Once again the shining beacon in the shape of a Leverpull split the night sky, and once again the masked figures of the east coast's thirstiest Supergeeks descended on stately Kane Manor for a day and night of stirring confrontation with a veritable legion of various bottle closures, freeing the sweet sweet fluid within so that all Americans may bask in the ruby light of freedom with a warm alcoholic glow.
As the Mighty Finger and I drive up in our battered Scribemobile we see various jetpacks and sport utility rocketsleds parked by the newly-seeded grass near the tennis courts. A cranky guy with a rake yells at us not to step on the new stuff, and we can only mutter "Is this the proper treatment for Supergeeks?" and then answer our own rhetorical question with a muttered "I think not, I think not" as we carefully step around the soft lawn.
Stately Kane Manor, overlooking the pristine shores of Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey's largest and cleanest lake, is abuzz with activity. The irrepressible Graped Crusader himself is busy throwing some culinary delight together, but all that greets me are slightly puzzled smiles. Are you here to do the lawn? somebody asks, and gadzooks, quick as a flash I realize I'm not wearing my proper flowered rayon ScribeSuit. I duck into the nearest cabana for a change, and when I emerge properly caped and masked there are a wealth of relieved greetings.
Comrade O. and O-Woman come to exchange the Supergeek handshake, Politenessman smiles benevolently at our lateness and inclines his head in a polite yet slightly cryptic fashion. The Mad Fishergeek and The Chick with Class are swirling and peering at something pale and yellow in their 96-oz. Riedels while Science Lad and his blushing bride check out the extravagant spread of tasty delights with BassMan and BassWoman. Only Iron Chefman and The Mighty Thor are lacking to make a full assembly of the entire Vinous League of America.
There's also a guy named John.
John seems a mite puzzled at the proliferation of colorful spandex, but is friendly and as cheerful as can be expected in the face of such peculiar company.
The hottest day of the year being the traditional setting-off point for these affairs, I take the first opportunity to throw myself headlong into the cool, clean waters of Lake Hopatcong. When I emerge I am given a towel and a glass of Egly-Ouriet Brut Cuvée Non Dosé Ambonnay NV. Pale straw-tan color, big and toasty-smelling, rich and slightly applejuicey-toasty, a slightly oxidative style of fizz, with bakery aromas. There's some big rich blunt toasty-pear walnut-tinged fruit, seems muted, as if it has a bit of age on it. Very big-boned and rich, although the toasty-walnut flavors sometimes threaten to overwhelm all else.
I drip dry and examine the cheese assortment. There are many, many cheeses. I like cheese.
Here's a Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Private Bin 1999, a wine we had coincidentally consumed with relish the night before, and it's showing about the same, very pale in color, hints of grassiness and lime rind. Decent structure, a crisp albeit unfocused wine that goes down smoothly with pleasant lemon-lime flavors lingering for a little while. Small, pleasant, straightforward, seems much like the past few vintages.
At this moment a high-pitched female voice starts to yelp outside on the deck. I crane my neck and look down into the water I was swimming in moments ago just in time to see a snake swim leisurely by on its way who knows where. I almost soil my pantaloons, as where I come from snakes that swim are very, very bad indeed, but I am assured that around here it's the Buick-sized snapping turtles that you have to worry about. This naturally reassures me no end.
I grab hurriedly for the next bottle, which turns out to be a Lucien Crochet Sancerre 1998: Pale straw color. Lime and wet stones with a hint of hay on the nose, a slightly quieter nose than last year's version. Tastes a bit leaner as well, but still bright and flavorful and quite decent, if not particularly exciting or confusing.
An Allan Munro Scott Riesling Marlborough 1999 is a pale straw color, with a bright note of lemon oil on the nose, followed by some lime-rind hints, very citric aromas with some plaster notes behind them. Tastes tart and green-appley, light, slightly soft and pleasant, with a gin and tonic limey finish. Nice balance, good structure, not terribly deep, but refreshing. Score: six and a half toy Poodles wrapped in cellophane for weight loss purposes, two with red leather collars and one with a case of the sniffles.
Someone produces a Scott-Clark Cellars Chardonnay Central Coast 'Pigeon' 1999. This, I believe, is the SCC luxury cuvée, as the label is one I haven't seen before. Pale straw-tan color, smells less exuberantly fruity than the regular chard but also richer and deeper. There is a touch of RS that serves to point up the pleasant pear and yellow appleskin-tinged fruit. The wine is slightly round in the mouth but doesn't show any intrusive oaking, allowing the fruit to speak for itself. Very nice, and the quick winner of the Thunderbird Prize.
