Last Tuesday I wandered into Minetta Tavern at 6:45 only to find to my amazement that I was the first geek on the scene (for the first time ever), avoiding my usual last-minute rush and scramble. Needless to say, I was ecstatic--strangely so, even. This feeling of warmth and emotional attunement to the greater cosmos stayed with me as long as I was at Minetta.
Soon thereafter the first of the evening's three guests of honor arrived in the form of The Mighty Thor Iverson himself, followed closely by some of the usual local suspects--the irrepressible Bradley Kane, .sasha, as well as Andrew Munro Scott and Jennifer Clark, happily classless for this evening. That wily swain Bob Ross is there, and Oleg O. comes in all aglow (freshly returned from a pilgrimage to Napa, Land of Milk and Honey), with his pal .misha along to see the show. We mill about uncertainly until .sasha, in a gesture of raw potency, whips out a frightfully butch bottle, a magnum of Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frederic Emile 1989, and places it center stage. We admire its substantial girth and move quickly to consume as much of it as we can before the stragglers arrive.
89 Fred: Pale straw color, veering into pale lemon at the center of the glass; ooh, its got a nose that means business, fragrantly rich, stern and velvety--an iron nose in a velvet noseglove. White flowers and minerals, a touch of gasoline, good riesling fruit. Tastes like it smells, a tightly-coiled big wine with a smooth steely spine surrounded by a layer of citrus-rock cream, tangy and lingering a long time around the tonsils. Very young still, very rich and pretty (if such a strong wine can be called pretty without impugning it), just showing tiny signs of loosening up a bit around the edges.
Here's an Albert Mann Gewürztraminer Steingrubler 1995: Pale straw; lightly floral-spritzy nose, delicate notes of honey and roses. .sasha wonders if this is the product of granite soil. I wonder, too, but only because .sasha wondered first. .sasha is on my right, and I find that if I hear him say something I can repeat it to the people on my left, who are then suitably impressed with my perspicacity. Sweet-smelling and smooth, with a nice medium-weight mouthfeel, more typical gewürzy-lychee flavors appear in the midpalate along with a pronounced minerality, couched with very nicely balanced acidity and no heaviness or overt viscosity. Finishes strong but not terribly long, a very nice balanced elegant package of gewürz.
A helmeted Abe Dressner arrives, having biked in from his busy, busy workplace, followed closely by SFJoe, cellphone fastened to his ear like that critter in Alien. Abe surveys the scene, pulls bottle after bottle from his magic bag, pronounces the ceremonial benediction "Let the drunken festivization begin!" and we're off once more.
Hubert Laferrere Mâcon-Chardonnay 1998: Pale straw; light, lemon-pear-cream hints with a touch of rainwater underneath, aromatically light and fresh-smelling. A light, smooth, easy-drinking Macon, tangy and crisp and on the lean side, not terribly complex, but a pleasant little chardonnay that might actually go well with food, light and silky in the mouth.
Wïllï Schaefer Rïeslïng Kabïnett Wehlener Sonnenuhr 1998er: A.P. Number 2 58315 408 99.
Frog's Leap Sauvignon Blanc Napa 1998: Pale, pale straw; this wine is apparently the result of either dry farming or dry humping, whatever either of those techno-oenological terms means. Peculiar nose of green plastic lime-juice container with some soft creamy notes behind it. Kind of round in the mouth but with some pointy acidity that doesn't seem to be in the same glass as the limpid fruit, really a little peculiar. Thor can only say "I haven't had a wine like this in a pig fit of Sundays" which is apparently some kind of Bostonian wine jargon. With air it settles a bit and gets both flatter and pointier. Needs time; try again in thirty years.
More guests of honor arrive--Rob and Ilene Adler, transfer students from the West Coast WLDG clan, and Mike Dashe (Eighth Avatar of Zinshnu, God of Zinfandel)--and they are welcomed accordingly, with murmured obeisances and much genuflecting and forelock-pulling. The cry goes up--Barkeep, more glasses, more wine, more of your finest meats and cheeses!
Franz Hirtzberger Spitzer Riesling Singerriedel Smaragd 1999: Good whiff of sulfur from this one right off the bat. Wait a bit... still there... fading... okay, underneath there's a bright stony-appley-lemon-hay nose with a hint of vinyl (sheet metal?) in the mix. Very crisp, very tart, a big wine that's got a lot going on but is very very young and aggressive and a little overwhelming. Puzzling.
Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Demisec 1971: Light gold color; crikey, this smells amazing. Lush, honeyed nose that just shimmers and changes as you smell it--lemon-honey, earth, caramel, earl grey tea, leather--so complex and layered that I want to just keep swirling and sniffing, swirling and sniffing. In the mouth there's only a very light sweetness, which serves to bring out the pretty, still young and tight at the core chenin fruit, which just doesn't finish at all but keeps humming and echoing in your mouth throughout the evening. This wine still seems young, like it could go another thirty years with one hand tied behind its label. If this isn't the wine of the night it's going to be a memorable evening, because this is a real beauty.
Mittnacht-Klack Riesling Muhlforst 1989 SGN: Pale straw; light kerosene, lemon, green apple, but wait, there's a very odd industrial solvent aroma lurking in the nose of this wine that isn't terribly noticeable at first, but soon dominates and makes smelling it rather unpleasant. Tastes okay, though, lightly sweet, slightly round in the mouth. I dunno, it's hard to get past the solventlike smell.
And just like that, we're out of whites and move on to wines of color. Abe expresses relief due to a preference for wines that taste of 'framboise and cassis,' which only sounds like more techno-oenology jargon to me, but the world is very wide and I have much to learn.
Here's a red, a Brown Estate Zinfandel Napa 1997: Rich medium-dark garnet color; candied dark black-raspberry nose, with light black rubber and toasted coconut notes along with a beguiling hint of volatility. Medicinal, slightly sweet and over-pumped, with a finish that veers into a flash of heat and some tarry oakiness and lingers a bit longer than you'd like. More weird and slightly freaky than anything else.
Ridge Lytton Estate Syrah 1996: Medium-dark garnet, heading towards inkiness; a ton of sweet dark oak on the nose over a base of burnt-rubber, berry and smoke, with a hint of cheese curdiness. Very oaky, a shame. Sadly, I can no longer say I've never had a really bad wine from Ridge.
During this brief period of griping, it becomes clear that Thor and I have some kind of a separated-at-birth situation going on, and I am given the ceremonial Finger of Asgard as a sign that all is well, a favor that I happily return. Can this be true? Does the blood of the Aesir run in my veins?
Les Chemins de Bassac VdP de Côtes de Thongue Cap de l'Homme 1997: Medium garnet; leathery-dark berry fruit, some menthol. In the mouth tangy and aggressive, young bitter red-dark earthy fruit moves into a red-dark earthy-tarry finish. Young and surly, but not bad. Kind of brash and fun.
Les Chemins de Bassac VdP de Côtes de Thongue Pinot Noir 1997: Medium red color; light plum-cherry-clove aromas, tangy & ripe, surprisingly full-bodied. Dark tart fruit turns towards licorice and clove on the finish. Nice, supple pinot, not complex, but pleasant.
Lisa walks in the door just in time to throw the first red flag of the night, on a Domaine des Pensées Sauvages Corbières 1997 that reeks of corkiness. Two-four-six-eight, who do we TCAte? Lisa, Lisa, yaaaayy Lisa!
Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 1998: Medium-dark garnet; smooth soft nose, a bit quiet, with dark smoky oakiness showing through above the dark silky berry fruit. Smooth and balanced, but the fruit is a little reticent and not giving up much at this point in its young life, and some rough tannins emerge on the finish.
Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Todd Brothers Ranch Alexander Valley 1998: Medium-dark garnet; lusher, riper-smelling and more open than the Dry Creek Valley, this is drinking very nicely right now, with lovely rich raspberry-black cherry flavors very well balanced by firm acidity. There's some smoky oak here, too, but it serves to add a nice dark spiciness to the fruit. Elegant and supple, and this wine even makes the cut for the evening's theme of "Wines .sasha Can Put in His Mouth," a true rarity for a California wine.
Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 1985: Half the table seems to have decided this wine is corked, but they are trigger-happy. Fortunately, I listen to Andrew's advice to try it myself. Medium red, with just the tiniest hint of bricking at the rim. Graphite-rich nose, with a tight base of oregano-tinged blackcurrant fruit & hints of cedar, still rather tight and minerally, not giving up much. I've been wondering if the fruit would fade before the structure on this one, and this bottle isn't doing much to resolve the issue, as it still seems coiled and fairly tight. The midpalate seems to be a little more dilute than I remember, but the finish is tangy and smooth and gravelly. Still tight, needs more time. Will the fruit last?
