I am troubled.
Star Chick Sommelier Vanessa Treviño Boyd has thrown us a curve ball in her delicately engraved invitation by mentioning that there will be "non-internet winegeeks" attending her nonjeebus. I don't know what to make of this, and can only hope that there will be enough regular geeks to be able to band together and shun the outsiders. Physical confrontation isn't something I'm looking for, but I'm not going to back down from some pussy real-world wino types either, especially in front of my woman.
So it is that we arrive at the outer-borough splendor of Casa Nesita hauling a bit of trepidation along with our Spiegelaus. Happily, everyone here seems to be a familiar online geek--there's the reassuringly monikered SFJoe, the ever-irrepressible Brad Kane, Star Chick Sommelier (and our hostess for the evening) Vanessa Treviño Boyd.
There's also someone I don't know, this must be the first of the noninternet geek guys. He's what, Australian? South African? Bengali? Welsh? Something not-quite-Brooklyn, at any rate. I eye him warily and decide to respond to any wine related issue with one-word answers or noncommittal grunts, thereby not tipping my hand. He may have big rugby-playing friends coming soon, and one never knows if one will inadvertently insult or offend someone from a noninternet winegeek culture. Best to lay low for awhile.
I grab a glass of Pierre Peters Champagne Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut NV to distract myself. It's very bready-smelling, smells like WheatBerry bread, if anyone besides me remembers that, with lemony accents. Smooth and frothily-fizzy, a broad and blunted wine, one that appeals to those of us who like our Champagnes big and flavorful and don't favor the namby-pamby 'elegant' style. In other words, it's plebeian bubbly, blue collar stuff for Joe Lunchpail. Our hostess doesn't think there's enough structure. I patiently explain to her that this wine is what's called a 'blanc de blancs,' and therefore made from one hundred percent chardonnay. One can't expect chardonnay to have as much structure as pinot noir-based bubblies, can one? She nods slowly, absorbing the information.
Alice & Olivier de Moor Chablis 2002. Smells like hay, hay and baked yellow apple, hay and canned pear juice, more hay. Hmm. Tastes broad and diffuse, oxidative, some acidity but a general sense of honesty and tiredness. There is a poem on the label in tiny, scrawly French script that no one can decipher. This is apparently an unsulfured cuvée, and it looks like that may have been a miscalculation, or perhaps they're just jumping on the oxidative-style bandwagon that's sweeping France. SFJoe pronounces it "Inoxidizable," I pronounce it "strange."
Star Chick Sommelier (and tonight's hostess) Vanessa Treviño Boyd passes around luscious seared scallops with pea mush on potato chips. Outstanding! "The potato chips aren't too salty?" she asks. Not at all, not at all, I reassure her. She blinks at me, weighing my sincerity, until she's satisfied that I mean what I say.
Domaine des Baumard Savennières Clos Papillon 1995. Pleasant to smell, paraffin and lemon-quince, just a hint of almond. Peculiarly friendly and open, loosely knit and creamy, a mellow wine with fine firm acidity and pleasant minerality. SFJoe sneaks up behind me, "Does this wine seem suspiciously friendly to you?" I nod emphatically, but I'm not entirely sure what I mean. Look, my issues with Baumard are a matter of record, so I'm not sure if I'm prejudging based on label expectations or what, but this wine seems close to mature. Plus, the recent weirdnesses with both '01 and '96 Coulées have probably put me in a strange brainframe, not to mention Kane's insistence that all of Closel's '95 Savennières are crashing and burning. I wish Mme. de Jessey were here to explain things; she has a very reassuring presence, and I feel a little lost without her.
Life. You know?
Wook, now here's something that's disturbingly unfamiliar for a geek event: women begin to arrive, one after another. Where are they coming from? Will we be able to keep Kane from offending them? Strange forces are in motion: the testosteroni center cannot hold.
P. Cotat Sancerre Chavignol les Monts Damnés 1997. "Hey," says SFJoe, "I almost brought that--I had my hand on the bottle!" Lovely, pure, subtle, elegant. Supple, lightly flinty-smelling, hints of white grapefruit and lime rind, touch of sweet peachiness, lots of chalk underneath. Within half an hour, the flintiness has faded almost entirely away and a pure citric-chalkiness has asserted itself. Tastes calm and soothing, a middleweight wine with a great deal of presence. There's sufficient acidity, but also a sense of langour, a Tennessee Williams quality. Great suppleness and flavor for such a calm wine; there's no flashiness here, just friendly purity and modesty. I have to keep myself from hanging onto the bottle and killing it all myself.
