PART ONE: THE LAND OF MAKE BELIEVE
It would be close, I thought: close to home, right in our backyard. It seemed to make so much sense--no driving to Pennsylvania or the farthest reaches of Long Island, no need for overpriced fleabag motels. The only problem was that I'd need to drive both nights after the festivities wrapped up, but I could live with spitting, just this once.
So Sue Ng's notion of throwing the 2003 McNetta Winterfest at the Land of Make-Believe in Hope, New Jersey was a fine one, as far as Lisa and I were concerned. I know it was hard sell for the Oversight Committee, but let me just say for the record that at the time it seemed like a great idea. Who could've foreseen everything that would happen?
"Auribus teneo lupum!" Sue would invariably shout in her sweetly overeducated way about the planning process for these shindigs, "I've got the wolf by the ears!" Little did she know that would prove truer for this Winterfest than for any McNetta since the hail-and-tornado threatened blowout of Summer '98.
So here's how it went down...
Lisa and I motor up to the gates of The Land of Make-Believe a little after two-thirty, just in time to find ourselves a place to park and rush ever-so-fashionably late into the Saturday Afternoon Anarchists' Luncheon at the Hall of Middle Earth.
Some of the more intrepid out-of-town McNettans have set up a small tent village in Jenny Jump Park, just down the road from the LoMB, but the majority are at one or another of two motels on opposite sides of the fairground. Winterfest never draws the crowds of the 'real' McNetta, but there are many familiar and many unfamiliar faces gathered here, and more arriving all the time. There's Mort 'The Spam Guy' Klingenfus, chatting with Jeff 'The Wine Buyer' Connell and Tony Scott of Scott-Clark Cellars. I wave to Joe 'The Wine Importer' Dressner and Jay 'No Nickname Quite Yet' Miller, and move past Wanda Crowherst and Mark Levesque (who seem inseperable these days) over to the table where they've got a nice layout of appetizers, including my favorite Won Ton Pi Chips. (It's nice to have friends in high places.)
As a result of the freezer incident and resulting hysteria at last year's Winterfest, this year has been declared an official 'Fizz-Free Zone,' so the welcoming libations are still this year.
No, I mean 'still' this year. You know, 'still' being the opposite of 'fizzy'...?
Oh, never mind.
So it is a happy, chummy crowd that toasts the opening bell of yet another Winterfest with magna of Nigl Gruner Veltliner 2000. Quiet smelling, baked apple-pear hints laced with white pepper and peapod. Tastes clean and pure but not terribly expressive, a restrained and lightly-spiced gruner that turns rocky on the surprisingly sustained finish. Very decent, a cheerful way to kick off the festivities.
After that there's a Jeroboam of Château d'Oupia Minervois Blanc 2000. Pineapple-pear yellow fruit and yellow flowers as well, strong flinty undertones. Intensely flavored, the mouthfeel has some heft but is buoyed by crisp acidity. Very juicy and flavorful, open and peppy. Always a favorite at Château Coad-Allen: very good, very cheap.
Lisa and I split up and circulate. I meander over towards the NYC contingent and interrupt a mini-theme that has coalesced on a suggestion by one of the wags from table nine (Camblor? Levesque?): "Dry White Wines Made from Grapes That Are Usually Fermented Sweet and Which Are Then Put Into Annoying Bottles."
That theme ROCKS!
Rocks me like a HURRICANE!
The first of the DWWMFGTAUFSAWATPIAB's put forward is the Domaine de Bellivière Jasnières Les Rosiers ("Auslese Trocken") 2000. Medium-light gold color. Quite gushingly tropical-smelling; pineapple, apricot, lilikoi over a chalky base. A sip, and it's an edifice: big boned, weighty and squeaky-dry. The tropical aromatics aren't reflected in the flavor profile, which is mostly lemon-chalky, and the weight of the wine gives it a rather squared-off and slightly lumbering feel, but it has more cohesion and grace than most auslese trocken, and acquits itself very decently in the end.
This and the next wine seem to be included in the erstwhile theme based on the annoyingly deceptive notion of putting dry wine in 500 ml. bottles. "I thought it was a damn dessert wine!" yelps Mort, "I poured it for Harvey Weinstein, it made me look like a yutz!" He pulls a long face, and there is much clucking of tongues.
What's a 'yutz,' anyway?
Királyudvar Tokaji Furmint Lapis Late Harvest 1999: Here's a nose to soothe my nerves: warm orange marmalade drizzled with lemon oil and sprinkled with ground clove, hints of copper and paraffin and vanilla bean, lots of flickery smells to chase in this glass, my nose gets a little dizzy trying to keep up. A sip, and it's a card-carrying bigass hootie: a burst of marmaladey fruit, weighty and thick but buoyed by zesty citric acidity. There's noticeable sweetness, demisec level perhaps, and some wooding that emerges towards the end of the midpalate and blends somewhat roughly with the long coppery finish. Sheesh. A big, extravagant wine, almost tiring in its boisterousness, I feel sleepy and in need of a cigarette after I've drained my glass.
I'm told Callahan has something to do with this last wine, which is timely because here he is now, fashionably attired in what looks like jockey's silks, complete with riding crop. I don't ask. I know better than that. He makes a beeline for Lisa, I assume they're going to have another go at their old argument about Burgundy being more complicated than Bordeaux, so I veer back to the New Yorkers what other annoying bottles are in evidence.
Ah, what study of annoying bottles would be complete without Huet, whose bottles are annoying in their time-honored fashion because they're so fat they either don't fit in racking or the labels get all mangled. Today's sacrificial lamb is the Huet Vouvray Le Mont Sec 1996. Medium to medium-light gold color. Richly aromatic, rather more developed than I'd expected, apricot and quince-laced waxy-polleny smells, aromatically open and rather intense. Squeaky-dry, but with enough flavorosity and weight to couch the usual severity of chenin trocken. Long bergamotish finish, Earl Grey style. A wine with a lot of weight in the piehole, substantial and tangily crisp, lots of tart citric acidity. Seriously good stuff, cohesive and wonderfully focused for such a broad-beamed wine.
Another squat fat-bottomed bottle, a Plumpjack Chardonnay Napa Valley Reserve 1997. Medium gold color, the color of ten year-old Sauternes. Smells like fruit cocktail drizzled with butterscotch and soaked in rum. This has not aged well: the flavors are flattening out and starting to really come unglued. It's not dead, but it's sliding downhill quickly--the midpalate is all poached pineapple and pear, vanilla and a good flash of alcoholic heat, and there's no finish to speak of other than a burn. Either drink it tonight or resign it to be cooking wine.
