If you don't know what it means you shouldn't be in here

Minutes: Quick Reference
Thur, Jan 8th, 2009
Tues, Apr 25th 2006
Thur, Mar 26th 2006
Thur, May 26th 2005
Mon, June 20th, 2005
Tue, July 26th, 2005
Sun, Aug 28th, 2005
Wed, Oct 26th, 2005


Thursday, May 26th 2005:

This gathering was attended by the usual assortment of dissolute ne'er-do-wells (Mssrs. D'Arcy, Riddles, Dunn, and O'Donovan), minus Mr. O'Neill (on sabbatical, which I guess is a suitable excuse. I guess...), but with the addition of the O.C.A.S.U. of the N.F.C.S.C.U.P.C.'s own Mr. Collins, Mr. Ferron, bag of comestibles in hand, and the evening's guest of honor, the remarkable Mikie Smyth, on his way from Dublin to New Zealand. Here's how I remember the evening (your actual mileage may vary):
  1. 2002 Deidesheimer Grainhübel Riesling Spatlese Trocken, Dr. Deinhard...I had actually opened this up the night before, and we drank it as an aperitif, waiting for the troops to assemble. It had improved overnight, having been fairly hard and reticent, but now was showing quite well, exhibiting a nice mineral/slate element, and good weight.
  2. 2003 Blanc, Jezebel (Oregon)...by now we had tucked into some pretty good bbq from Zeke's in Montrose, maybe the best of the white guy 'cue places in the area (this was supplied by the very generous Mr. Riddles), and some stellar salmon from our own Mr. Dunn. The wine, a nondescript assembly of not too interesting white grapes, lacks any real interest, is plump but spineless, and possesses only two virtues: it's cheap, and nobody was offended.
  3. 2003 Muscat, Heidi Schroeck (Austria)...still chowing down. Immeasurably better, both with the 'cue and in the abstract, pale, bone dry, real food wine made by someone who gives a shit. More, please...
  4. 2003 Pinot Noir, Jezebel (Oregon)...on to the reds, whilst finishing up dinner and moving on to Dave C's lovely cookies. Another wine from the same so-so bargain Oregon producer, this one a bit better than the white, as at least it's just the one varietal, so you have some idea of what they're going for. Undistinguished, but, amazingly, nobody spit it out.
  5. 1983 Nuits St-Georges, Clos de la Maréchale, Faiveley...Seems like I heard someone playing in C# out of the corner of my ear, and it seemed to be quite good, so it was obvious I needed to abandon my ill-conceived plan to stick with New World plonk, and check the old closet. What have we here? Looks like a bottle of completely mature Burgundy from a good maker, in pretty much perfect condition: red-orange mature, medium weight, forward pinot fruit, an almost sweet mid-palate, and a lingering finish. Great wine. The colleagues were kind enough not to grouse about it being an '83 rather than the sublime '85.
Respectfully submitted,

Michael O’Donovan
Food and Wine Correspondent of the N.F.C.S.C.U.P.C.


Monday, June 20th, 2005:

The gathering involves most of the usual suspects, with Mssrs. D’Arcy, Dunn, and O’Donovan representing the founding fathers (Mr. Riddles is off feathering his nest in Nevada City, and Mr. O’Neill continues on sabbatical), Mr. Collins representing the extremely exclusive O.C.A.S.U. of the N.F.C.S.C.U.P.C., and Mr. Ferron representing, indeed comprising, the even more exclusive vegetarian wing (perhaps that should be “branch” rather than “wing”). Guests on this occasion are the amazing Mikie Smyth, Eric Rigler of motion picture and Bad Haggis fame, the lovely Erica Swensson of storied Laguna Beach, and a clutch of actual period-instrument performers, coincidentally in town, and unaccountably eager to spend time with the likes of us: oboist extraordinaire Marc Schachman, and a pair of fiddle, oops violin, players, the charming Katy Kyme, and Anthony Martin, also charming, but in a rather different way.

Here’s how the evening goes:
  1. 2000 Clos Blanc, Tablas Creek—I don’t actually taste this wine, as I’m still cutting up garlic for the meal, and feel it would be bad form to cut off a finger with guests present, to say nothing of slowing my piping down even further, if that were possible; I’ve liked it in the past though, for what that’s worth, and the various guests seem to have no trouble with it, especially our period instrument friends. It’s possible that a fondness for high-alcohol wines is characteristic of people who play these instruments, unlike the paragons of sobriety attracted to, say, the uilleann pipes. Just a thought.
  2. 1999 Condrieu, “Les Grandes Chaillées,” Vignoble du Monteillet—probably should have been drunk some time ago, but still pretty, in a fading beauty kind of way: pale gold color, tropical fruit salad nose, plenty of acidity, sweetish mid-palate, medium finish, nice with the goat cheese doused with pumpkin seed oil. A winner.
  3. 2002 Grüner Veltliner Smaragd, “Achleiten,” Prager—normally a great wine, this one seems to have gone underground for the time being: unforthcoming, angular, a shadow of itself. Not off exactly, but not all there either. This bottle disappears as quickly as the first two, though, which I take it is attributable to the good manners of those present, and to the fact that two of our number are actually Irish, hence unlikely to let anything alcoholic get away…
  4. 2003 Rosé, Tablas Creek—another wine from this good Central Coast maker, and, yikes, look at the size of this thing: 14.8% alcohol, or at least that’s what they’re admitting to! Not exactly your sit-out-on-the-deck-under-the-umbrella summer quaffer. On the other hand, it turns out to be fairly light on its feet, all things considered, like the hippopotamus ballerinas dancing to Ponchielli in Fantasia, and is fun to drink. Screwcap, by the way, ever so hip.

