So here's a well thought out notion: let's get a group of sweaty drunks together in the heat of a New York summer, huddle round a fire in a cat-infested backyard in Brooklyn and try to see how long cold chenin will keep us from expiring!
Thus it was that a surly crowd of New York geeks descended on Tony Fletcher's swingin' outer borough love shack laden with offerings of Vouvennières and various and sundry comestibles. Our own sundry comestible is eight pounds of raw beef, which brings the cats running and earns us their immedate respect and admiration.
It's a hot, buggy day and most of us have worked up a healthy glow just by the requisite subway jostling required to get here. I make my obeisance to our hosts and gulp a glass of the first wet thing I can find, which happily is a Huet Vouvray Petillant 1998. It's its usual easygoing self, lightly bready with lemon-limestone hints and a cheerfully light fizziness. Not the most concentrated of Huet Petillants, it's mellower in its youth than a weightier vintage might be, and is thus well suited to its appointed task of refreshing me. Were I prone to scoring I would give it two and a half glistening ice-sculpted Prongs, splashed with artisinal French lemonade and set in small woven wicker bowl-topped pedestals in front of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. There's another fizz here, a Domaine du Vieux Pressoir Saumur NV. It has yeasty, bready aromatics that prompts Jayson to exclaim "Smells like beer!" Under the yeastiness there's an airy, lemon-tinged wine that is frothy and flimsy, a decent but quickly forgettable mouthful of fizz.
Discretion keeps me from speculating on the nature of Jay's shirt. Let's just say it's magenta. With pleats. And colorful triangle designs on the cuffs and collar. And a colorful design brocaded on the breast. Really something.
To start the real Vouvennièrois ball rolling we open up a Joly Savennières Clos de la Coulée de Serrant 1991: Always too sulphurous, this isn't quite as overwhelmingly so now, but there's a definite brimstone streak that just won't resolve. Under that there are nosewrinklingly angry green celery and chalk aromatics, a pointed stick to the nostrils. In the piehole it's hard at first and watery in the middle, with sour-tart lemony fruit and a chalky-matchstick finish. It's a testament to the quality of the vineyard that in this underfruited, hollow and ultimately unpleasant wine you can sense the lost possibilities and the ghost of greatness. Peculiar, and a little disconcerting to drink.
Next up is a Huet Vouvray Le Mont Sec 1998: Smells of chalk and more chalk, lemon zest and a touch of white honey. Quite a crisp slap to the palate upon first sippage, spring-tight and a little puckery. From there it opens daintily in the midpalate, the steely acidity clothed with a velvety skin of yellow fruit, then moves into a long lemony finish. This brings my mouth to life, tastebuds standing up and saluting. Bracing wine, snappy and on the haughty side. I like it.
As we sip and sweat we're shocked to hear a recounting of all the vivid details of Jill and Marty's initial dalliance on the set of Yeoman of the Guard. I'm not sure a family board is the proper place for amatory Gilbert & Sullivan shenanigans, so, once again the soul of discretion, I'll segue back to the matter in my glass.
Which just happens to be another Schnauzer-certified cult Anjou from the Angeli collection, a Marc Angeli Anjou 'La Lune' 2000. It smells Creamsiclish, like a more-vanilla-less-orange version of his Anjou Rosé. Is Creamsicle the house style? Under that there's a rosy-floral note and flashes of lemon. Rich, full mouthfeel, rather like a dry dessert wine--the core is tight and the wine is a little monolithically rich and creamy, but there's interesting material here. I like Angeli, but the cult phenomenon has driven his prices into the stratosphere. I'm told this one sells for something like $450 on the secondary market (much less off the mailing list, of course), which is of course utterly nuts. Will the endless upward spiral of cult Anjou prices never come to an end?
Back to earth with a Château du Chamboreau Savennières Roche Aux Moines 1999: Pale. Hints of lemon, chalk and almonds. Tastes light and feathery, a Lilliputian Savennières. Small-scaled and vague, unchallenging and pleasant to sip. Don't age, drink.
Since we've got eight pounds of beef to grill and my eye starts to twitch at the notion of steak with Vouvennières, I've brought a Mystery Red to drink with the filet, and now it is passed from hand to hand, swirled, sniffed and puzzled over. Here's my nonblind note...