And here's a Domaine des Baumard Savennières Trie Spéciale 2000. Medium-pale straw color. Smells like textbook Savennières, earthy-chalky, hints of lemon, pollen, chalk and more chalk. Well balanced, a sizeable wine with a weighty mouthfeel but one that is light on its feet. Big, but not huge. Very decent. It's not clear exactly why the bottle is annoying. "That gold label sure is ugly, though," says Wanda Crowherst. And maybe, just maybe, that's enough.
"Where is Kane?" goes up the cry from the Manhattan contingent. No one is sure, although there are rumors that he has been feuding with three of the four members of the Oversight Committee and has refused to attend any but off-site events unless Hans Blix declares them in compliance with his resolutions.
Some reds now, starting with a Claude Courtois Racines Les Cailloux du Paradis 1998 ($16). Loosely-knit aromatics, rocky smelling. Dark berry-cherry fruit, touch of cedar above, asphalt below. Crisply acidic with a lemony zing. Tart, tight sour cherry fruit. Matte mouthfeel, seems hardhearted at first, opens a little in the middle, tightens up again on the finish. More aromatically interesting than a treat for the piehole.
Next up is a varietal grolleau, the new hot variety-of-the hour. Domaine des Sablonnettes Les Copains d'Abord 2001 has a juicy strawberry-cherry nose with traces of burled wood or walnut, streak of rockiness below. Crisp, berried up front, light-bodied without much depth or weight, but crisp, red and minerally, a nice bright little fruit-punchy wine that comes to a tart sour-cherry finish. Very nice grolleaux, grolleau, gros lot, however it's spelled, although I'm not sure it lives up to the hype. Chatting briefly with Callahan, he mentions a rumor that Dressner is planning to publish a travelogue/philosophical treatise/harangue/knockoff of 'Adventures on the Wine Route,' to be entitled Grolleau Along with Me, the Best is Yet to Be! It sounds fishy to me, and I say so.
Hey, here's a Château Pierre-Bise Anjou Villages 'Sûr Spilite 1999. Hints of pine and tobacco leaf over a pool of blackberry-asphalt, not giving much underneath there, leaving the pine-tobacco out to dry. Dark, tight and a little unyielding, there's a whole lot of focus but it's very tight now, not obsidian-hard, more like asphalt. Did I say that already? Dark purply-black fruit, crisp and dense and hard. Licorice, ashes, lots of fierce sandy tannins on the finish. Time? What, I dunno. What's the problem with this? Is it me? Nice, but tough, very tough. Quite aggressively sandy-tannic, really a tongue-rasper.
Following the luncheon there is a good long break before the next gathering, so most of the McNettans descend on the park proper to enjoy the attractions. I have my first sense of misgivings when I see a wave of drunken geeks surge towards a contraption rather ominously named THE SIDEWINDER. Uh oh, I think, we have a potential situation here.
Lisa, who hates theme-park rides of any kind (she was terrified by the Pirates of the Carribean at Disneyland) is fiercely intent on visiting Old McDonald's Farm and seeing small cute animals, so we head towards what I hope will be a quieter corner of the park. I tag along, only to end up having to fend off the amorous advances of two llamas. They keep snuffling at my arm and following me around with burning eyes, their ardor gradually becoming somewhat threatening to me in my slightly addled state. Have you ever been half drunk and had llamas become fascinated with you? They don't so much move their bodies as just swivel their necks like a desk lamp in my direction, startling me with their reach. It's just a bad scene, man, a really bad scene.
I bump into Frederick Filliatreau at the petting zoo, and he cheerily produces a juice box from his bag and presses it into my hands. "The new packaging!" he says, giggling madly. I peer at it, and it becomes apparent that he has dumped out the proper contents and replaced them with something of his own devising, for written in pen on the masking-tape label is Domaine Filleatreau Saumur-Champigny La Grande Vignolle 2000. I sip at it through the sippy-straw, then tear the top off the box to get a noseful. It smells cherried and lightly plummy, with tobacco and pine hints, yup that's cab franc all right. A sip, and it's utterly closed, showing thin and tart cran-cherry fruit, dominated by acidity, almost sour. As I meander the park over the next few hours however, it opens up ever so slowly into a brighter, more cheerful wine without a chip on its shoulder, the midpalate slowly filling out and turning earthy, the bright cran-cherry fruit turning towards a darker and chewier plum-cherry quality. Ater three hours the wine only vaguely resembles its initial incarnation, so if you see this one, give it air.
My amorous quadrupedal admirers left behind, fears of a quick downhill slide are awakened by a commotion over by the Red Baron Airplane Ride. We race over, only to find an obviously agitated Jean-Paul Brun shouting Franglais invective at Captain Ricky, the park's mascot, who is vainly trying to hold off his antagonist with what looks like a styrofoam cutlass. Dressner manages to drag him away before park security becomes involved, which is a good thing, but there are whisperings that this isn't the first run-in that Brun has had with the park's characters. Apparently this incident comes on the heels of an earlier confrontation between Brun and Colonel Corn, the famous talking scarecrow. It's clear that J-P isn't having a good visit to the New Jersey Skylands.
Following M. Brun's unscheduled departure, I get into an argument with Dean 'The Loire Schnauzer' Delahanty and some of his myrmidons about whether Colonel Corn would in fact outrank Captain Ricky. Everyone else seems to be on the side of The Schnauz--I am the lone voice in the wilderness saying no, because it's fairly obvious to me that Captain Ricky is a naval officer, which would make him exactly the same rank as an army Colonel. Needless to say, the niceties of military protocol are lost on my fellow alcohol abusers, and I am pelted with mud and bits of straw.
Which is annoying.
The rest of the afternoon passes without incident, apart from Kay Bixler's breathless repeating of the inevitable rumor that Steve Plotnicki is on his way here in an SUV laden with Coche-Dury, something you hear every year at least once. I don't bother to break it to her that it's an urban legend; she'll find out soon enough.
Thus we gird our loins and head back towards the Hall of Middle Earth for the always eventful evening of seminars...
end part one
PART TWO: THE SATURDAY SEMINARS
Saturday night continues the loosely structured tasting, with various small presentations.
I go back and forth, but decide to skip Lutz Pescht, winemaker/author/raconteur from Domaine A. Chouffleur (the Creighton Churchill of Gris du Toul): RIPENESS: WHO NEEDS IT? I've gotten a snootful of M. Pescht's theories over the years, it's someone else's turn tonight.
Then there's a new set of paranoid rantings from Joe Dressner, Wine Importer: COUNTERFEITING BUSTER: THE TRUTH ABOUT FRAUD IN THE CULT WINE MARKET. I don't venture into the Buster auction scene, so that's a clear pass for me.