Bodegas Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva 1982: Medium to medium-light ruby color, with some amber at the rim. Carrot-cakey clove and cedar notes flit around over a base of very soft muted red fruit, layered and interesting to smell, with some leather and tobacco hints peeping out with a little encouragement. It's a little less interesting in the mouth, the acidity is slightly shrill and dominates some slightly tired tart sour-cherry fruit.
Domaine Gourt de Mautens Rasteau 1996: Brought to complete the Son of Odin's recent trio of Gourt vintages, this wine is dark and deep and red--rough, dense, oaky and tannic. SFJoe taps me on the shoulder: "This wine" he says "is a mouthful of steel wool." Good enough for me. The wielder of Mjolnir says that it is in fact better than the wine-jerky 1998 version, so perhaps there's hope for the jerky a few years down the road. There's a bit of leathery mustiness that has me eying Lisa, but it isn't too overt.
Viader Napa Valley 1997: Medium-dark garnet; cassis with chocolate on the nose, soft and slightly rough in the mouth--gritty textured aggressive tannins beat up on soft, fleshy fruit. I only get about a half-ounce of this, so it's a bit hard to figure out, but it seems a little flat & fleshy to me.
Château Beycheville 1964: Another Alpha Bottle, a magnum. Medium translucent ruby. Plenty going on here aromatically; cedar, stewed tomato, muted earthy red fruit, faded but still quite interesting. On first tastage there is a certain limpidity to the mouthfeel, but the wine soon rallies, and by the midpalate some bracing tartness kicks in that carries through to a good finish. Soft and smooth and silky, if unlayered, and, while not profound, does well for itself. I'd drink any more of it fairly soon, though.
Vietti Barolo Brunate 1988: Medium ruby, bricking slightly at the rim. Leathery, earthy muted cherry fruit , nice layered mix of flavors, crisp acidity buoys up the tangy red fruit that has an interesting rhubarb note in the midpalate. Tangy, crisp & long, my favorite of the reds so far. Oh, wait, we're out of reds. My favorite red of the night, then.
On to the sweeties.
Domaine Ostertag Gewürztraminer Fromholz VT 1994: Medium straw-gold. Flinty aromas mix with pale rose & light lychee, but there's a flat quality to the fruit here, it seems suppressed and subterrranean, and a nice crisp base mouthfeel just doesn't quite gel around the fruit. With time and air the gewürziness emerges a bit, but it still seems a bit fuzzy and gnarled.
Huet Vouvray Cuvée Constance 1989: There is more talk of corkiness when this is poured, but I'm not sure--there are rich, lush apricot-pineapple aromas, and something like the mythical wet wool in there with it--Drezler calls it 'off,' but there's a great deal of sweetness and power balanced with firm acidity. A big, powerful sweet and viscous wine. Finishes with wool and tea notes as the lush fruit subsides. Maybe a bit off, but still a lovely mouthful.
Quinta do Noval Porto 1997: Deep purply-black. Rich, lush, berry-brambly-nettley nose, cocoa and spice, thick and dense-smelling but fairly accessible and open. Fairly sweet, maybe sweeter than I like, but there's a ton of rich, deeply coiled fruit and good acidity. A compelling infant.
Domaine du Mas Blanc Banyuls Cuvée de la Saint Martin 1979: This bottle is cunningly disguised as a Nuits St. Georges, and it appears to be a refugee of some kind that Bob has been spiriting around in hopes of finding just the right crowd to appreciate it. We happily oblige. Medium-dark ruby, hinting at amber at the rim; cocoa and soft dark raspberry hit you on the nose, couched in dark earthy truffliness. Medium-sweet, very smooth and well balanced, a lighter wine than the previous two, but one with a good deal of strength and richness in its own right. Dark cocoa-berry flavors swirl through the midpalate and linger in a medium-length finish. Very nice.
Well, the wines were coming fast and furious all night, and I think I only missed two or three, which is a good ratio for me, especially since I am dragged off in the middle of the evening for an delightful impromptu job fair. Another session of festivization in the Big Apple comes to a close as we make our final tributes to the guests of honor, and people make their farewells and stagger off into the night.
Y'all come on back now, y'hear?