    And so to table, and the reds:

  5. 2002 Tempranillo, Parador Cellars—the first of a trio of Tempranillo-based wines, intended to go with the main course of Arista (a kind of Tuscan pork roast), rapini, and potatoes. Very nice Napa juice, young of course, but drinking well: deeply colored, cedar-spicy on the nose, nicely balanced, pretty long, amazing for domestic Tempranillo. Boy, the people who make this wine are really geniuses, right down to the limited partners. Yes indeed. You should go out and buy all of this wine you can afford. Might be time to look into taking out a second on your house. Yes indeed.
  6. 1985 Pesquera, Alejandro Fernandez—OK, at this point three things happen: about ten seconds into the meal, we run out of potatoes, a natural byproduct of inviting actual Irish people to dinner. Then the stylishly late Eric and Erica (I’m not kidding about the names) arrive, and sit down to a potato- and white wine-free meal. The third occurrence is that we slide into the area of genuinely great wine: deeply colored, just red-orange around the edges, soft and sweetish in the middle, a finish so long it feels like it’s bought a condo in your mouth. Just fine with the pork, and with my third of a potato.
  7. 1982 5o Año Valbuena, Vega Sicilia—Amazingly, this is just as good, but in a more focused, acidic, food-oriented way. Paler than the Pesquera, and more orange than red, dried cherries on the nose, edging into the area of Barolo, just as long as the previous wine (let’s see, where did I leave the stopwatch?), it’s apparently bought the condo next door to the Pesquera. I could drink this all night.
  8. 1989 Châteauneuf du Pape, Vielles Vignes, Domaine du Marcoux—a bit arbitrary, shifting gears and popping open a Rhône wine at this stage, but this turns out to be a doozy, and the third leg of a rare vinous hat trick, three in a row in this league. Pointy wine critics love this wine, and for once they’re actually right about something: a velvety beauty with an explosive nose, a sense that it’s much younger than it actually is, and that further cellaring would reveal greater wonders yet. Check back with me after the 2010 Tiónol, and I’ll let you know how that works out with the remaining bottles. Anyhow, it winds up being a dead heat among these three wines for best in show.
  9. 1984 Hermitage, J-L. Chave—by now we’ve moved on to Mr. Collins’ (the official pâtissier of the N.F.C.S.C.U.P.C.) lovely cookies, and people have begun to strap in to the pipes. At this point, Ms. Kyme and Mr. Martin—no flies on either of them—head for the hills (the Woodland Hills, in fact), sensing perhaps that the wines won’t get any better, and that pleasant conversation is about to give way to something, well, wholly different. Meanwhile, back at the wine: what’s up with this thing? Funky, slightly dirty aromas, kind of an animal quality—wait a minute, it’s the dog. C’mon Nora, get out of here, I’m trying to concentrate. Back to the wine: oops, it isn’t the dog. This is actually pretty bad, not corked or particularly off, just an unpleasant dumpy wine from a maker with a big-time reputation. Maybe 1984 sucked; if I had any wine books, I’d look it up.

    Hmm, seems Mr. D’Arcy has launched into a set of jigs. Apparently he’s forgotten basic piping/wine etiquette: white wines with jigs, reds with reels, rosés with hornpipes. I think we can allow the gaffe, though, as he’s been under the weather.

  10. 1982 Barolo, “Dardi,” G. Mascarello—a great year in the Piedmont, so this should be a beauty, but just misses: it’s old-style Barolo, a good thing, but somehow the pruney, soy sauce quality these wines often exhibit has taken over to an alarming degree, completely overpowering the rose/red fruit thing they need for balance. It’s wine that takes a stand, without a doubt, and that’s great, but not what I hoped for.
  11. 1988 Cabernet Sauvignon, “Martha’s Vineyard,” Heitz Cellars—what’s this sitting on the counter, and me with way too much wine in me to exercise the slightest restraint? Ah well, let’s take a flyer; the evening is wrapping up, judging from the increasingly slurred speech, and everybody’s inability to remember how to finger back D, and we can’t have the previous two duds be the last wines we drink. In the event, it works out just fine: lovely stuff evidently in its prime, the nose is all cedar and blackberries, there’s a muscular youthful quality, mouth-filling, fairly straightforward, but fun to drink, pretty much all you could ask of California Cab.
I think that pretty much covers it. I have some vague recollection of musical instruments, but I couldn’t swear to it.

Respectfully submitted,

Michael O’Donovan
Food and Wine Correspondent of the N.F.C.S.C.U.P.C.