Finally, I settle on Eddie 'The Riesling Rottweiler' Zukerkorn's THE 2001 RIESLINGS: HYPE OR NOT-SO-HYPE?
First up is a quartet of rieslings from the vaunted 2001 vintage.
Silver Thread Dry Riesling Finger Lakes 2001: Cloudy pale lemon-straw color. Smells of grapefruit, lemon and cotton candy. What? Cotton candy? I go back for a second sniff. Yup, that's what's there all right, an odd strawberry spun-sugar note that doesn't mix at all well with the predominantly citric aromatics. Tastes light, diffuse and just odd, hard to evaluate. What to make of a wine that smells like grapefruit wrapped in cotton candy? I don't know, and the fact that it's also rather fizzy doesn't help clarify things for me. Perhaps 2001 isn't all it's cracked up to be? Zuke loves it, but it's too wacky for me. Pass.
Chateau St. Michelle Johannisberg Riesling Columbia Valley 2001: Pale gold color. Lightly sweet honey-ginger and vinyl aromatics, white flowers. Tastes loosey-goosey and light, a little bit of sweetness, an easygoing mellow riesling that is lemony and light and a bit fat, without much structure but with amiable flavorality. Riesling Lite but still recognizable as riesling, it's an unchallengingly soft take on the grape. Lightly honeyed finish. Industrial feel, but all in all quite decent, you know, considering.
Allan Munro Scott Riesling Marlborough 2001: Aromatically light and easygoing, hints of grassiness and lemon-lime citricity. Bright and easygoing and somewhat simple, it's a lightweight wine with good balance, crisply sippable, but there's not a lot of complexity here.
Selbach-Oster Riesling Bernkasteler Badstube Kabinett 2001: Lemony-crisp, with some nice weight, but quite tight and monolithic now. A bit sweeter and denser than your usual Kabinett, there's nevertheless a focus and a purity that give the wine a happy sense of buoyancy. Very nice, compact and well-built, needs time.
I'm afraid I can't quite put my finger on the pulse of the 2001 vintage from this cross-section. After the 2001s are done there are some non-2001 rieslings as well (does anybody remember those?), for purposes of comparison.
Kurt Darting Riesling Pfalz Durkheimer Michelsberg Kabinett 2000: Pale gold color. Smells fun, hints of honey, yellow apple, mandarin orange and tangerine. Lightly sweet first impression, then zing! sour lemondrop acidity dives under my tongue and makes me pucker up and clench. Rich and tight, laserlike focus and a slick laminated mouthfeel.
Weingut Geheimer Rat Dr. von Basserman-Jordan Riesling Deidesheimer Paradiesgarten Kabinett 2000: My god, what a long name. Anyway, smells light and airy, white honey and vinyl hints over a rainwatery minerality. Crisp and bright, flavorful without being dense, zippy acidity, more mineral-driven than overtly fruited--maybe some tart green Granny Smith appliness. Slighty angular, with just the tiniest hint of sweetness to cushion the stoniness. Nice. In a small way. Good, bright little riesling. Tangy-tart, almost puckery finish.
Dr. Loosen Urzinger Wurzgarten Riesling Auslese 1994: Pale gold color. Smells lightly vinylish, hints of ripe mango and apricot. A sip, and it's lightly petillant and there's only a light sweetness, dry for an Auslese. Maybe just a bit too puckery-crisp, this has the beginnings of complexity, turns honeyed on the subtle finish. Quite pleasant, if a little sharp.
Enough of whites. I'm in need of red wine now, and it's time to change tables. Ah, here we go...
Fredrick Filliatreau, Vigneron: Fredrick lures me over with his sign about the terroir of Saumur-Champigny, but after a few minutes of listening I decide it ought to read something like FISHING: ARE CATCH-AND-RELEASERS PUSSIES OR JUST WUSSIES? All Fredrick ever wants to talk about is fishing. Fine for him, but the geeks are hungry for more. Well, all except the reclusive Andrew Scott, who has apparently retired from the internet to pursue a globetrotting fishing career. He is quick to point out that he has not only been cited recently in well-regarded marine publications, but that he is moving ever upwards on the tournament circuit. I congratulate him, and move hurriedly on.
I take a raincheck on Jeff Connell's THE NIAGARA PENINSULA: HAS PETITE SIRAH FOUND A HOME? seminar. Been there, done that.
I wander over to Brun's table to see if there's any action over there. I note that on his sign the words 'MACHINE HARVESTING IN THE BEAUJOLAIS: WHY FIGHT IT?' have been violently crossed out, and 'WHO ARE THESE CLOWN-DEVILS THAT POPULATE YOUR THEME PARKS?' scrawled above it in black magic marker. This seems promising, but when I get closer he is merely carrying on about vinification methods for his 'Ancienne/Ancien' cuvée. No barrels, only vats. Some lees contact, five- to forty-year-old vines, Burgundian methods, no carbonic, wild yeasts. He says something about destemming, is it partially destemmed while the young vines cuvée isn't? I miss that bit. Blah blah blah, more techno-geek talk that doesn't hold my attention; I'm waiting for some invective to be spewed on Captain Ricky or Colonel Corn, which is sadly not forthcoming. Eventually I spot the tie-dyed figure of Tony Scott holding court at a table across the room, and drift away, but not before sampling a Domaine des Terres Dorées Beaujolais Cuvée L'Ancienne 1998. Nice. Hasn't budged an inch. Hold.
Tony Scott, Gentleman Farmer: BARGAINS IN CABERNET SAUVIGNON: IT'S NOT JUST FOR SUCKERS ANYMORE!
They make cabernet in sauvignon now? Crazy, baby.
Château St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 1999: Smells of toasty well-wooded blackberry-cassis, quiet graphite streak underneath, hints of black pepper amidst the toastiness. A sip, and there's a friendly glossyfruity rush right up front that keeps on truckin' through a shinily diffuse midpalate but fades on the woody-charred finish. Simple, candied stuff that's nevertheless quite agreeable and fruitily flavorful. These guys used to have a decent $17 cab that everyone suddenly decided they wanted to pay $60 for, so I guess this is meant to fill the niche. (Maybe next year the $60 one will be $120 and this one will be $60? California's cool that way.)
Mas de Guiot Cabernet-Syrah 2000: The one bottle in evidence was corked.
Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 1998: Medium dark garnet. Smells like a woodshop, sawdust over a base of plum and cassis, light hint of volatility. The fruit has a dried-out quality, acidity sticks out and the the wood seems to have sucked the life out of the fruit, which is plummy and smoked. Drying tannins on the finish. Not technically undrinkable, but not particularly good either, recognizable varietal character, but joyless and stern.
