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The young and the fruitless

Yetis, porn stars and mail-order pork. Is this any way to host a wine dinner?

by Thor Iverson

“I want to gather together to drink dead whites.”

Fearing some sort of stealth Black Panther rally, I rubbed my eyes and re-read the email. “Unusual whites,” it actually read. Oh, OK. That’s better.

The call had gone out from the Rajah of Rioja, the Master of Moose, the man that puts the salt in cod, the Humbert-Humbert of Hamburger, Mighty Young Joe, Mr. Roll Bar, the man that keeps exotic upholstery manufacturers in business…many know him as Joe “I’m-not-the-lead-guitarist-of-Aerosmith” Perry…to assemble on a tiny island off Boston’s North Shore for the imbibing of whites that were, in Joe’s words, “off the beaten track.”

“What do you mean by that?” I queried.

“You know, no popular whites. No riesling, no gewürztraminer, no chenin…”

Chenin is popular?!?

“Well, what I’m thinking is…”

Gewürztraminer is popular?!?

“Oh, you know what I mean.”

A resigned sigh. “Yes, I think I do. You want to drink oxidized whites from Spain.”

“And the Rhône. Don’t forget the Rhône.”

“Oh, no. How could I?”

So, with an unseasonably early blizzard bearing down on New England, we prepared on an early Friday afternoon to board the series of automobiles, ferries, and pack yetis that would take us to Joe “No-seriously-I-don’t-have-Steven-Tyler’s-number-so-stop-asking” Perry’s igloo. Prepared, that is, but never actually began.

*ring* “Joe, it’s Thor. Uh, so, listen…we can’t see the houses across the street.”

“I told you that you’d go blind if you didn’t…”

“No, no. Blizzard. It’s a white-out here.”

“Oh. Well, that’s OK. My pork hasn’t arrived yet.”

I paused. Metaphors are a tricky thing, and easily misinterpreted.

“Your pork?”

“Yes. I ordered pork. It’s coming in the mail.”

I paused again, thought better of my response. “So, can we do this on Sunday instead?”

“Sure, as long as I get my pork.”

Sunday arrives...bright, sunny, and reasonably warm…and we board our yetis for our trip through the shoreline wilderness. It’s true that yetis have only an occasional acquaintance with personal hygiene products, but with proper preparation and a few army surplus gas masks, the trip goes smoothly and we’re soon happily huddled around the lantern at Joe’s igloo, which he shares with his Inuit concubine Amy and a few dozen plastic god-totems with detachable shoot-‘em-up fists. Joining us are “Bill and Lill” Buitenhuys and one dubiously undead green lamp.

Joe greets us in an apron woven from penguin feathers, then turns to his computer. “I’m making a recipe from The Latin Liquidator.”

“You get your cooking ideas from porn stars?”

I’m handed a glass of wine, asked to guess. It’s full of pine needles and silty peat moss dust, with something in the licorice family – I proceed through fennel, anise, and pastis before finally arriving back at fennel fronds – and a brassy, tinny aspect. I surmise some bizarre high-altitude Spanish concoction, but it’s actually sauvignon/sémillon: Château de Fieuzal 1993 Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux). Hmph.

With it, we’re served some tasty salt cod-filled phyllo wraps and empanadas. “Ah, chorizo empanadas. The traditional match with white Bordeaux,” I quip. The Buitenhuys (Buitenhii?) just glare.

The next wine is bubbly and of indistinct age…the biggest clues are a staple (rather than a wire cage) holding the cork down…to be completely honest, it presents itself as some sort of tree bark version of camel toe…and the painstaking opening and consumption instructions on the back, which seem by their language to be aimed at a bygone era.

“Guess where I bought it?” asks Bill. “You get one guess.”

“It could only be Millis Package.”

“Yeah. I showed the list of wines we were having to Bob Harkey, and he just kept shaking his head. ‘You’re drinking that? Oh, God, I would never even sell that!’” Coming from Bob, who specializes in an extreme measure of aged arcanity, this is a disquieting response.

The Mumm NV Champagne Crémant de Cramant Blanc de Blancs (Champagne), Bill and Bob’s eventual choice, smells like a Dairy Queen chocolate shake, though there’s also a malted element to it and perhaps something more custardy from the Ocean City boardwalk would be a more appropriate descriptor. On the palate, there’s some bitter lemon and stingingly tart apple to balance things out, but the overall impression is of a sugary, confected ball of barely-bubbly strangeness.

Joe and Amy have a football game on the TV. While we sip and nibble, the Ipswich Bivalves score touchdown after touchdown against the hapless Lobolly Cove Crustaceans at snowy-but-packed Penn Gillette Stadium. We’re glad to be inside, sipping over-the-hill wine.

A request for water is heard, and a bottle of San Pellegrino produced. Only problem is: no bottle opener. Joe rummages in his drawers for a while, emerging with a well-used tool. Theresa smirks. “Joe, I’m very impressed by your tool.”

“That’s not the first time that I’ve heard that.”