The Cotat is a strangely appropriate match with gazpacho. Our hostess, Star Chick Sommelier Vanessa Treviño Boyd, opines that the gazpacho has too much green pepper in it. I disagree with her assessment, remembering that she takes food slights seriously.
No, that didn't come out right, I just meant she thinks something's amiss if I don't mention the food, which I often just don't mention because I don't like food, you know, like that, not that there really was too much green pepper in the gazpacho, the gazpacho was just fine. Really. More than fine, in fact, it was delicious.
What was I talking about?
I don't remember. Anyway, I look across the room, and a young woman named Anita is discussing syrah with Brad. Just as I start to eavesdrop, Kane stumbles into a quip when he takes exception to her description of syrah as 'silky.' "Silky?" he frowns, "I get no silk from syrah!" This is soon being sung to the requisite Porter tune. It is Porter, right? Okay, you had to be there.
Here's a Vincent & Francois Jouard Chassagne-Montrachet La Maltroie Vieilles Vignes 2002. Good whiff of butterscotch/vanilla woodwork on the nose, but there's some placid yellow fruit and a quiet underlying minerality as well. The wood is actually the first thing to stroll over my tongue, but some lean yellow-apple/pear fruit races after it and throws a stonyfruity bathrobe over its nakedness. Lightly creamy texture, young and bright with a pleasant buoyancy and good focus. Nice balance as well. Actually, for woody chardonnay it's pretty decent. Would probably benefit from a few years' bottle age.
"The QUICHE!" squeals our hostess, and she races from the room. This momentarily stops the conversation, but only momentarily. Since no quiche is forthcoming, we move on to more whites.
Ook, it's a Lopez de Heredia Viña Gravonia 1994. Coconut-vanilla woodiness right up front, aromatically shy, hints of ginger and lemon-cream. Even shyer in the mouth, tight and hard and dense. I can't understand what this wine is saying. Where's Camblor, he could probably explain it to me, or Victor. Or maybe they'd just disagree and I'd be more confused than ever.
Puzelat Touraine la Tesnière 2002. I see this being poured and peg it as a Puzelat wine by its translucency. Light cloudy garnet color, maybe 3% cyan and 4% magenta past being a rosé. Light aromatics, quiet cherry, yamskin earthiness, subtle herbaceousness. Tastes quiet and soothing; light, honest wine that lacks nothing but weight. Not that I'd want it to be weighty; insubstantial charm is a good part of its appeal. Perfectly delightful.
Now a couple of Burgundies, starting with a Hudelot-Noëllat Vosne-Romanée les Suchots 2001. Smells ripe, warm cherry-beet fruit laced with forest-floor and cinnamon toast hints. Friendly, young and broad-shouldered, hearty Burgundy with a bit of baby fat. The elements aren't all pulling together--the smoky wood sticks out a bit, there's some harshness to the tannins on the finish and a bit of blowsiness, but these seem minor quibbles in the face of an eager puppy of a wine. Fun to drink now, if I had any I'd let it rest just a little while.
Fourrier Chambolle-Musigny les Gruenchers 'Vieille Vigne' 2001. The continual production these people get from their single old vine is mind-gobbling. Talc and cherry on the nose, pure and focused redfruit-mineral aromas. A sip, and this is a lean, sinewy wine, minerally and taut, focused and devoid of fat or excess anything. Impressively seamless and striking, if a little hard-boned at the moment. Very very young, in need of a decade or so, but quite a wine, quite a wine. Drink sometime during the week of March 3rd-10th, 2016.
The non-internet geek (henceforth "TNIG") keeps going on about how the Hudelot-No‘llat has "fruit" and the Fourrier doesn't. This is strange monkey talk, and I don't know what to make of it. Is it code? Is he a fruitist looking for like-minded types to talk about gobs? I decide to wait, bide my time until he reveals himself further, then strike like a cobra.
Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon California Jimsomare 1993. Hey, it's California! Ripe cassis, bell pepper hints, a dollop of vanilla-coconut. Ripe tasting as well, soothing and warmly rich, chewy-textured and robust, with just enough structure. C'mon, it's ripe meaty cabernet with a bit of complexity, what's the problem? I think I'm the only one who likes it, I'm not sure how my colleagues went so far wrong, they've turned into Old World zealots!
The inevitable chemistry talk between Lisa and SFJoe starts to bubble up; the rest of us just sigh and wait for it to blow over. But hey, TNIG is joining in too, he's a chemical guy! This is just too much. It's time to send the Mystery Wine around, maybe that'll throw a little cold water on their molecule party.
Mystery Wine in Decanter: Medium-dark garnet color. Smells quiet, blackberry-raspberry, tar, maybe some licorice, just a bit of, what is that, black olive? Tastes smooth and richly blackberried, but also rather squishy and vague in the middle. There's a nice warm surge of smoky blackfruit right up front that turns earthy and shy halfway through, then finishes with a bit more assertiveness. The acidity seems missing at first, but comes around a bit in the middle. It's friendly wine, but the character is more than a little indistinct, and as a result the guessing is all over the place and reels drunkenly in this order: cabernet franc, Monte Bello, Northern Rhône, young Hermitage, California syrah, some Edmund Stevens wine, zinfandel, petite sirah, cabernet sauvignon. (Edmunds St. John Syrah El Dorado County Wylie-Fenaughty 2000)
Everyone is puzzled by the syrah. SFJoe looks pained, dipping his nose into his glass and shaking his head, muttering "It's not speaking to me... it's not speaking to me...." Star Chick Sommelier Vanessa Treviño Boyd settles on "Northern Rhône," and TNIG goes with 'California syrah," so they're the closest (TNIG had actually tossed out Edmund Stevens's name at one point, but backpedaled a bit).
Château Léoville Las-Cases St. Julien 1993. Yup, that's Bordeaux all right: the aromatics are a little wan, but there's dark berry-cassis fruit laced with cedar and a touch of gravel. Tastes quiet and composed, mediumweight, loosely wrapped, a bit hollow but serviceable enough. If you're not looking for a lot of stuffing or distinctive character, this is competent Bordeaux: "workmanlike" comes to mind. "Bland" also comes to mind if I let my mind wander, but my mind tends to wander in unkind directions if I let it off its leash, so I'll be fair and stick with decent and quite drinkable now. Not quite enough guts to go with the delicious summer cassoulet; where's the Madiran?
Sean Thackrey Orion Old Vines 1994. Blackberry and menthol aromatics Blackberry-earthy flavors, bit of plumminess in the middle, a pool of dark matte-black fruit. Large, limp, dull, coming unglued. SFJoe points out that he brought it for me, a verbal cue that means he's uncovered some long-forgotten monstrosity in his closet and said "What the hell was I thinking? Oh wait, I'll get Coad to drink it, he'll drink anything!"
The requisite Best Porn Name contest is held: Anita wins it going away with "Orpheus Levinne." Me, I'm not even in the top five.
Oriel Sauternes 'Ondine' 2001. What's up with the funny name? Ondine? Isn't that a play, or a nymph or something? There's a slightly creepy boutiquishness about the label, it has design-class chilliness. The wine itself is more interesting: lightly aromatic, creamy-vanilla, caramel and orange rind hints, smells quite woody, light botrytis (it's either light or hidden behind the carpentry). Lighter-tasting than I thought it would be--loose, creamy and buttery sweet. Decent, easygoing Sauternes.
There's some kind of freezer wine floating around as well, but it floats past me, never to return. I've been not spitting a lot, so I'm a little blurry by this point. My notebook has dissolved into utter incoherence. Here are the last few entries: "Hagl abut the ond?? (indecipherable)... anal sex for cats... Shaba Ashton..." I have no damn idea what any of it means, especially the cats bit, but I think it was something funny at the time. Can anyone fill me in?
People are leaving already? But it's only midnight, c'mon now, where's your stamina? Wait, here's the Twilight Zone surprise twist ending: after TNIG leaves, Vanessa tells me that he's really a big cheese on some wine board I don't know, like the Jay Miller Bordeaux Board or something like that. He's an internet winegeek after all!
Didn't see that coming, did you?
Okay, that's it, I guess we're done. Subway time, time to head out.
Wait, whatever happened to that quiche?