Now we're venturing into the Southern Hemisphere, with a Casa Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon Rapel Valley (Chile) 2000. Medium dark to dark garnet, purpling lightly at the edges. Not much in the way of aromatics--some berry-cassis, hints of smoky-toastiness. A sip, and it's decent right off, a soft wash of dark red fruit, but quickly falls apart in the middle, splitting into disjointed charred flavors, turning somewhat astringent on the finish, with abrasive tannins. This used to be a pleasantly plush little burger wine, straighforwardly simple and velvety. It hasn't changed much, but the price has gone up and it's more noticeably marked by toastiness, the charred quality especially prevalent on what passes for a finish. This has been hanging with the wrong crowd: it's picked up some notions and is putting on airs. Time to let it go, time to come off the cheapie list.
Navarro Correas Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza (Argentina) Collecion Privada 2000: "The 2000 vintage is the VINTAGE OF THE CENTURY in Argentina!" burbles Tony, leaning in towards me and winking broadly while putting a finger aside his nose and nudging me sharply in the ribs. Okay, I get it already, sheesh. The wine is a medium to medium-dark garnet color. Smells clean and brisk and stony-fruity, light berry-cassis and gravel, not a whole lot going on but airy and lightly charming. A sip, and the taste follows the smells, gravelly red fruit, a bit of black olive emerging in the middle, clean and crisp. Actually, this is kind of good: the acidity is surprisingly pronounced, bracing really, and the easygoing fruit shows better as a result. Finishes smokily, charred hint, more black olive, then some slightly harsh glassy tannins. This is a quiet, restrained and straightforward wine that gives you a good crisp mouthful of cabernet. I had expected something more in the Californian model, but this is its own thing.
Speaking of the California model, here's a Pride Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1995. This was a decent bargain when I bought it for $20 three years ago, but I believe the price has tripled since then. The Pride wood regimen is as distinctive to me as Ridge's--I once picked their cab franc out of a blind cab franc lineup, never having had it before, because it smelled and tasted almost exactly like their merlot and cabernet sauvignon. As the late Andrew Scott is fond of saying "Getting three different grapes to taste the same--now THAT's winemaking!" Never long-lived wines, the signs of downhill slide that first started appearing a year or two ago are increasing. Drink up soon or forever hold your piece.
And now Tony has two Mystery Cabernets for our perusal...
Mystery Cabernet Number One: Big new toasty wood, big jammy-candied fruit, low acidity to the point of flabbiness, wine candy. A big ungainly doofus of a wine, of interest only for its size and boiled-down jammy quality. I have no idea what this is, but I suspect it's expensive; you can just taste the winemaking. Guesses range from 'blackberry jam' to 'Astralis' to 'cheap Chilean merlot' to 'Some Godawful Tooth-Staining Hugeass Point-Chaser's Wet Dream.' (Bryant Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1997)
Tony chortles madly when the bottle is unveiled because one of those 'points' guys apparently dubbed this werd stuff a 'million point wine.' Nobody quite understands his glee; Camblor finally says "Dude, who even listens to those yobbos in the first place?" which sets Tony off another rant about critics that's almost vandergriftian (although neither of the 'b' words crops up) and which he made me promise not to put on the internet. (I think he's secretly hoping one of the "points" guys will say one of his wines has lots of "points" too, although he'll never admit it, except possibly under torture.)
What's a 'yobbo,' anyway?
Mystery Cabernet Number Two: Simple and straightforward textbook California cabernet aromatics: warm dark cassis, cedar, undercurrent of graphite. A sip, and it's forward and juicy, rather low acidity, fleshy and ripe simple red cranberry-cassis flavors tinted with smokiness. Simple but decent and friendly, a bit disjointed but a big improvement over the previous grotesquerie. Built in a similar mold, but not so grotesquely out of proportion. (Joël Gott Cabernet Sauvignon California 2000)
With the unveiling, the Cult-of-Gott crowd goes wild.
And of course Tony's pouring the Scott-Clark Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon California 'Bonnet' 2000. Sweetly candied nose, fruit punch or cotton candy streak in the dark cherry-Nyquil fruit, hint of volatility. Boy, is this wine in a weird phase--there is an odd old-fruit-salad note in the nose, like canned fruit that wasn't supposed to ferment but did anyway. It's soft and quaffable with interesting hints of tea in the middle and licorice on the finish, but it has a medicinal tang and lacks concentration. This high-octane wackiness is the flip side to the 'minimal process' philosophy that makes Scott-Clark wines such a crapshoot ("Coturri for the new millennium!"). Sure, this is unfiltered, unfined, unenzymed, natural yeast fermented and sees no new wood, but it's also a truly gonzo wine right now that's almost as offputting as the Bryant (Lisa thinks it's even more offputting than the Bryant). Cross fingers, hold.
My heavens, it's been a long day and we are tired and footsore, so we decide to skip the Port, Taffy and Cigar Cotillion and head home. After all, tomorrow is going to be a big day.
Little did I know how big.
(Mmm. Ominous, huh? Makes you think, right?)
end part two
PART THREE: LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW, MAKE IT STOP
Lisa and I are up at the crack of noon, wickedly hung over but unwilling to pass on a McNetta tradition that is always a treat on a cold winter morn, the Syrah-n-Hotcakes Brunch Bash. To our horror, the only pancake house in the immediate vicinity refuses to allow us to bring wine, so we are rather sheepishly forced to turn Steve Trachsel's suite into an impromptu IHOP, with SFJoe giving us his striking rendition of uni-buttermilk flapjacks chock full o' fresh New Jersey blueberries and drizzled with warm sumac-infused Mrs. Butterworth's. The man is a wizard with a griddle, even in a little motel kitchenette.
Eric Texier Côtes du Rhône Brézème 2000: Smells purple-peppery-dark and smoky-meaty. Big nose, dark purple fruit and lots of cracked black peppercorns, black olive, hint of VA. A sip, and there's hard dark fruit, sharp acidity, a little sour-tart, without the richer supporting fruit of the VV version. A day later it has mellowed, but it's still rather shrill and angry. I want to like it, but it keeps pushing me away. ["Acidity problem." "Acidity problem?" "Acidity problem!" "Acidity problem."]
Eric Texier Côtes du Rhône Brézème Vieilles Vignes 2000: Medium dark purply-garnet. Rich, meaty nose--cracked peppercorns, blackberry and smoked meat. A tangy wine with lemon-juicy acidity but the depth of fruit that the 'regular' cuvée lacks is enough to balance it. Obsidian at its heart, only giving hints of what it has right now. Tough love.
