Time is all we have, and as another Saturday night rolled around I took some time off from my usual routine of sitting at home staring glassily off into the middle distance and decided to let seven precious hours slip inexorably away in as Pirandellian a way as I could imagine.
The more sensible, attractive and industrious members of our insular New York boozing contingent being otherwise occupied with sensible business- or school-related activities, four lonely and desperate figures met at Yura, the latest culinary flavor-of-the-month Upper East Side hotspot, for an early evening wine soaked stag party.
When I arrive at six-fifteen I find Mr. K___, Mr. S____ and Mr. C______ all chatting away in as blithe a manner imaginable, several bottles already half-drained, some nearing emptiness. I nod a curt greeting to my companions and momentarily wrestle a few of the more endangered bottles away from their thirsty hands, slapping a few questing fingers in the process and establishing authority with a well-placed "NO! BAD GEEK!" when one or another would try to grab them back.
Here's a Doctor Burklin-Wolf Riesling Forster Kabinett 1998: It's a pale straw color, with a slight greenish cast. Smells rich and white-grapefruity with a hint of honeydew. Quite ripe and marginally sweeter than your average Kab, there's more grapefruit when it hits the tongue, quite rich, tangily fruity but middle-of-the-road acidity. This one isn't terribly layered, but it's rich and decent and flavorful. Mr. K___, irrepressible as ever, bubbles that this wine made his 'Top Ten QPR List for last year!' but when we inquire as to where we could find this list, there is only amiable, smiling silence.
Mr. S____, resplendent in a JERSEY FRESH! t-shirt, pours me some Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spâtlêse 1996, which is another pale straw colored wine with a hint of a greenish tint. A hint of a tint, a hint of a tint. There's a light vinyly ur-kerosene note over lime rind hints and suggestions of tropicality. A taste, and tight fruit flavors race like a wave up the top of my tongue while sharp fingers of acidity stab under it and pinch my salivary glands. Very crisp, very stern, there are comments about 'S & M wine' because there's a pleasure/pain thing going on, with rich, tightly-wrapped fruity flesh wrapped closely around a core of knife-hard acidity, flowing into a green apple-lemon tinged finish. A rich, concentrated wine that is almost too much. Almost, but I do find myself sneaking another pour or two just for perverse kicks, which indeed do just keep gettin' harder to find.
I survey the scene. We seem to be attracting some sidelong glances, as we are the only group of four people with a dozen bottles of wine on the table, but we've all long since grown inured to that kind of attention. Mr. K___ shouts out "Hey, Judge!" and skips off to schmooze with some local legal figure at another table. We make no inquiries as to his intimate knowledge of the local justice system and its denizens. Instead, we pour a Domaine Aux Moines Savennièrres Roche Aux Moines 1990. There's a pretty beeswaxy honey-lemon nose flitting around above the medium straw-lemon colored wine, and, when sipped, the fruit has a feathery quality that belies the elegant acidic structure. It seems a bit soft at first, velvety-smooth and quiet, but as the wine blooms in my mouth the nimble strength underneath the fruit makes itself known. Very smooth and balanced, a seamless wine whose elements shift and shimmer with nary a clashed gear or fault line to betray them.
As I'm sitting, happily staring off into the middle distance and contemplating the changing faces of the Saviennièrres, the waiter comes by and explains that Mr. S____'s fish has been prepared badly and is not fit for his consumption, and, unfortunately, was the last of its tribe. He is encouraged to pick another dish, and does so gamely, thanking the staff for its candor. Mr. K___'s friend the judge comes by and waves to us all. We wave back, but from her strained smile I suspect she's thinking "What a bunch of lushes..." perhaps adding "nice Hawaiian shirt that one guy has, though..." and I mentally correct her: "We prefer Aloha shirt..."
Why not some California chenin, the Robert Pecota Chenin Blanc Monterey County 1998? A pale straw colored wine, smelling of tapioca pudding, pineapple and peaches. With a bit of air, the tapioca hints fade into the background and the pineapple-peachiness asserts itself, but it's still a strangely artificial pudding/fruit cup combination. The wine has a fairly weighty mouthfeel but decent acidity, and works nicely through the midpalate until a bit of a harsh toasty-burnt note emerges on the brief finish. There is also a hint of petulance; every time we reopen it the cork comes out with an exuberant semi-carbonated 'foomp!'
A Domaine de la Louvetrie Muscadet Sèvre te Maine Sur Lie 1998 goes by, but I am so startled by Mr. C______'s sudden revelation that he has picked up a case of Clape somewhere that I neglect to write anything down. I remember thinking it very nice, but the details are lost, although I managed to retain my score of seventeen and a third standard poodles, groomed casually around the body, with light, flexible steel chokechains; eleven with gag reindeer horns clipped to their heads in order to humiliate them. With time and bottle age, I would allow for the possibility of eighteen fully-horned poodles, the extra two-thirds of a poodle having no chokechain.
Here's a Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray Cuvée de Silex 1998, which was yet another notch on the grapehoe of the soon-to-be-legendary '98 vintage in Vouvray, a pleasant chalky-lemony nose, tangy fruit that is lean but flexible, good structure, a nice, solid wine that does the job nicely in a confident, workmanlike fashion.