Tuesday, July 26th, 2005:

Wow, is it carbohydrate time again? Where does the time go? The evening commences on the early side, with the irrepressible Kynch O’Kaine and his lovely wife, Rachel (a candidate for sainthood, for obvious reasons) already on hand, when who should turn up but Dr. Lewis Blevins himself—and what would a gathering like this be without an endocrinologist? Curiously, the Column is normally inclined to discuss glands at some length (well, some glands…), but tonight they’re scarcely mentioned. I take it that we’re either intimidated by Lewis’ expertise, or are affected by the civilizing influence provided by the presence of various fetching examples of the opposite sex: the aforementioned Rachel, Lewis’ ever-so-charming daughter, Emily, and my own better (and I do mean better) half, Becky. Anyhow, little by little the forces gather: all the founding members are on hand (Mssrs. D’Arcy, Dunn, Riddles, and yours truly), though the elusive fifth columnist, Mr. O’Neill continues on sabbatical. Mr. Collins and brownies (no, not that kind of brownie) arrives, and all systems are go.
  1. 2003 Verdicchio di Matelica "Pagliano", Enzo Mecella--as the forces assemble, I pop the corks of a couple of inexpensive Verdicchios I mistakenly assume will be nothing more than inoffensive quaffers which will provide a bit of lubrication and little else. As it happens, these are both winners, with bracing acidity and a story to tell. This is the lighter of the two, and if memory serves, the cheaper, but can easily hold its own with any of the heavyweights to come, in the same way a Dachshund has no idea it's no match for a Great Dane.
  2. 1999 Verdicchio di Matelica "Antico di Casa Fosca", Enzo Mecella--This is the deeper of the two, sporting a goldish hue, a certain viscosity, and a whiff of oak on the nose, but it's not clear to me that it's better wine; I find myself missing the crispness of its little brother. Very nice in any case, and is just the ticket with the various bruschette that are kicking off the evening's carbo-loading.
  3. 2004 Vigna Fontanella, Mustilli--Really classy label, which is probably why I bought it in the first place, but there seems to be very little going on inside the bottle: it's vague and diffuse, and I wouldn't be able to identify the varietal blind if my life depended on it, or even the country of origin. Great label, though, and this bottle winds up being consumed as well; gotta love those pipers...
  4. 2002 Bourgueil "Les Galichets", Breton--We're on to the reds at this point, and drifting tableward. This is definitely classy juice, youngish Cab Franc with a cut-through-the-carbs front end and a lingering, pleasantly bitter finish. It provides nice compensation for burning myself whilst draining the pasta.
  5. 1999 Savigny-les-Beaune "Clos des Guettes", A-F Gros--Another nice label, although this time with something in the bottle to back it up. Minor Burgundy, to be sure, but no shame in that, fun to drink in that ripe-plum-and-Bing-cherry way. Not exactly the ticket with pasta, though, as the sauce hits it with a left to the stomach, and a right to the jaw as it's going down. It's a pretty tough crowd, though, and in spite of hitting the canvas, this one's guzzled straight down as well.
  6. 1985 Barbaresco, Ceretto--Very pretty indeed, and more than a match for the Puttanesca. All the classic Nebbiolo elements, this baby smells like two dozen long-stem red roses that have wandered into a saddle factory, not that that's exactly an everyday occurrence. Pretty clearly the wine of the evening, this is dramatic stuff that grabs the attention and hangs on.
  7. 1978 Barolo, Pio Cesare--This seems like a good idea: another Nebbiolo from a great year, made by one of the good guys, and an older one at that. In the event, however, this turns out to be awfully aggressive, edgy, borderline unpleasant. Seems to have decided somewhere along the line that it wasn't settling for the slippers and the comfy chair in its dotage, but was going for the nasty Lionel-Barrymore-in-It's-a-Wonderful-Life thing instead. A loser.
  8. 1983 Gevrey-Chambertin "Les Cazetiers", Faiveley--We've moved along to Mr. Collins' brownies by now, so can actual piping be far behind? We can't let the previous bottle have the last word, though, so I find myself rooting around in the closet for something plausible, this time unearthing a pretty nice middle-of-the-road Burgundy from a reliable negotiant. A gentle, soft-spoken sort of wine, sweetish, mellow--just the thing for the odd sip between jigs and reels.
OK, so here are the totals: let's see, miscellaneous bruschette, a load of pasta, brownies, and more wine than you can shake a stick at--looks like 7,486 grams of carbs each. Not to worry, though: there were a few leaves of salad consumed, and something vaguely green on the plate with the pasta, so it's really only 7,483 net.

Respectfully Submitted,

Michael O’Donovan
Food and Wine Correspondent of the N.F.C.S.C.U.P.C.