Here's a slight change of pace, an Elderton Shiraz Barossa Valley 'Command' 1994: Dark purple-black color. Big, gruff purple plum-smoky nose, smells of shoyu, tar, plum jam suffused with scorched black sod, all ground up in a pestle and poured on a pile of wood chips. A sip, and there's a wash of limpid purple-black peppery-spicy-toasty fruit, a chewy purple tar pit with a ton of spicy smoked wood that turns gritty on the plum-jam finish. A brutish wine with a heavy, cloying mouthfeel, it clings to your tongue like burnt motor oil and won't let go, then it's all wood, wood, wood. There's actually a strange fascination for me here--it's just so over-the-top thick and vastly overoaked that I can't stop sipping at it out of sheer amazement that such a wine could be stitched together and somehow animated.
Lagier-Meredith Syrah Napa Valley Mt. Veeder 1998: I don't know this wine, but it seems I never will because it's quite remarkably corked, the TCA stench filling the room to the point that the bottle must be taken outside into the hallway like toxic waste.
Gilles Robin Crôzes-Hermitage Cuvée Albéric Bouvet 1999: Medium dark, almost dark garnet, edged with purple. Meaty-rich nose, smoke and black olives and roasted meat; syrahlicious, and a great match with the griddle cakes. A genuine steal at one dollar and three cents, delivered.
Alain Graillot Crôzes-Hermitage La Guiraude 1996: Medium-dark purply-garnet. This smells wonderful--earthily complex and smoky-meaty hints over muted cherry-blackberry fruit, flashes of tree bark and violets and iodine, with a cheery whiff of barnyard. Whoo, tastes rather severe at first, glass-hard acidity loosening only marginally at the edges, impenetrable at the core. Gives you a jolt going in, whips around the inside of your mouth, then zips away, leaving blackberry and violets humming in your piehole. An imposing wine with a little bit of a cruel streak. Strangely compelling.
Alain Graillot Crôzes-Hermitage 2000: Dark purply-garnet color. Even more aromatic than the '96 Guiraude, violets and smoked meat and licorice hints over rough earthy-blackberry fruit. Crisp, medium-sized, a prettily focused and darkly chewy wine. Hasn't the amplitude of the last, but hasn't the cruel streak either, although the glassy black core is unyielding at the moment. Young, a little disjointed now but very impressive and a pleasure to drink.
I haven't quite the stomach for the high levels of breakfast wine that many of the other McNettans seem to enjoy, so, once my hotcakes are done I make my excuses and go outside to nurse a thermos of coffee. It's cold but it's sunny, so I'm startled when Sue Ng races up to me and bleats "There's a blizzard coming! Now! TONIGHT!" Before I can answer she goes inside, I suppose to confer with the brain trust.
The sky looks remarkably unthreatening, so I wonder if this is all some kind of Weather Channel hysteria. But before too long there is a steady procession of festivalgoers coming outside to look up and then confer in small groups. Humbug, I think to myself, we've heard this all a thousand times: they say there'll be two feet of snow, what we'll really get is a little dusting. I resolve not to worry about it, then, full of warm syrup and syrah, go back to the deserted Hall of Middle Earth and take a little siesta.
I am awakened by an elfin figure in a doublet and hose, who apparently has a Quest to set cutlery down in the space my head had been occupying. Outside there's still no sign of this theoretical new ice age, so I go find Lisa, who is hanging out with Denyse Louis smoking those hand-rolled cigarettes that always remind me of my Hawaii college days. It's getting near time for the closing festivities, so we head over to the hall, only to see a veritable caravan of McNettans fleeing in the opposite direction, heading for the hills. The sky is overcast now, but I'm still not convinced. Still, we might want to head home earlier rather than later, just to be safe.
So it is that the attendance is rather sparse for the closing dinner, maybe half the crowd of the night before. Ah well, more wine for those of us intrepid (or stupid) enough to defy the elements.
Some cool whites to start with, first an Albert Mann Pinot Blanc Alsace 2001: Sweetly floral nose, yellow and white flowers. Low-acid and delicate, a small soft wine that has a light spine of acidity underneath soft flowery fruit. Delicate, easygoing, floral, with a light lactic hint. An ethereal wine, lightly pillowy, a bolster stuffed with daisies. Quiet, whispery finish. Small, soft, soothing. Once I get past Schoffit I'm not normally a huge pinot blanc fan, but this really wins me over.
After the subtlety of the Mann, here's a change, a Domaine des Sablonnettes Anjou 'Les Genets' 2000: Medium gold color, hinting towards amber throughout. Slightly zany nose: apricot, butterscotch, golden raisin, apple pie, honey, lots of honey. A sip, and it's a rising tide of weighty, almost overripe yellow chenin. Good acidity, but lots of pillowy ripe flesh as well. The yellowness of the initial wave turns layered in the middle, tangerine and almond, lemon tea flavors and a bright citric acidity wells up as well, setting up a humming tangerine-rind finish. Eccentric, almost overblown wine that leaves me feeling a little mussed.
Domaine Joseph Matrot Meursault 2000: Lightly tropical smellies; pineapple, pear, yellow flowers, whiff of vanilla and toast. A sip, and it's crisp and velvety, not very deep but amiable. Tangy yellow fruit flows across my tongue but recedes quickly, leaving uncushioned a hard, minerally finish. Not bad, but the finish is a little jarring and the middle is smooth but hard. Needs time.
René & Vincent Dauvissat Chablis La Forêt 2000: Quintessential Chablis, lean and rocky, tart green apples and wet rocks. Quiet at first, it opens up with air in about an hour and a half, smelling smoothly rocky and green-appley. Lean, taut and edgy, Jamie calls it "echt-Chablis." Really long finish, stones hang out on your tongue for days. Crisp and crystalline Chablis--impeccable balance, great cohesion, laserlike focus, just very pure. Just. Very. Pure.
René & Vincent Dauvissat Chablis Les Clos 2000: Smells much like the Forêt, but tastes rounder, a little more plush, less rocky-edgy. It's not unfocused, but it does have a hint of fat around the middle. Another wonderfully pure, cohesive wine. I like the Forêt better for its tautness and focus, but there's something to be said for a hint of creaminess as well. I wouldn't kick either of these wines out of bed for eating crackers. Drink the Clos now, age the Forêt.
René & Vincent Dauvissat Chablis Les Preuses 2000: Strikes a balance between the first two, just a bit of fleshiness to cover a nice strong spine. Extremely complex in the nose, richly flavorful in the piehole, long long finish. Not as racy as the Forêt, but still nicely structured. An elegant wine that rewards attention and reveals itself with continued listening. I don't know, maybe this is my favorite. Lovely. Long, stony finish, maybe even longer than the Forets. The balance is better--where the Forêt is racy and a little hard and the Clos a little fatter and rounded, this is ethereal and substantive, a balancing act. Great wines.