“No,” his fiancée pipes up, “but it will be the last.”

A Chapoutier 1989 Hermitage Blanc “Chante-Alouette” (Rhône) is next. It’s got lemon peel and peanut oil on the palate, but nothing at all on the nose. It’s less than half a wine, though this performance doesn’t really surprise me from Chapoutier. On the other hand, a Chave 1996 Hermitage Blanc (Rhône) is half a wine (it’s a 375 ml bottle), showing Manzanilla sherry, creamy puréed earth, and chestnuts, but nothing on the palate.

“I wonder what these might taste like as a blend,” someone wonders. Bill happily accepts the challenge, proceeds with his misbegotten science experiment, and pronounces the result better. I follow his lead, and he’s right: Chapoutier/Chave 1989/96 Hermitage Blanc “50% Chante-Alouette” (Rhône) is a better wine, with more balance and a showier presentation of the mingled wines’ nuts and old cream, plus a lusher texture. But thank goodness Joe isn’t in the room to see it. Or the Chave family, for that matter…

Joe finally reappears from a long stint in the kitchen, having found a break in his porn-star pork recipe. “The Chave, when I decanted it, smelled like the fall of Babylon.”

“At least you didn’t say Sodom and Gomorrah,” I muse.

“Yeah. It smelled like sex, flowers and carnage.”

Lill looks confused. “What does sex and carnage smell like?” Bill hushes her, and the question lingers in the air, unanswered.

The Ron Jeremy Pork (wouldn’t hedgehog be more appropriate?) is finally done, and we assemble in Joe’s kitchen for the feast. We stab it with steely knives, and the beast does appear to be dead, so we dig in while Joe foists a trio of Spaniards on us and regales us with tales of his long, close, and personal friendship with Victor de la Serna.

R. Lopez de Heredia “Viña Tondonia” 1989 Rioja “Reserva” “Viña Gravonia” – Still vivid and – say it ain’t so – possessing something that might easily be labeled fruit, which I point out should necessarily exclude it from our evening. Nonetheless, it’s nice, showing baked pear, baked peach, and a bright, spicy finish. By far the liveliest wine of the night so far.

R. Lopez de Heredia “Viña Tondonia” 1987 Rioja “Reserva” “Viña Tondonia” – The color…well, basically, there’s no way to describe the color other than “fill the cup, please.” Sour plum, blood orange blossoms and dried flower petals mark a long, complex, and surprisingly pretty wine. Pretty, but with a lot of depth, and probably the best wine of the night.

R. Lopez de Heredia “Viña Tondonia” 1976 Rioja “Gran Reserva” “Viña Gravonia” – Dark brown, with caramel laced with cidered apple and baked potato. It’s juicy and long, with pretty decent acidity, but it’s also rather heavy and thudding, and I find myself going back to the ’87…as does the rest of the group…leaving a lot of this brooding and mud-colored wine still resting in its decanter.

The conversation, as it does at all such events, ebbs and flows and returns with dismaying frequency to the subject of Stuart Yaniger. At one point, Joe describes his reaction to mourvèdre: “For me, it’s like chewing on the sole of Ebenezer Scrooge’s shoe.” He then launches into a litany of the evil things he’s done to his soon-to-be wife: leaving her hanging by her shoelaces in the Australian outback with poisonous funnel spiders in her hair, deliberately feeding her bad oysters just to see how quickly her body rejects them, leaving her alone in a room with Brad Kane…

I turn to Amy, bewildered. “You’re going to marry this guy?”

She shrugs. “Someone has to.”

I assemble some custard-filled ramekins and a blowtorch, and get to work covering our desserts with a hardened sugar shell while we slurp at a duo of dessert wines. A bottle of Ramonteu “Domaine Cauhapé” 2001 Jurançon “Symphonie de Novembre” (Southwest France) is tasty but “off” in comparison to an earlier bottle, and I wonder aloud if it isn’t some of that “romantic and traditional” cork variation that we all know and love (at least it’s not also-much-beloved cork taint). There’s very slightly oxidized sweet spiced peach, bitter skins and light botrytis spice with a balanced, drying finish…but all the lushness of this wine is under some sort of shroud. However, a half-bottle of Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 1999 “Finale” (Waipara) is much better, showing creamy sweet tangerine, orange, spicy wood and noble rot influences, and a luscious balance and texture.

Joe is now in the midst of an autobiographical tale involving the illegal harboring of snakes and Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. He comes to some sort of climax with the following: “There was a snake in my buttocks area. It found the only warm place in my garden-level apartment.” I shoot an exasperated look at Amy and repeat my earlier question, to which she has a similar reply…which is followed by a strangely evil glint in her eye. “Don’t worry. I’ve got plans.”

Joe abruptly stops his narrative and looks across the remains of our repast at his fiancée. A nervous tic begins to affect his face, and we decide that it’s time to go home. Our yetis are packed and ready, and off we go, pretending we don’t hear the agonized screams and yelps coming from within the retreating silhouette of the igloo.


Copyright ©2005 Thor Iverson.