My Mystery Red: Medium-dark garnet color. Rich velvety nose, ripe and darkly smoky, plenty of dark berry fruit, bomber jacket and toasty oak. Tastes big and dense and ripe, well balanced for such a robust wine, but quite monolithic, just a big ripe red oaky thing. Swarms of sandy tannins on the finish are really the only distinguishing feature. Pretty decent, quite routine.
The guesses come rolling in--Long Island cab franc, California petite sirah, syrah from the Central Coast, Tablas Creek Rouge, cabernet from Rutherford, "something from Ridge," everyone goes for New World, almost unanimously California, with the consensus that it's a generically ripe, oaky wine that is clearly Californian and clearly nondescript. Thus there are some furrowed brows when it is revealed to be Livio Sassetti (Pertimali) Brunello di Montalcino 1997.
This freakishly ripe Brunello brings to mind the recent Percarlo tasting where the '97 version of that Supertuscan stuck out like a sore thumb for its international-style ripeness and velvety undistinguishability. I do certainly see the petite sirah notion, as that's what the wine reminds me of as well, with its dense berry fruit and rough tannic structure. Jayson seems almost shellshocked, tasting it over and over again and muttering "No... nothing... nothing of sangiovese... nothing... nothing at all of sangiovese..." feverishly under his breath. Jay's summation that it's "decent wine but terrible Brunello" closes the door nicely on the matter, and we move back to our regularly scheduled celebration of Vouvennières.
Château d'Epiré Savennières Cuvée Speciale 1995 Smells of lemon, chalk and green apples, with a light trace of lavender. Lavender? Yes, lavender. Happily lacking in the limpidity that I've come to expect from EpirŽ, this has good stucture, nice crispness, a sharp and focused wine that comes to a skitterish lemony finish. Pretty good, not a whole lot of character but good balance and cohesion. I've never been a big fan of Epiré, but I'm quite content to drink this.
Bixby the Wonder Cat, hepped up on bloody filet, rockets up the wooden post behind my head, nearly taking my left ear off in the process. Would that we all had such vim.
Now Marty has a Mystery Wine of his own--it's a white this time...
Marty's Mystery White: It's chenin, and it's quite ripe and rather tropical-smelling, pineapple and lemon with a light earthy streak underneath. There's just enough acidity to support the puppyfattish fruit, and it's smooth and silky going down. Jayson heads for Montlouis and I go right along with him--the vivid ripeness suggests '97 as the year, and the '97 Tuffeaux from Chidaine seems a decent guess. Turns out to be the Weinstock Chenin Blanc Clarksburg " Contour" 1998. Everyone's favorite Cal chenin holds its own nicely here with the imports. Heaven truly shines its blessings on the Golden State! And it's even kosher, so the ultraorthodox among us can breathe easily.
Domaine du Closel Savennières Vieilles Vignes 1990. Unfortunately rather oxidized, the second bottle in a row that has shown signs of damage. This isn't as sherried as the bottle at the recent Monte Bello jeebus, but the wine's center is flattened out and there's a baked-apple quality that isn't present in a pristine bottle. Sad, as when this is on form it's sublime. Still, it's got a lot going on, and even off form the bottle is drained.
The running gag tonight seems to be something about how all the wines must be damaged because they've been sitting out in seventy-degree temperatures for several hours. I'm not sure what this is about until someone explains that some goof on one of the internet wine boards (the Parker board? Strat's Place?) straightfacedly opined something along those lines, to general derision. By garn, I can't even keep up with the furors on the boards I read, much less the tertiary boards, so I smile beatifically in the manner of Bob Ross and assume the sedate manner of someone who knows what's going on.
Domaine des Baumard Savennières Trie Speciale 1995: Matchsticky hint at first, blows off soon enough. Smells of candied lemon zest, white peach and minerals, laced lightly with pale honey. Large, balanced and rich, it's got everything in place and is firing on all cylinders. Very nice, well made, rich and prettily balanced, but cold around the heart. Maybe the fact that Kane is braying loudly about how SPECTACULAR it is makes me suspicious that something must be wrong with it, but this is yet another lovely wine of theirs that I can find no fault with but simply doesn't ring my bell.
