for the third time in as many weeks, proceeds to bug me about when I'm going to post notes on a dinner we had at his house two months ago.

"Dammit Kane," I explain yet again, "I told you before, there just wasn't enough there--my notes were too sketchy, there were only like six wines, you didn't ruin anything you tried to cook, Michel and Catalina were too well behaved, nobody got drunk and got into a fight, my public demands more than that, there just wasn't enough quality material to meet my exacting standards."

He's not satisfied with this, moans "But the oxtails, I served oxtails...."

"I'm not your publicist, Kane," I snap. "But sure, I was surprised that abbatoir scraps could taste so... so... palatable."

"You'd never had oxtails before?" asks Jay.

"No, I... wait a minute, the damn oxtails are beside the point!" I insist. Or wait, no, I switch tactics. "Actually, the oxtails were soooooo tasty that I forgot to take notes on the wines or anything else. I was overcome with culinary bliss!"

"Nice dodge," says Jay, and I get a brief round of applause for my savoir-faire, whatever that is.

When we get up to leave Camblor calls me to one side and presses a small package into my hands. "I think I can help you," he says. "This will at least be a start."

When I get home I unwrap it, and find a package of homemade CDs featuring bands I've never heard of, labelled 'The Latin Liquidator Hip Kit.'

My goodness, that's awfully nice. Maybe I'll let that whole "Coad doesn't like Burgundy" weirdness slide after all.


BONUS SECTION: SKETCHY NOTES ON KANE'S OXTAIL DINNER FROM THREE MONTHS AGO JUST SO HE'LL STOP BUGGING ME ABOUT IT

Okay, so we had dinner. Kane served oxtails. They were good. Some other things happened, but I can't remember what they were. The lovely and talented Michel Abood was there with CEO Catalina. Lisa tells Catalina the story of her Vera Wang sample sale wedding dress triumph. This kind of thing is very big for chicks, I notice. Squeals of delight and amazement ensue.

Kane brings us a Château Soucherie/Pierre-Yves Tijou Savennières 1995. Flat, apple-juicy and oxidized. The latest in a long list of cooked Savennières from Kane's apparenly malfunctioning storage unit. Why is he doing this to us? Is he trying to tell us something? Does he hate us this much? While he's in the kitchen the rest of us mutter darkly, and the mood grows threatening, ominous.

Pirineos Mesache Somontano Blanco 2004. Sweetly floral smelling, apple blossom and honeysuckle, with just a hint of muscatty yellow apple. Tastes shiny, medium-crisp acidity, light creaminess, friendly and open, medium-loosely knit and accesible. Nice.

Francois Chidaine Montlouis 'les Tuffeaux' 2004. Just a hint of sulfurous funk at first, blows off soon. Smells lightly orange-rindy, lemon and gardenia whiteflorality. Light hint of sweetness, precise, lovely, on the light & lacy side. Pretty, charming Montlouis.

Château Pontet-Canet Pauillac 2003. Broad, blackfruity and richly flavored. I was prepared to dislike this, but it's stymied me. Weighty without being ponderous, ripe and broad, with enough structure to get by and a lot of slightly peculiar but interesting tarry-smoky-earthy-blackfruit flavors. Reminds me a bit of some of the better '03 Bourgueils--atypical and oafish at heart but strangely likeable--Jethro Bodine in a glass.

Bosquet des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Chantemerle Vieilles Vignes 1998. When he's in the driver's seat Kane always opens a Southern Rhne so he can indulge his lust for gobbiness and wash away the taste of the Burgundies and other species of foulness that the rest of us force on him. This is the prototypical Kane concoction--ripe and raspberried, plush and pillowy fruit, medium acidity, light earthy notes, only slightly boisterous. Jay Miller would gag, but it's got some composure and big-boned balance. If you're partial to simple frooty wines, this is probably a decent choice; I rather like it.

Señorío de Cuzcurrita Rioja 2000. I've tasted with Camblor enough to feel this wine hurting him psychically from afar, the fat cassisfruit just lashing his back bloody. Ripe, generously toasty-oaky, low acidity, cassis-raspberry flavors, plump chewy flesh, everything one could want from a traditional Rioja. Kudos!

What's this, now? A Kiss Chasey Cabernet Shiraz Merlot Western Australia 2004? Hmm, looks like Kane is digging into his sample bin. Let's see, focus now. Hmmm... it's ripe. Ripe and purple. Ripe, purple fat industrial wine product, richly flavored and bland as Velveeta, with an abrasive finish. On the good side, it's deeply colored, a pretty shade of saturated purply-black.

Bodegas Toro Albala Pedro Ximenez 1975. This tastes like these things always taste. See notes on the '71, '72, etc. For all intents and purposes they all taste alike. Oh sure, if we did a vertical of nothing but PX we'd find some individuality, but in any other context it's simply hugely sweet motor oil, with walnuts and toasted marshmallow to add flavor, plus a pleasant whiff of volatility. I enjoy smelling it, but after drinking a tablespoon or two it quickly becomes exhausting.

There, it's done. Please Brad, stop with the phone calls and emails.




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