My attention is wrenched away from the Dauvissats by the chatter suddenly buzzing through the hall: look outside, look outside, look, look! There is a surge of drunken revelers towards the front door and I find myself inexorably drawn along. Ye gods, the world outside has turned into a wall of white, at least three or four inches of powdery snow already on the ground, more piling up every minute.
Shaken, I appraise our transportation situation. I have tomorrow off from work, but Lisa has to go to school. Maybe it'll stop soon? And the ploughs will be out quickly? And swine will para-glide into the park and dance for us?
Fortunately, the need for further thoughtful consideration is put on hold, for here there be pinot noir, the rose-colored glasses of wine. Sweet sweet Burgundy, take me away from the real world!
Lignier Clos St. Denis 1996: Cloudy medium ruby color. Smells quite beety, with clove and raspberry streaks--with air the fruit settles and a light earthy-foresty streak emerges. Just a little bit fizzy, it's got good balance and has happily tart fruit and an unassuming plainspokenness that pleases. Not terribly deep or layered, but a small-scaled nice wine.
Domaine Méo-Camuzet Clos de Vougeot 1989: Medium ruby color, just a touch of amber at the rim. Sweetly and warmly aromatic, the first note to strike me is old cedar chest, lots of cedar. Underneath that, muted red cherry, laced with clove, freshly-spaded sod and baked yam. A sip, and there's ample acidity but the dominant impression is of a silky-soft mouthfeel, like liquid satin, spreading out in the piehole. A nice sense of almost-cohesion here, the wine is pleasantly complex but a little dilute. The finish is smoky-cedary but not long. Seems rather resolved, very little tannin remains. Elegant, sweet to smell but a little orally vague. A nicely composed wine, but not a great one. Is the fruit fading just a bit? I like its silky charm, but it lacks focus, a wine without a center.
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 1972: Corked. Grown men are seen weeping and cursing the evil custom of stuffing bark into the necks of wine bottles.
Scott-Clark Cellars Pinot Noir California 'Weeds' 2000: The lone representative of the New World is strange, funky and volatile at first, after a lot of aeration it smooths out, turns light and cherry-clovey. Medium-light red color, light body, easygoing and simple, a smooth sipper without a lot of complexity but straightforward and honest, like a Bourgogne Rouge from California. Give it air, give it air.
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 1966 (magnum): Purply-black, very sedimenty. Muted, earthy nose, hints of plum, tar and eucalyptus. Quite richly aromatic, dark and smoky. Tastes smooth and quite resolved, plummy and crisp, a rich wine with rounded edges. Long, smoky-earthy finish. I am convinced, despite the evidence of my own eyes, that someone has pulled the old SFJoe Switcheroo and that this is an older Northern Rhône. I get the last chunky pour out of the big bottle (that damn Dressner!), and Lisa's glass smells much more typically La Tâchian, honeyed and earthy, leathered cherry fruit, faded at the edges but with a vibrantly beating heart. Why does my glass smell like old Hermitage?! Where does this eucalyptus come from? Is it in the chunky stuff? What's going on here? Taking the 'There are no great old wines, only great old bottles' theme to the next step: There are no great old bottles, only great pours from particular parts of old bottles.
Louis Claude Desvignes Morgon Côte du Py 1999: Dark cherry-strawberry nose underlied with warm gravelly notes. No tannins, medium acidity, a sense of lightness about the feel but doesn't lack mouthgrab, although there is an amiable sense of vagueness or distraction in the midpalate. A light wine but a poised, layered one. Dark cherry-strawberry finish. Small, honest wine with real character.
Inspired by the Burgundy, I drag Lisa and a half-dozen other intrepid souls out into the parking lot outside, where we cavort like drunken children and I somehow manage to lose my keys while perfecting the art of the perfect snow angel. We try digging around, but the places we dig are covered up again in minutes and our efforts are utterly futile. Annoying, but Lisa has her car and house keys with her, so we're not entirely screwed. Well, that is we wouldn't have been entirely screwed except for the fact that we're not going anywhere tonight in this mess, so I guess we're pretty screwed.
But at least I don't have to worry about spitting anymore. I go back and resample what Burgundies remain, swallowing lovingly this time.
By the time the sweeties come 'round, only the hard core remains.
Château Pierre-Bise Coteau du Layon Beaulieu L'Anclaie 2000: Quite dreadfully corked.
Château Guiraud Sauternes 1990: Melted snow has snuck into my pocket and smeared this page of my notebook: "Marmaladey" is the only word I can make out from the note on this wine.
Chateau de Malle Sauternes 1990: Medium gold color. Sweet-smelling and richly aromatic, lots of marmalade-apricot-vanilla smellies. Not unlike the Guiraude--boisterous, big and sweet and somewhat sloppy but also rather charming, like a friendly Labrador.
Dashe Zinfandel Russian River Valley Late Harvest 1997: Touch of volatility here underneath the rich black cherry-raspberry aromas. Tastes sweeter than I remember, with a brown-sugary streak emerging in the middle and striking out on its own. Still sweetly zinny, but seems to be showing the first signs of coming unglued.
We nab a few stray bottles and head over to sleep on a pile of bedding on the Dressners' floor. Any port in a storm is our motto, and the Roseira & Ricou Porto 'Rol Roi' NV lulls us to sleep. And I'm too drowsy to take notes. Go away now, let me sleep will you please?
end part three
PART 4: HELL IS OTHER WINEGEEKS
There was to be no third day of McNetta Winterfest this year, but nature stepped in with opinions of her own. Those of us who were trapped by the blizzard arose dazzled at the crack of noon to a white world, and decided to make the most of our President's Day captivity.
The atmosphere is heavy with dread. Too many hung over winegeeks forcibly enclosed in too small a space, too much alcohol around, too few outlets for the usual geek rage and paranoia. At least there are no firearms readily accessible, vandergrift being absent.
We hear rumors of a well stocked supermarket-minimall complex with (mirabile dictu!) A LIQUOR STORE a few miles down the road, and being the intrepid type I volunteer to make the trek, taking Lisa and Sue Ng along for protection. After what seems like hours of slogging but is really more like twenty minutes, we arrive in a place that is astonishingly bustling, people inexplicably loading up on what looks like rolls of duct tape and plastic window sheeting. Passing the market, we troop into the COLD BEER WINES LIQUORS store to see what delights await us.
A quick huddle, some artful winegeek improvisation, and before you can say Jack Robinson we're heading back with our hard-won swag for a jeebus on the theme of "Crap You Can Scrounge from a New Jersey Mini-Mall Liquor Store."