Château Soucherie (Tijou) Savennières Clos des Perrieres 1997: Here's a young brawler, boisterously aromatic--yellow apple, white peach, almond, paraffin and the telltale earthy streak playing timpani underneath it all. With air a pollen note rises out of the glass and insinuates itself into the mix. It's a bright, focused wine with big flavors--more apple and quince, with a beguiling floral-chamomile streak emerging in the midpalate and lingering saucily on the finish. Young, tight at the core and jovial at the edges, an impressive, complete Savennières that could use time but is hard not to like now. A big wine with a bit of a swagger, maybe even wearing an eyepatch and a pair of jhodpurs and cursing in Portuguese. Ding ding ding. My favorite so far.
Here's a (semi-)old friend, the Francois Pinon Vouvray Cuvée Tradition (Demisec) 2000: Fresh and young, yellow apples and Barlett pear juice poured from a white stone flagon. A touch of sweetness brings out the colors of the fruit, here's balance and harmony in a satiny-smooth package. Amid the heavy hitters of the region the unassuming Tradition cuts a smart profile, holding its own very nicely. Of course, I'm biased towards the man because he has a really cool car and a coopful of the brawniest pigeons in the Western Hemisphere, so take what I say with a grain of salt.
Now there is a respectful silence as the three Huet mo‘lleux are carried in, each on its own small velvet cushion.
Huet Vouvray Le Mont Moëlleux 1985. Medium to pale gold color. Brightly and sweetly aromatic, lots of pretty dancing smellies--lemon and honey, chalk and quince. A sip, and here' a frothy wave of deep yellow fruit, bright and lemony at first, then broadening and spreading, turning stony and honeyed in the middle. Beautiful, fresh and nimble. A great balance of light sweetness and acidity, and immediate front runner for wine of the night. As with other Huet '85s there's no perceptible botrytis but complexity in spades. Of perhaps half a dozen bottles that I've tasted this is the best showing I've had of this wine--it's bright, light and young, with considerable intensity and a nervy vivaciousness that has sometimes been missing in past bottles. Makes me want to jump up on the table and dance the lambada, the forbidden dance.
Huet Vouvray Le Mont Moëlleux 1971: Hmmm. This ain't quite right; the honey and lemon and waxy-lanolin hints that one would expect are all there, but there is a caramelized candy-brown quality to the aromatics--what ought to be bright and fresh has a pressed-flower quality. I take a sip, and the trend continues; the wine is rich and medium-sweet, but after an immediate burst of honey-lemon flavors it turns flaccid and caramel flavors seep kudzulike into the vibrant heart of the wine. A listless, damaged bottle, a real shame. Jay Miller registers his disappointment by pouring his glassful all over Jayson.
Huet Vouvray Le Mont Moëlleux 1er Trie 1989. Despite the shameless theft of the word "Trie" from the Bordelais, this is lovely stuff. Joyous apple-apricot-quince-honey-tea smellies jump straight up my nose, all laced with a healthy dollop of spicy botrytis. In the piehole it's the sweetest of the three, medium-plus sweet, crisp and juicily fleshy, with a slight baked-apple flavor in the middle. Maybe a little off, but even so it's a beautiful wine, just oozing complexity and depth.
I don't know how this non-VouvenniŹres wine slipped in, but here's a Château Pierre-Bise Coteaux du Layon Rochefort 1995: Medium gold-amber color. Smells of caramel, apricot and pineapple, lightly botrytisated. The amount of sugar is a little startling after the Huets, and the wine comes off as ponderous and borderline goopy. But on top of that there's a flattened-out quality to the fruit. I'm getting increasingly edgy every time I open a Pierre-Bise sweetie these days, as several have shown signs of premature aging. This one smells and tastes ten years older than it ought--the color is roughly the same as the Huet 1971. If it were just one bottle, I'd assume bad storage, but it has been a trend. (A troubling trend, as I've got scads of the stuff stashed away.)
Just like that we're out of wine. The assembled geeks begin to make their farewells, but Tony, flush with hostly munificence, leads us down into his cellar and starts attempting to open more bottles. To my everlasting shock and horror everyone demurs politely and insists they've had their fill. Despite repeated entreaties, no one wants to take advantage of our well-lit host, and thus we bid a relatively sober farewell to the Borough of Kings.
I tell you, they don't make winegeeks like they used to.