Following that is another California chardonnay, the Robert Mondavi Winery Chardonnay Napa Valley Private Reserve 1994. Medium straw-lemon color. The aroma of creamy vanillin oak is a bit startling after the last wine, but there's some creamy-smoky lemon-pineapple-pear fruit as well, and it doesn't seem to be trying to cram a forest's worth of barrels into one bottle. Tastes fat and creamy, with enough acidity to keep things moving, the wine is still alive and kicking, plenty more smoky vanilla and some light tropical fruit. I dunno, perhaps my oak scale has been recalibrated by the last offline for Robin, but I find this at least briefly drinkable, although still unfortunately oaky.
Just as the reds are beginning to arrive, I notice a bottle of fizz that I hadn't seen before, a Chidaine Montlouis Brut NV, which is very pale and lightly fizzy, minerally-bready smelling, tastes lean, tight and racy. Very mineral-driven and lean and crisp, a bright, tight delight that doesn't have a wasted ounce of fat on it. I find it lean and tight and a bit ungiving, but am at odds with some of the other Supergeeks, who claim that it is sublime. After a few rounds of contentious back-and-forth argument we are all too intimidated to go on, and it is decided that this wine needs to be explained to us.
The altar is hastily erected.
Thirteen of us gather in a circle around the Screwpull of Summoning, one by one reaching in and adding our respective openers to the growing critical mass and chanting the invocation:
Hail, hail, blood and wine
Call the Goatboy, we'll be fine
Far away, for to see
Friendly Goatboy come to me
At this the Graped Crusader produces from his utility belt a brand new 'Rabbit' corkscrew emblazoned with the legend "100 POINTS!" in letters of gold, and hurls it into the mix. With a flash of brimstone and sulfur with some chalky minerally notes the Horned One appears, and we do brief, somewhat perfunctory obeisance. He sweeps over to the bottles, dips a cloven hoof lightly into the Montlouis, sniffs at it with his supernal snout and declares emphatically: "This is the wine of the night."
Here endeth the lesson.
With that cleared up, it is time for the centerpiece event of the evening, a complete vertical of Inninkillin's cult Kew Vineyard Petite Sirah from the Niagara Peninsula. This is the bait that brought us here to the backwoods of Jersey, and all talking ceases as the corks are eased from their respective bottles, rare gems from Politenessman's vast North-of-the-border holdings. We pass the first bottle in hushed silence, as the rector intones the litany: "Wines that shouldn't have been bought, made from grapes that shouldn't have been picked, on vines that shouldn't have been planted..." and so on, back around again to the beginning.
Inniskillin Petite Sirah Kew Vineyard Niagara Peninsula 1992: Cloudy medium garnet color. Smells lightly leathery-pruney, with hints of brown blackberries. Tastes lean and soft, light earth and underripe, slighty chalky cherry notes. Anemic, a bit insipid, slightly stewed-cherry tasting, but then again, I understand 92 was a fairly weak year for PS in the Niagara Peninsula. More of a curiosity than a pleasure. No, on second thought perhaps more of an actual physical discomfort than a pleasure.
We move on to the Inniskillin Petite Sirah Kew Vineyard Niagara Peninsula 1993 with higher hopes, for 1993 was, to my understanding, a banner year for Niagara PS: Medium garnet, no cloudiness here. Smells significantly riper, some lightly medicinal blackberry, cherry and grapey hints along with some mint and a streak of limestone. There's enough fruit so that you can sense the hollowness in the midpalate, as you couldn't in the 92, which was hollow through and through. Not much of a finish, but a big step up in quality, and truly expressive of its terroir--this wine fairly screams 'Niagara Peninsula petite sirah.' It's a shame that these vines came to an unpleasant end, as the trend here was definitely an upward one.
Thus we close our complete vertical tasting on a bittersweet note, and adjourn to the heavily-laden trays of meat and poultry, with the obligatory mushroom or two for the vegetarians and some nettles and tin cans for those who might be so inclined.
Well, after these wines it's a bit of an anticlimax to see the next wine is only the Druet Bourgueil Grand Mont 1996, but we all do what we must with what we have. The wine is a medium-dark garnet color. I am distracted by Kane's latest wrestlings with his archnemesis, the screen door that will not slide, but turn back to find some dark, tobaccoey aromas, raspberry and smoke and gravel, interesting to smell, but tight and reserved. The wine tastes much the same--strong and deep, tight and finely tannic. The balance is quite striking, this is a rich Baryshnikov-muscled wine with high and low notes in harmony, but it's going to need a while to loosen up.