Improvised Theme Mini-Tasting Number One: Cheap Spaniards
First, a quick white. J.M. Brocard Bourgogne Chardonnay en sol Kimmeridgien 1999. Light aromatics, hints of honey, flint and ripe yellow apple, along with a whiff of banana. Have they been to the Georges Duboeuf fire sale? Tastes decent, crisp tart acidity struggles to hold up the rather flattened-out midpalate fruit. A bit dilute and lacking focus, but drinkable. The '96 version of this was very nice, this is not nearly as interesting.
And another, a Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2001. Foursquare Marlborough nose, grapefruit and lime green chiles and a hint of litterbox. Crisp, bright and zippily citric, it's a simple and decent glass of straightforward kiwi-style sauvignon.
One more, a Sharpe Hill Vineyards Chardonnay 'American Barrel Fermented' Connecticut 1999. This bottle simply cried out to be taken back and consumed. Upon first whiffage it smells much as I'd have expected, meek apple-pear fruit overwhelmed by sawdust, vanilla and popcorn hints, plus an ususual dentist's-drill/vaporized tooth/smoky note, but with air it settles somewhat and veers slightly to the left of undrinkability. Under the wood the pear-yellow apple fruit is lean and racy and decently underripe, and there's some pert acidity in there too. But there's that wood again, vanilla and sawdust dominating the finish. Yeah, it's pretty ugly, but I've had much worse for more simoleons--at least there's structure.
Dressner starts to moan, grabbing his cellphone and frantically dialing Andrew Scott at home to beg him to come to our rescue with something drinkable. "They're killing me with Connecticut chardonnay!" he wails.
His hysteria is infectious; the tension rises even further and the sour smell of panic is hot in my nostrils, mingled with floral hints of Airwick brand air freshener and generic pine cleanser.
Enter the cheap Spaniards, first a Mas Donis Capçanes Tarragona Zona Falset 'Barrica' 2000: Hints of mucilage volatility over round lush simple black cherry-prune fruit, sawdusty too at first but that fades a bit with air. Upfront fat red-black berryness, soft and low acid, hollow middle, hot and woody on the finish. Ripe, blowsy and disjointed. Maybe with barbeque? No, probably not. Uncohesive stuff. Serve well chilled. To enemies.
Castaño Monastrell Yecla 'Solanera' 2000: Slightly wacky overripe nose, markedly smoky-oaky notes over blackberry and raspberry jam suffused with hot gravel. A sip, and there's a puppyish burst of candied black and red fruit right up front that lingers meatily for a moment, then races away as fast as it came, leaving a wan, glyceriney midpalate without any noticeable acidity. From there it goes downhill, turning tarry and charred on the finish, with fine aggressive tannins coming in to mop up. No cohesion, all over the place. A weird experience. I'm told this is known in trade circles as the 'Ugly American Cuvée,' only exported to the U.S. to fit our supposed taste for blowsy low-acid oaky fruitbombs. I think I've been insulted.
Castaño 'Hécula' Yecla 2000: Much better cohesion here than the Solanera--this is actually rather amiable in a low-acid Côte du Rhône kind of way. Not nearly as overtly oaky, smoothly roasty-blackberry tasting, not much finish but it's not as overripe and has more acidity than its ugly American cousin, holds together better, not as woody. Decent, undemanding stuff, whose main amusement comes from Mr. Santiago repeatedly correcting everyone's pronunciation: "The goddamn 'H' is SILENT!" he keeps bellowing at one bewildered drunk after another, "AYY-KOO-LA! AYY-KOO-LA!"
What I didn't realize was that while I was in the back of the store picking up the two 2000 Castaños, Sue was buying a bottle of Castaño Monastrell Yecla 'Solanera' 2001 from the display up front. Sniff, sniff, more cohesive aromatics, less wackiness than the 2000, dark raspberry-blackberry, the oak shows more as toasty-shoe polish notes than as woodshop, still the gravelly underpinnings. Much firmer acidity, almost seems an entirely different wine. Tastes dark and ripe and dense, gobby black and red fruit wrapped around a firm acidic core. A big improvement over the 2000: perhaps it just hasn't had time to fall apart yet? There are some gritty-stern tannins, but they don't detract much, as there's plenty of cool dark fruit to cushion them. Pretty nice, a big, rich monastarvédro that is fairly simple but is also well behaved and possessed of good composure, Neanderthal wine in a blue blazer.
These ripe, simple, woody wines are not going over well with the captive geeks; there is much howling and cursing, demanding of refunds and questioning of the buyers' parentage. The Monopoly game that had started out amicably begins to dissolve into accusations of money-laundering and outright graft . Shrieks of "SLUM LORD! SLUM LORD!" threaten to bring down the wrath of the hotel staff on our heads. Perhaps we'll move on to more fertile ground.
Improvised Theme Mini-Tasting Number Two: Mostly Cheap Italians
Lisa and Jennifer are trying to do something apparently involving the Kama Sutra on their Palm Pilots. I try to get a peek at what they're up to, but they're being secretive. Frederick Filliatreau wants to play cribbage, but no one else knows how.
Here's a Travaglini Gattinara 1997. Smells of plum, cherry, bay leaf and chestnut. The first thing you get when you taste is a knife-hard dive of acidity rushing under your tongue, but it fleshes out and fills up in the middle admirably. Tightly wrapped and a little on the severe side, it's a pleasing wine for acid lovers, as there's good blackberry-plum-cherry flesh wrapped around the core of acidity. Medium-length plum-chestnut finish. Travaglini's wines are often too shrill for me, but this one has enough ripeness to please. Still, some age would surely help.
Poggio Il Pino Zinfandel Puglia 'Anfora' 2000. Very ripe smells, lush black cherry mingles with a light pruniness. Lightly volatile, there's a whiff of skatewheel urethane in there. Tastes soft and plush, fleshily ripe and darkly jammy with just enough acidity. It's a one or two-note wine that has some friendly zin character, a sort of Tiny Turley style, amiably two dimensional.
Candido Salice Salentino Riserva 1998. Medium to medium-dark garnet. Smells very quiet, light cherry-plum and earth. Tastes cherry-berried, leathery red fruit with a hint of a metallic tang, a medium-bodied wine with a light touch and some bright acidity. Good, crisp quaffer without much of a finish, not much in the way of concentration. Simple, honest wine without complexity or airs.
Castello Banfi Col di Sasso Cabernet Sauvignon-Sangiovese Toscana 2000. Small nose, light plum-cherry aromatics underlied with toast and a vague minerality. Medium-low acid, shoe-polish hints appear quietly in the middle and linger on the finish along with slightly watery berry flavors. Simple, industrial and straightforward. Drinkable in a pinch, but utterly devoid of distinction or character.
Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 1996: Warm, meaty nose--plum, shoe polish, blackcurrant, toast. Plush and low-acid, an oddly fleshy and soft Brunello that still manages to be pleasant in a sort of characterless style. Lots of pillowy plum-blackberry fruit, just a bit of structure, tarry-toasty wood streak. A strange wine, but enjoyable on its own terms if you don't mind indistinctiveness.
Graham's Six Grapes Porto NV: Rich plum-cocoa smellies, whiff of dark shoe-polish, dark berry-plum fruit. Sweet, chewy-dark porto, vintage-character type, baker's chocolate, bitter chocolate finish, simple flavors but rich flavors, touch of complexity, decent acidity, bit of heat, pretty satisfying all in all. Interesting texture, glossy veneer hides underlying matte chewiness. Not bad at all.
Just in the nick of time, like the cavalry coming over the hill of Calvary, Andrew Munro Scott returns in his brand new monster truck, bearing a mixed case of the kind of wines you can't get at New Jersey Mini-Mall liquor stores. We offer obeisance, tell him we love him, all those things you do when you're drunk and desperate for something decent to drink.
Improvised Theme Tasting Number Three: Wines In Andrew's Box
Chateau Grande Cassagne Costieres de Nimes Rose 2002: Cherry Kool-aid hints, a light touch of earthiness underneath. Tangy, dry and decent. Rather one-note simply red, but quite sippable, if simple and unremarkable.
Domaine de la Perruche Saumur-Champigny Clos de Chaumont 1997: Medium garnet. Smells darkly francky and ripe, dark berry-cassis fruit, hint of barnyard. Ripe, smooth and rather monolithic, it's a well-composed youngster, medium acidity and a meaty mouthfeel. Nice gravelly middle, dark and smoky and quite amiable, a smooth wine that strikes a balance between focus and friendliness. On the soft side, but in a good way. Perhaps not the most profound wine, but a real charmer tonight. David Lillie mentions that this was the crowd favorite at some ITB horizontal of '97 Loires that he attended recently.
Baudry Chinon La Croix Boissée 2000: Medium-dark garnet. Smells tobacco-leafy and richly fruited, judiciously toasty. Rather big and dense for a Chinon, a juicy dark red wine, more black-raspberried than cranberry, although there's that tobacco leaf and a hint of pine to remind me that it's cab franc. Quite tannic, with some dark, not-overdone wooding, well balanced and with great solidity at the core, this is an impressively muscular youngster to hang onto for awhile, despite Jay Miller's misgivings.
Breton Bourgueil Galichets 1996: Smells spicily purple-minerally. Tangy, tart and crisply acidic. Medium weight but impressively focused, tight dark strong purple fruit. Rough, rustic and darkly chewy. Someone (Plotnicki?) refers to Breton as the 'Helen Turley of Bourgueil,' which nearly starts a brawl.
Breton Chinon Les Picasses 2000 ($25): Light, elegant Chinon, continuing the much remarked-upon (by me) transition from wines like the last towards a lighter style.
Château Cantemerle Haut-Médoc 1999: ($13) Medium-dark garnet color. Friendly rich young nose, marked creamy-toasty wood over smooth dark blackberry and graphite, hint of vanilla and oregano. Tastes warm and supple, there's good supporting acidity but the wine has a fleshy easygoing quality to it right up front, hiding some quiet depth. Warmly tangy in the middle, dark and licoricey on the finish with a hint of bitterness. Flavorful and juicy middleweight claret. Doesn't seem like a long ager, but could use some time to come together.
Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 1996 ($40): Smells of cedar, dark black fruit laced with green tobacco leaf and oregano. Actually, it smells rather like a tight young Chinon at the moment. A sip, and there's dark blackberry and blackcurrant fruit with rocky undercurrents, obsidian-hard and tight. Impressively focused and well bred, but all restrained potential right now, a dark, racy wine that's closed tight as something that I can't think of that isn't a drum but is even tighter than that. Hold, hold, hold. Then hold some more.
Domaine Viret Côte du Rhône St. Maurice 'Cosmic' 1999 ($13): Medium-dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Black raspberry and plaster smellies, leather, licorice and a touch of Band-Aid™ brand bandage strip. Dark and fleshy-ripe in the piehole, purely fruited, in the mold of the same producer's Mareotis but not quite as focused. Black cherry and dark grape-juice tasties, primary and leathery-rich. Good rich grenache, dark and pure. A nice wine, but Lisa is astonished that it's a Dressner wine. "So ripe, so lush...?" she says wonderingly, Keane-eyed.
Domaine Viret Vin de Pays Porte Méditerranée 'Solstice' 2000 ($10): Medium-dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Black raspberry and plaster smellies, leather and licorice. Dark and purely fruited, in the mold of the same producer's 'Cosmic' but not quite as focused. Still, pretty good stuff if you're a grenache fan.
Château Ste-Anne Bandol 2000 ($17): Plum, blackberry, sod smells. Tangy spiced plum-pudding hints to the purply-red fruit, elegant and quiet, very soothing until some fine tannins grab hold on the finish. Small, a little too aggressively tart at first, but loosens up with a bit of dilution in the middle. Crisp but not snappy, a little laid back and shy. Very young, a little clenched. Nice, shy, a little puzzling.
Time for sweets! Sweets for the sweet! I think I'm drunk! I can't speak at a normal tone anymore! Everything must have at least one exclamation point! Sometimes two!!
Pousada Porto 1994: Surprisingly open and accessible, it's not concentrated but it's got good rich flavorful red fruit and lots of cocoa and baker's chocolate! Quite nice, chewy and medium-sweet!
Niepoort Porto Quinta do Passadouro 1997: Dark! Smells of dark black raspberry and red clay, baker's chocolate! Rich, red and darkly earthy! Not black and huge like the regular Niepoort 1997, and not so brambly, but dense, rich and supple in a bricky-earthy way! Very nice!!
Dow's Late Bottled Vintage Porto 1996: Cocoa and dark raspberry, tastes sweet and soft and glossily plush, rather pillowy and vague but soothingly sweet and dark! Loosely-knit and amiable, no great shakes but perfectly pleasant, if simple and straightforward!
I don't remember precisely what happened next, only vague snatches of being poured into the backseat of Andrew's truck, rolling through the Jersey countryside having a screaming match over who was cooler, Robert Plant or Ozzie Osbourne. Lisa was clueless, Jen and I were firmly on the side of Plant, who Andrew kept referring to as "Ol' Cucumber-Pants." The last thing I remember before passing out is shrieking "HE WAS A GOLDEN GOD!" at the top of my lungs while drumming Andrew's headrest with my fists to the rhythm of 'The Immigrant (Viking Kitten) Song.'
So endeth another McNetta. Good times, good times.