Mr. C______, who has been prevented by inclement weather from tending to his newly-planted vines this weekend, pours a Clos du Tue-Boeuf Cheverny La Caillère 1998. What do you think of this?, he asks. Well Mr. C______, I say, it seems to be a medium to medium-light garnet color, nothing unusual there. Further, Mr. C______, it smells lightly of tobacco and cherries, aromatically quiet but interesting, with hints of smoke and gravel. Were I tasting this blind, Mr. C______, I think I'd have guessed it to be cab franc. Tastes lean, rather tight and tart, with a tight core of cherry fruit and some fine smooth tannins coming out to mingle in the long tangy finish, that's what I think, sir. He nods, leans back and seems satisfied, although his cryptic smile gives little away.
Next up is a Graillot Crozes-Hermitage La Guiraude 1998. It's a medium-dark purply-garnet, and smells quite black-peppery, with muted earthy raspberry and hickory smoke aromas -- Mr. S____ says 'bacon roasted on slate,' a clever turn of phrase, and I quickly write it down to steal it for future use. The wine is lean and gravelly-tart, dark and young and tight, with crisp-plus acidity (what Mr. K___ calls an 'acidity problem') making itself known underneath the tightly wrapped dark peppery fruit, which turns licoricey on the finish. Young and quite aggressive now, this, I would posit, needs down time for the fruit to feather out a bit and clothe the hard edges, but I like it very much even in its callow youth. Mr. K___ only makes a face; this is not a Mr. K___ type of wine.
Continuing the Rhône theme, here's a Clos du Mont Olivet Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1998. It's a medium to medium-dark garnet color, and I get some nice rich raspberry, leather and white pepper hints when I stick my sniffer into the glass. Much more accessible than the Graillot, meatier and lower in acidity, there's plenty of ripe, fleshy leatherberry fruit. A friendly and boisterous young CdP until some glassy-fine tannins shut things down on the finish, which then dissolves in an odd flash of bitterness. Still, give it a few years and I wager the tail end will come together nicely.
Time for a Coturri Alicante Bouschet Sonoma Valley Uboldi Ranch 1994: This wine is a deep purply-black color, with initial hints of the house's volatile style, a bit of VA, but just a hint, and it is soon lost in a spicy smelling cherry-grape jelly, smoke and black pepper nose; this seems to be one of those bottles from this producer that works out all right--as Mr. S____ puts it: "It's freakish; it actually smells like WINE." Big, chewy and rough, it's a meaty-purple wine, plenty of rough edges to the concentrated, slightly medicinal fruit, big and dark and rustic, but not bad if you're not looking for elegance or complexity. Still rough and young, this needs time. Five and a half large, blocky prongs cut from driftwood, with raffia-work bases and small tassels made of all-natural hemp tied around their tops.
By this time we're done with our various main courses, and three of us order apple crepes which, when they arrive, look suspiciously uncrepelike, being more of an apple crisp. We take this crepe chicanery as a sign that we are not wanted, and flee out into the night, stopping to harass the staff of a local wine emporium, who seem to think we look like shoplifters, as there are at least two of them peering at us from every angle and repeatedly asking if we "need help." The obvious answer to that question aside, we beat it out of there and soon arrive at the spacious digs of Mr. K___, whose happy cry of "Let's call Jason!" is met with puzzled silence by those of us who don't practice this form of recreational activity. And so we settle in for a good three hours of watching TV with the sound off and trying to cajole our host into raiding his vast stash of '47 and '59 Huets.
Mr. S____ has picked up a bottle of Georges Vigouroux Cahors 1998 at the suspicious store (did he shoplift it?), and we dig in: Medium-light garnet color, smells very lightly of cherry-cassis and oregano, lightly herby. Tastes crisp but thin, a bit dilute and rather sterile, with some fine sandy tannins eventually strolling by. Mr. S____, who is now on hiatus and hence unable to respond to any possible misquotings, compares it to a cheap merlot, but I find it more like a cheap malbec, unfortunately not a particularly interesting one.
We go back and forth between silent documentaries about elephants and silent films of people surfing enormous waves and wiping out spectacularly. Everyone likes the surfing better except Mr. K___, who seems to have some kind of fascination with elephants and their endowments. Finally, he is shouted down and reduced to sneaking peeks at pachyderm courting during commercial breaks.
Here's a sweetie, a Paumanok Riesling North Fork of Long Island Late Harvest 1993: Medium gold color, smells of sweet apple candy, green-apple Jolly Ranchers, with hints of vinyl, apricot and orange marmalade. A sip, and some tangy apple-apricot fruit comes on strong, then simply evanesces like fog in sunlight, leaving a neutral thick texture behind. Somewhat goopy and thick in the mouth, quite sweet and a bit simple, but pleasant enough until the fruit pulls a disappearing act.
Lastly and finally, a Château Gaudrelle Vouvray Réserve Personelle 1997 emerges. It's a medium gold color and smells nicely ripe and rich, hints of botrytis, hay and tea over honeyed apple-apricot-pineapple fruit. There's an odd smoky-plastic note that won't stay down, but it doesn't detract too much. A big wine, Liquoreux-sweet, with some weight and density in the mouth but with plenty of supporting acidity to keep things moving along. Tangy, sweet, pleasant and rich. Not profound, but very nice.
Having tired of looking at either surfers being flung into the afterlife or elephants engaging in elephantine adult recreational activities, we castoffs and social derelicts thank our kind host and meander one by one back into the murk of wee-hours Manhattan, the little voices in our heads that cry out for sedation mollified for another night.