Column Lite

Sunday, August 28th, 2005:

A rare Sunday gathering of the Column, one featuring the piping stylings of the four original members, and graced by a trio of lovely ladies: the more usual event involves guests from storied Orange County, and often from even further afield, but this time we’re required to make up in enthusiasm what we lack in numbers. For the record, the original fab four comprises Mssrs. D’Arcy, Dunn, Riddles, and your humble servant (the elusive fifth Columnist, Barry O’Neill, continues on sabbatical, but assures me that he will be piping away at the same time, in a kind of transcontinental gesture of jigs & reels solidarity). On this occasion, we’re joined by the charming Joy D’Arcy, way-too-cute young Tíerna D’Arcy, and my own good wife, Becky. On this occasion, I will keep my account of the evening rather brief, as my dog Nora and my cat Zoltan have a thing or two to say, and I’ve promised to allot them some space.
  1. 2003 Grillo, Curatolo—“What the hell is grillo?” I ask myself as I pop the cork. Turns out it’s a Sicilian grape which plays a part in the making of Marsala; who knew? In this instance, it’s vinified dry, and is just the thing with the various tapas on the counter: a bit of baby fat, probably having to do with the very hot vintage, but crisp enough, with a whiff of almond on the nose, and a fairly long, fairly exotic finish.
  2. 2002 Terrasola, Jean Leon—this Catalán beauty is mostly Muscat, with some of a local grape called Parellada in the blend as well. I’ll go for almost anything involving Muscat—I’m pretty sure I’d give high marks to a wine involving Muscat and sea water, if there were such a thing—but I think this is just sensational in the abstract: crisp as brand-new money, perfumy beyond belief, and with the uncanny ability to make the fattiest appetizer taste, well, healthy. We’re two for two, but I’m trying not to think about that, in the same way nobody mentions a no-hitter while it’s going on.
  3. 2004 Rosé, Old Vines Cuvée, Navarro Vineyards—it’s that rosé time of year, and this little number, from one of California’s very best makers (not quite as good as Parador maybe—you are getting sleepy, very, very sleepy…when you awaken, you will buy all the Parador you can afford…) does not disappoint: beautiful translucent red/orange, an explosive, spicy nose with a pleasant raspberry note, very full-bodied indeed, a real food wine, like a Tavel. Interestingly, at 13.5% alcohol, this turns out to be the largest wine of the evening, and has no trouble standing up to the spice-encrusted pork tenderloin: so much for the wimpy rosé thing.
  4. 2000 Nuits-Saint-Georges, “Les Saint-Georges,” V. Sauvestre—on to a bit of Burgundy, in this case something from a pretty good mid-level producer. This is fairly nice food wine as well, with plenty of Pinot character, and nice balancing acidity. It turns out to be the weakest wine of the evening, but in fact nothing to sneeze at, and it’s traveling in pretty fast company. We’re four for four at this point, and our man is taking the no-hitter into the ninth.
  5. 1998 Coteaux du Languedoc, Château de Lascaux—a gem from near the Lascaux caves in Southwest France, and the label in fact sports a cave painting involving some indeterminate beast being hunted by our forbears. Too bad they didn’t have anything like this wine to drink with whatever they managed to bring down—this thing is densely structured, deeply colored, and seems to be designed to go with charred woolly mammoth flesh. Sure doesn’t have any trouble with the last of the pork…
So I make it five for five. So far as I can remember, this is the first Column meeting without a single dog among the wines served. And speaking of dogs, I’ll now turn the notes over to my Black and Tan Coonhound Nora, who’s eager to relate her own version of the evening’s events.

Respectfully Submitted,

Michael O’Donovan
Food and Wine Correspondent, N.F.C.S.C.U.P.C.

OK, what’s up here? All this activity, and I’m not even getting a walk…hmm, someone’s coming [sniff, sniff]…whiff of the River Liffey, must be Patrick,..it is!...hey, Patrick, over here, Patrick, hey Patrick, forget about them, how about a biscuit for me???...great, how about another biscuit???...or maybe that appetizer???...wait, who’s this? [sniff, sniff]…smells like a Lab owner…make that a Black Lab…Bodie! Must be Dave…hey Dave, hey Dave, hey Dave…over here!...how about a biscuit???...OK, how about another biscuit???...man, that Dave’s a saint…wait [sniff, sniff] someone’s been to France not so long ago…it’s Larry!...hey Larry, over here…never mind about them, pay attention to me…how about a biscuit, whaddaya say???... [sniff, sniff] and here’s Joy!—hiya Joy, long time no see—bringing with her a whiff of pug, and a little one…[sniff, sniff] no y chromosome, must be a girl (plus she’s wearing a dress), much better than boys…wow, maybe she’ll be dropping food, better stick close…Hey, you guys gonna give me some pork or what???...c’mon, look how patient I’m being…wow, pork’s my favorite, along with absolutely everything else…how ‘bout a little bite…wow, two whole pieces, could you spare it?...uh-oh, looks like the noisemakers are coming out of their cases…I’ll just hunker down here on the couch and watch a little tube…hmm, a rerun of the Beverly Hillbillies…it’s crap, of course, but the Bloodhound’s a genius…zzzzzzzzzzzzz

Faithfully Submitted,


Finally, a brief review of the evening’s festivities from Zoltan the cat:

Who ARE these people, and what the HELL are they doing in MY HOUSE???? I’m outta here.