Not quite so tight is the Vinalcool Prahova Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Dealul Mare 'Premiat' 1997, a medium to medium-light red wine with a quiet plum-cassis-cherry nose, soft-smelling and darkly fruity. Tastes light, elegant, slightly soft, very lightly tannic, quite shallow and characterless.
Not quite so characterless is the Couly-Dutheil Chinon Clos de L'Echo 1996, a medium to medium dark garet colored wine with a light redfruit and leafy-tobacco nose, brighter and lighter than the Druet. Tastes berry-red, tart and somewhat aggressively, racy and interesting with some strong fine tannins, although the muscularity is more on the lean side than the Druet.
Not quite so aggressive is the Château du Seuil Graves 1995; looks to be medium garnet in color, smells fairly straightforward and decent, some dark cassis, smokytoast and light oregano herbiness. Smells generously wooded, but there's some nice decent young fruit to support it. The wine tastes a bit soft and round, a fleshy style, straightforward but not simple, with some acidity and plush fruit and toasty wood. Quite decent, not of one mind.
A Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Private Reserve 1994 follows, a medium-dark garnet colored wine, smelling of soft plum-cassis, coffee and pizza herbs, a fairly quiet and nondemonstrative nose that makes you lean in and search a bit. Tastes gravelly-cassisfruity, some fairly ripe fruit that is a bit monolithic but not offputtingly so. I am ambivalent about this wine. It seems quite correct in a fairly friendly, accessible yet balanced style, but there's nothing much exciting about it, and it seems a bit sterile in its propriety. Still, it's very drinkable and goes down quite smoothly, and I'd take it over this same winery's '94 chardonnay any day of the week and twice on Sunday. For a score I'd be hard pressed to give it more than four and a half striped peppermint candy Prongs, the pointed ends licked to a severe sharpness by feral bandicoots and lain across one another in a log-cabin-frame arrangement with the half-Prong laying in the middle perpendicular to the East/West sides, with potential for another half-Prong (for a total of five) if the wine is stored at exactly 55 degrees Farenheit for another year and nine months.
Another Golden Stater, Paradigm Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1995 is up now, and it's a medium-dark garnet color, and here's that generic big 90s Calcab nose that was missing from the Mondavi--blueberry pie-oak and smoky-toasty oak and cassis and vanilla-oak, smoky and richly generic smelling. Tastes rich and ripe and lush and candied, a rounded creamy-red fruit wave, quite upfront and rich and obvious, a wine that wears everything on its sleeve, a slow-pitch softball of a wine.
John, who has been quiet up until now, perks up with this wine, seeming to enjoy it and politely asking everyone in turn what they like and don't like about it, trying to get a sense of the crowd. He seems quite eager to find out a bit about this culture of winegeeks. People squirm a bit, trying not to intimidate him, but eventually we cannot avoid telling him the simple truth that he is clearly an idiot for liking this kind of wine and must unfortunately have really, truly bad taste, the kind of taste that only beetle-browed Neanderthal morons have. This sad news broken to him, we somewhat ruefully throw him into the lake for the snapping turtles in an attempt to remove him and his terribly flawed taste buds from the gene pool. Science Lad balks at this, for he had apparently at some point mistakenly bought a few bottles of this stuff, and, tasting it now, is eager to unload the rest. When John staggers out of the water, we hold him down as he filches the money and promises to send the wine product on to him at some unspecified future date. Thus everything ends happily after all.
That unfortunate incident over, our host suddenly remembers a white wine he'd forgotten, and opens a "Slick" Nick Joly Savennièrres Clos de la Coulée de Serrant 1995. Alas, the wine is damaged, a medium-deep gold color, and quite flattened out and oxidized. We bow our heads for a moment of biodynamic mourning for the fallen soldier, and move on, as the living must, to a Château Haut-Bailly Graves 1979: Medium-dark ruby color. Smells muted and smoky, hints of ripe red cassis-berry fruit that has faded (especially around the edges) to a warm red hum, mixed with toast and earth. Fairly low in acidity, a bit fleshy, but rich and warm and friendly. Soft and pleasant drinking now, still youthful and jolly at heart but showing a few well-placed wrinkles.
Château Latour Pauillac 1967: Medium-dark garnet, smells a bit musty, seems slightly corked to me. It can still be enjoyed to a certain extent, for under the TCA is a fairly rich, darkly round smoky-fruity wine, but once again we were all left cursing the cork devil and wishing for a decent screwcap.
A pall is cast by the appearance of our old nemesis. The bugs are starting to swarm and the fish are starting to jump. Our host heads off in an attempt to persuade some of them to impale themselves on his unbaited hook. Some of us head towards the tennis courts to sneak a smoke, and motion-sensored lights flare off in our eyes, scattering us into the woods like scared rabbits, although we do still manage to avoid the newly-seeded lawn.