Up Yours,


Good Intentions

Wednesday, October 26th, 2005:

Our hearts are pure, and our intentions are of the best: we will assemble at the Column’s valley HQ for a quiet, sober evening. A simple vegetarian repast is prepared, and we all anticipate a few hours of muted, thoughtful conversation, and perhaps the odd slow air, simply yet eloquently played on a vague-sounding flat set. Certainly no alcoholic libations, certainly no jigs, certainly no reels…Here’s Patrick D’Arcy, his usual reserved self, followed by Messrs. Riddles, Dunn, and Ferron, every one in a pensive mood. The entire O.C.A.S.U., comprising Messrs. McKeagney, Fitzsimmons, and Collins, shortly arrives, tout ensemble, likewise lost in thought, and eager for a quiet, contemplative evening. Perhaps we’ll play some chess. But what’s this? Hmm, an email from Jimmy O’Brien-Moran, which, to the untutored eye, appears to be a simple greeting from a recent visitor, now back in Ireland—but we’re quick to grasp the subtext: drink all the wine you can get hold of, and do it now! Well, a missive from a Really Important Piper is not a thing to be taken lightly, so, reluctantly, bottles are found, corks are extracted, glasses filled. Force majeure—it simply cannot be helped.

There’s ribollita on hand, so Italian wines are in order, and we begin with the 2003 Locorotondo, I Pastini. What’s Locorotondo, I hear you asking? No idea, but I can look it up—hang on, I’ll be right back…Wow, turns out it’s from Apulia, the athlete’s-foot part of the boot, but it smells way better than that. There’s a lemon/honey element on the nose, and nice focus here, something chalky in the midpalate, but in the best possible way. Real food wine, and lovely with the various meat-oriented appetizers.

Next up is a 2000 Tocai Friuliano, the “Ronco delle Cime” from Venica & Venica. At least I know what the grape is, and have some history with this maker, so a trip to the library won’t be necessary. This is gorgeous stuff, ripe, big-boned, not too much wood, nicely balanced for something this size; seems like I remember this thing has won the odd award, or maybe big points from one of the Publications Which Matter, but it’s good anyhow.

Look at this astonishing bottle from the great Montefalco maker, Paulo Bea, the 2003 Santa Chiara! This wondrous wine is a blend of Grechetto, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, and Garganega. How do I know this? Well, it’s spelled out on the amazing label, along with the following tidbits of information: the grapes were harvested October 3rd, they were fermented for 96 hours, unfiltered, then aged in stainless, temperature-controlled vats. The label also suggests that the wine be consumed at between 12 and 15 degrees Celsius, whatever that is, to bring out the mineral element, and that it would be appropriate with first courses, roast fish, white meats, and cheese. The other possibility is that my Italian sucks, and it doesn’t say anything of the sort. It’s a winner in any case, and I’ll be buying more.

The last of the whites is something famous, the 2000 Villa Bucci Riserva. Now this one I’m sure has won various awards, and is often touted as one of the great Italian whites by the wine press. It’s a deep golden color, weighty to a fault, has enough oak on the nose to set a termite to salivating, and is seriously alcoholic. Impressive in a clumsy way, but lacking much to say, like a bodybuilder attempting to act, or governate…

On to the reds, and first on the agenda is the 2001 Aglianico, Di Majo Norante, a pleasant Southern Italian item I wish I had more of. The deepest of purples, lots of spice on the nose, fairly large and fairly long, finishing with a pleasant astringent note. Not a wine for the ages, but awfully nice in the short term.

Now here’s something serious: the 1982 Chianto Classico, “Il Poggio,” from Monsanto. You remember the chianti flask you stuck a candle in and set on top of your cinderblock bookshelf back in the day? Well, this has nothing whatever to do with that. This is profound juice, fully mature, at the height of its considerable powers. Deep brick red, a whiff of truffle on the nose (as it happens, there’s a truffled cheese on hand, which turns out to be spectacular with this particular glass), long, long, long in the mouth. Amazingly vivacious, standing up to every bit of food on the table, this is easily the wine of the evening.

Nearly as good, though, is the next wine, the 1978 Barbaresco from Rinaldi. Not a cru wine, but you couldn’t ask for a nicer generic Barbaresco, and from a fine year. Orange-black in the glass, all leather and roses on the nose, persistently interesting, this old friend is now playing the back nine, but two-putting every green. Too bad there wasn’t some sort of roast beast on the table to do it justice. Next time.

This being a gathering of pipers (including Actual Irish People), it turns out, amazingly, that we haven’t drunk enough wine, so a bottle of the 2003 Costières de Nîmes, Château de Campuget is pressed into service. Not remotely of a piece with the previous wines, this is nonetheless just fine—a fairly simple Rhône with plenty of plummy fruit, and a soft, non-threatening soul, just the ticket under the circumstances.

Next time, we all decide, we will eschew alcohol and opt for sober discussion; it’s pretty much settled, but then it hits us: Jimmy O’Brien-Moran is a bit of a Francophile, and we’ve been drinking Italian wine! What were we thinking? Well, there’s nothing for it but to assemble again at the earliest opportunity and see if we can’t make things right…

Respectfully submitted,

Michael O’Donovan
Food and Wine Correspondent of the N.F.C.S.C.U.P.C.