When we return there are some Iberian selections to be dealt with. First, a Pesquera Tinto Ribera del Duero 1991: Medium-dark garnet color. Smells rich and meaty, cherry-earth with some darker shoe-polish hints. Smooth and balanced, this seems to be in a good place now; the meatiness of the nose comes through in the mouth as well, with rich earthy cherry-smoky fruit, nicely balanced and crisp, flowing somewhat smugly into an earthy long red finish. Nice, self-satisfied wine that doesn't try to do too much but does what it does very smoothly and well.
Muga Reserva Rioja 1995: Medium garnet color. Light nose, smoky red fruit tinged with light green herbs. With swirling the red fruit focuses a bit into berry-cassis aromas, with hints of funky barnyness and vanilla above and hints of tar beneath. Smells a bit young and coltish, not as integrated as the Pesquera. Tastes a bit leaner than the Pesquera as well, not quite as fleshed-out and meaty--seems a bit underfed at times. Still, very nicely balanced and, though young, not inaccessible or unfriendly.
As we sit listening to our kind host curse a blue streak at the finned inhabitants of New Jersey's largest and cleanest lake, we discuss the notion of heading down en masse to the townie bar and kicking some non-winegeek butt. This irrational exuberance is abruptly tempered by the sudden appearance of a set of flashing red lights on the road across the lake and two sets of flashing blue lights on the lake itself. We resist the impulse to flee, decide to wait them out, and eventually they all go back to wherever it was they came from, leaving us sweating but mercifully unmolested.
A few sweeties come out of the woodwork, beginning with a Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume 1967. This wine is a medium pale lemon-gold color, and the first thing I get on the nose is a hint of kerosene, followed quickly by sweet honey-lemon mineral fruit laced with tea and ginger. Very interesting to smell, a bit lean to taste, the fruit having faded to a pressed-flower quality, more lemon tea & slightly mummified yellow apple tastes, with a medium level of sweetness and some hard acidity. Fades a bit quickly, seems a wee bit tired.
Next is an Allan Munro Scott 'Autumn' Riesling Marlborough 1999: Pale straw-gold color. Sweet honey & lemon nose, yellow apple flavors peep through the sweetness when I sip this. Quite sweet, a bit low acid but seems extravagant and syrup-thick after the faded Baumard. The fruit is bright and tangy, though, and it's amiable stuff.
The Irrepressible One finally returns from his futile quest to pierce the cheeks of the locals and sits down to tell us scary tales of Hoppie the Lake Hopatcong monster. We shiver and huddle close for safety. And sample a few more bottles, of course.
Renwood Muscat Canelli Amador County Clockspring Vineyard 1995: This gets some happy shrieks of dismay and horror right off. Someone cries "Linseed oil!" and someone "Flat gingerale!" and I take a sniff and find out why. It's actually quite odd to smell, with weird stewed apple & mandarin orange hints along with some vinyl and, yes, flat gingerale. Sweet and fat and limp and stewed, the clockspring has wound down.
I know it's getting close to the time to leave when Science Lad is holding forth on the many women whose affections he has refused, and the conversation veers towards something from a Chuck Woolery program. There's time to squeeze in a few more, though...
Château Reynella Mclaren Vale Vintage 'Port' 1981: Matte dark garnet color, deep purply-earthy-dark. Smells plummy, blackberry and earth and pepper and tar. Tastes just like it smells, deep and plummy-tarry, medium sweet, lots of earthy purple flavor, rather ponderous in the mouth but I like it for its uncomplicated richness and purply-earthy flavors nonetheless.
I've gathered and lined up the last three untasted bottles I could find in front of me, and take a pour of the first one, a Château de Pez St. Estephe 1990: Medium-dark garnet color. Smells lightly herbaceous, plenty of graphite-backed blackcurrant underneath, rich and beguiling. A sip, and it's a rich, crisp mouthful of St. Estephe, fleshy and tangy and dense. Nice stuff.
I go for the Willi Schaefer Gräächer Domprobst Riesling Beerenauslese 1993, and just as I pour some our host douses all the lights. I object, but am told that "it's oxidized, don't worry about it." The Guy Breton Morgon Vielles Vignes 1998 is similarly left in the dark.
The Supergeeks going down for the count one by one, it seems now would be a fine time to flee. We gather up a sleepy Politenessman and, after a journey across the wilds of the Jersey moors, pour him shoeless onto the sidewalk in order to face the morning.
But that is a tale for another day. Suffice it to say we all lived to tell the tale.