A word from Nora, the Black and Tan Coonhound:

Hey, guys, how about a biscuit, huh? Wow, there’s Chadd. He works at Disney; wonder if he knows Goofy…Hey, what’s up with this soup? No meat? Jeez. Off to the couch…zzzz

Faithfully submitted,

Official Hound of the N.F.C.S.C.U.P.C.

And from Zoltan, the cat:

Wha??? Get them OUT of here! Do it NOW! All right, I’m gone…

Bite me,


Giving It Up For Lent

Thursday, March 23rd, 2006:

The opportunity of hijacking eminent piper Ivan Goff, en route from the Big Apple to New Zealand, is all the incentive needed to arrange an evening of the usual excess. The normal, if that’s the word, Columnists are on hand, minus the long-absent Mr. O’Neill, who our sources inform us will soon be returning to the fold, and Mr. Riddles, who has lately decamped for points north, or so he would have us believe, and whose absence gives us ample opportunity to discuss him behind his back.

First on the scene (apart from my wife, Becky, who is exhibiting her usual amazing forbearance with the goings-on) is Ivan himself, who has been collected from storied LAX this very afternoon. Next, as usual, is Mr. D’Arcy, whose arrival occasions the popping of the first cork:
  1. 2004 Antithesis, Tablas Creek. This is a Chardonnay from a pretty good Central Coast producer, apparently given this name because their usual offerings are made from Rhône varietals—think Roussanne or Marsanne. Anyhow, this is better than I would have expected, with a fairly enticing nose, a weighty mid-palate, and a reasonably lengthy, spicy finish. A bit too alcoholic for what it is, but a good start, all things considered.
Next to arrive is another guest artist, piper (pipeuse?) extraordinaire and—get this—Chaucer scholar, Kara Doyle. Her arrival makes this officially the, uh, toniest Column meeting ever: Ivan is working on a doctorate at NYU, Kara is here doing actual research, and both seem to be enjoying the good-as-it-gets local weather (Ms. Doyle said, “Now welcome Summer with thy sunne soft,/That hast this winter’s weather overshake,/And driven away the longe nightes black.” Or something to that effect…). Anyhow, the rise in collective Column IQ is downright palpable.

Ah, here are Messrs. Dunn, Ferron, Collins, and McKeagney, just in time for a glass of:

  1. Bollinger Special Cuvée, NV Brut. The entry level Bolly, but nothing to sneeze at: fruit-oriented for this house, as opposed to the yeasty, biscuity quality found further up the product line, medium weight, persistent mousse. Pleasant enough in itself, and always nice to pour some bubbly for distinguished guests.
From here on, we drink nothing but Pinot Noir, for the following compelling reasons: first, we’ll mostly be playing in C tonight, and everyone knows that it’s Burgundy or Barolo for C (Bordeaux and Rhône reds for B, of course, Night Train and Ripple for D…). Second, Mr. Dunn has given up meat for Lent, and Mr. Ferron has given it up presumably on general principles (neither has given up wine, though—no flies on these guys), so the meal, contrary to the usual Column custom, doesn’t involve an obscene amount of charred flesh—thus, the density of Barolo wouldn’t do. Third, I seem to have a fair bit of Pinot-based wine in the house, so, what the hell, let’s drink it. Starting with:
  1. 1998 Pinot Noir, Méthode Ancienne, Navarro (California). A lovely little wine from this fine Anderson Valley maker, and one that has made previous appearances at Column meetings. Slightly pale, somewhat shy on the nose, maybe a shade tight at first. With a bit of air, loosens up just enough, exhibiting a nice herbaceous quality, good acidity, more stuffing than you’d think, and plenty of length. Shoulda bought more…
By now we’ve all tucked into the somewhat spare, if spiritually appropriate, dinner, and it occurs to us that, in the interest of preparing Ivan for his upcoming visit to NZ, we really ought to drink something from that neck of the woods, so the cork is pulled on:
  1. 2002 Pinot Noir, Porter’s (Marlborough, NZ). Here’s a real bruiser of a wine, dark and dense, not very forthcoming—looks an awful lot more like Cab, or maybe Syrah, than Pinot. The nose tells us it’s Pinot, though, with a kind of vegetative undergrowth element, not really unpleasant, just slightly funky. Seems to be big-time wine in a way, just not made in the lean, racy style normally associated with Marlborough Pinots, and it turns out to be the least successful wine of the evening—there’s actually a bit left when everybody leaves, which either tells us it’s not as good as we’d hoped, or that Dave Riddles isn’t here.
By now we’re just about done with the meal, and everyone’s eyeing Mr. Collins’ stellar cookies, so it must be time to stop messing around and get to the actual Burgundy. We’ll need these things to be at hand, should actual piping ensue (you never know, it’s been known), and first up is:
  1. 1995 Nuits-St.-Georges “Les Boudots,” Jean Tardy. This is an extremely pleasant premier cru from a name maker, an exuberant, youthful effort made in a light, accessible style: slightly pale, especially after the Porter’s, possessing bracing acidity, obvious food-friendliness, and considerable length for what it is. Seems to go well with either pasta or chocolate chip cookies, not something you could say about just any wine.
At this point instrument cases are being opened and buckles are being fastened, so the die is pretty much cast. Quick, before it’s too late, someone pull the cork on:
  1. 1995 Clos de Vougeot, J.M. Millot. Easily the wine of the evening, this gorgeous grand cru has the goods, in spades: a full, vigourous color, a complex, evolved nose, an opulent mid-palate, and a lingering finish. It manages to be both lush and light on its feet, which is arguably the point with Burgundy. I’m hoping I’ve squirreled away a bit of this stuff, as it looks to have a bright future, and the pipers are likely to get ugly if this is the last they see of it.
I wonder if Nora, the official Black and Tan Coonhound of the N.F.C.S.C.U.P.C., has anything to say about the evening:

”Hey, you forgot the meat! What’s up with that? It’s not too late—maybe go get some burgers. Hey, who’s this—yikes, she’s nice, and obviously owns a dog; how about a biscuit? I’m gonna need a lot of biscuits, because someone forgot the meat…really a lot of biscuits…”

Zoltan, the cat, has declined comment, and apparently feels that acknowledging the very existence of pipers is beneath him.

Respectfully submitted,

Michael O’Donovan
Food and Wine Correspondent of the N.F.C.S.C.U.P.C.

A Family Affair

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006:

Ever on the lookout for even the flimsiest pretext for assembling and overindulging, the Column is here presented with the perfect excuse: a visit from Mr. D’Arcy’s mum & da, all the way from Dublin, and we aren’t about to let the opportunity slip through our collective fingers. First to arrive, as it happens, is Mr. Ferron, lately escaped from the clutches of jury duty, and bearing a remarkable bronze sculpture he’s done of a piper. He is shortly followed by the guests of honor, the charming Anna, and the loquacious Patrick—in this case Patrick père, whom we will from here on refer to as Pat, to distinguish him from Patrick fils, whose activities are, I trust, already well-known to those conversant with matters having to do with the Column. Also arriving is the entire distaff side of the Woodland Hills D’Arcys, Joy and Tíerna, occasioning a good deal of canine excitement. Mr. Dunn soon presents himself, just in time for a splash of:
  1. 2004 Grüner Veltliner, “Hinternberg,” Famille Bauer—a sprightly Veltliner from an unfamiliar maker, inexpensive, but not drinking that way; a nice, spicy way to kick off the evening’s imbibing, and just the thing with a bit of prosciutto and cheese.
The younger Mr. D’Arcy arrives at this juncture, and the alert reader will observe that the normal distribution of Patrick D’Arcys at Column events has now been exceeded by a factor of two. Naturally, we all half expect the doorbell to ring at any moment and a third or perhaps fourth Patrick D’Arcy to walk in. Oddly, this doesn’t happen. In any case, we’re close to serving the red wine-oriented dinner, but we just barely have time for a swallow of:
  1. 2002 Pouilly Fumé, “Les Sables,” J-P Mollet—perfectly pleasant Sauvignon Blanc from this reliable Loire maker, but not as vivid as I might have liked, a soft-focus wine with faint grapefruit overtones. Just as well that we’re not really having it with food. Not bad, really, just lacking grip.
We adjourn to the dining room at this point, Pat regaling us all the while with the tallest of tales, and a garlic-infused pork roast appears—must be time for:
  1. 1999 Parador, Parador Cellars—now here’s a wine you really, really need to own quite a lot of, and I can assure you that my modest financial stake in the company has nothing whatever to do with that thought. No, indeed. Just looking after the best interests of my readers. Yep, that’s the ticket. For the record, this is a fat, plummy, big-boned wine, easily able to hold its own with what’s on the plate; the contents of the bottle disappear in record time, although this is possibly because the collective Column feels letting it linger might be impolite—a sensitive group if ever there was one.
Well, dessert is making its appearance—some nice pastry from a Portuguese baker who has unaccountably set up shop in this very neighborhood—and we’re nearing that crucial point in the evening where pipes are strapped on and the Theoretically Most Important Wine is uncorked. In this case, though, it appears that the inexhaustible Pat still has the odd few words left in him, so, while enjoying that, we’ll settle in for a glass or two of:
  1. 2002 Côtes de Tablas, Tablas Creek—this is a nice Rhône-style blend from a good Central Coast maker, whose wines often appear at Column meetings, hence in these scribblings. It’s nearly as large in scale as the Parador, but a bit crisper, and certainly more tannic; it is, of course, a completely different animal, as the former comprises a Cabernet/Tempranillo blend, and the C de T is of the Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre persuasion. Anyhow, it wears its high alcohol fairly lightly, and turns out to be fun to drink.
Well, it seems critical mass has been reached, and the pipes are now coming out of the cases. Young Tíerna, sensing impending disaster, becomes restive, and the ladies wisely head for the hills. Those of us remaining have certainly eaten plenty by this point, and feel the need for some aerobic exercise; normally, of course, we’d all go for a run, but it’s dark outside, so we’ll burn the calories by pumping the bellows and moving the fingers—should be more than sufficient. We’re concerned, though, that all this activity will soon take its toll, so further refreshment is in order:
  1. 1979 Chôteau du Tertre—this looks like it might be over the hill: the fill isn’t too good, and the cork comes away in shreds. Amazingly, the wine inside, after decanting it off the very considerable sediment, has plenty left. There’s an orange hue, that old-Bordeaux sweetness and the complete absence of unresolved tannins, but there’s also plenty of backbone, at least at first. The wine unravels a bit as we drink it, but we don’t give it a chance to really come apart, sucking it down fairly quickly.
Perhaps Nora, the official Black and Tan Coonhound of the N.F.C.S.C.U.P.C., would favor us with a few words:

Wow, new people, I always love new people! How about a biscuit? You too, how about a biscuit? And here’s my buddy Tíerna. Better stick close to Tíerna; she often drops edible stuff. How about a biscuit, Tíerna? Hey, is that pork roast? How about some of that? Maybe one of the bones? Or possibly a biscuit?

Finally, looks like Zoltan, the cat, actually has something to say:

What’s all that noise? Oh, them again…Wait, these two are new, and they’re making a fuss over me. Quite right.

Respectfully submitted,

Michael O’Donovan
Food and Wine correspondent, N.F.C.S.C.U.P.C.

Praise the Lard

Thursday, January 8th, 2009:

I see it’s been rather a while since my last posting, and the lads down in the mail room here at N.F.C.S.C.U.P.C. Corporate Headquarters have begun complaining about the massive bags of letters requesting new material, so I guess the time has come. Fortunately, just the other night the Column assembled for the express purpose of providing this very sort of blog fodder, to celebrate the New Year, and to commemorate the arrival of Mr. Dunn’s wondrous new Koehler and Quinn D set. Here’s my report:
Absent from the evening’s festivities are Mr. O’Neill, involved in smart guy stuff at Princeton, Mr. Riddles, unable to get away from equally compelling matters Up North, and young Master Abarta, cemented inextricably in place somewhere on the 405 Freeway. Likewise unavailable are our frequent guests from far, far away, Messrs. McKeagney and Fitzsimmons. But we resolve to soldier on: first on the scene, as usual, is Mr. D’Arcy, sporting a new iPod Touch, a handheld device capable of making extremely convincing flatulent sounds; it looks expensive, so I’m guessing it does other things as well. In any event, the sound effects are just the thing to distract us from the shortcomings of the leftover Sauvignon Blanc we’re pounding, a wine so nondescript that we decide not to consider it part of the evening’s lineup at all. Messrs. Collins and Ferron are next on the scene, the former bearing dessert—about which more later—and vinous matters improve a good deal:
  1. 2006 Terrazze Retiche di Sondrio, “Torre della Sirena,” Conti Sertoli Salis—what on earth is this, you may be wondering, with all those words on the label? Turns out to be pretty simple—a Northern Italian white wine made from two local red grapes, the pignola and rossola, fermented off the skins. And very pretty it is: a fairly unassuming, medium-bodied wine, with a savory mineral element that goes just fine with the couple of cheeses on offer, and with some lovely spiced pecans my better half has been kind enough to provide.

Piper who attended
the Column meeting.

Piper who couldn't
make it.

The wily Mr. Dunn, having outmaneuvered apparently hideous traffic by means of a convoluted route (L.A. native: gasoline in the veins) arrives just in time to snarf down the last little bit of this, and we move on to:
  1. 2007 Godello, “Valdeorras,” Casal Novo—oh my, what a gorgeous thing this is, a honey-blond beauty with just enough voluptuous weight (think: the thirty-something Julie Christie), impeccable focus, and length to spare. Godello continues to impress as a severely underrated—and unaccountably inexpensive—Spanish varietal whose day will surely come. This is lovely with the remaining appetizers, but I find myself just drinking it by itself, temporarily abandoning my cooking duties, drifting off, trying to give it the attention it deserves...
I eventually surface—actually, we kill the bottle—and realize I must get on making an omelet for our token vegetarian, Mr. Ferron (I know what you’re thinking, but he’s young and may yet come to his senses), boil the noodles, finish the chard, spoon out the oxtails and so on, and after a brief flurry of activity we’ve decamped for the dining room, where we come face to face with:
  1. Don Giovanni, after a glass of Marzemino2005 Marzemino, Husar de Tarczal—the opera lovers among the readership (surely the overwhelming majority) will recall that Marzemino is the wine on the table at Don Giovanni’s last supper. This occasion is otherwise dissimilar: we’re eating beef, not pheasant, and, to the best of my recollection, none of our company is seized by demoniac spirits and dragged into the pit of hell—mind, I’ve had the odd glass by this point, but I’m pretty sure I would remember that. In the event, the wine is light of body, on the plummy side, pleasant on its own terms, but perhaps not up to the weight of the meal it gamely tries to accompany. I hope that the bottle Mozart, or his librettist, supplied to Don Giovanni just before he headed south had a bit more to it; or perhaps this was all he really deserved.
We polish off the bottle in no time, and move on to something that has at least a whisper of a chance of standing up to the oxtails:
  1. 1999 Rioja, “Viña Bosconia,” Lopez de Heredia—one of the more interesting traditional Rioja makers, this guy doesn’t release his wine until he feels it’s arguably ready to drink; thus, this vintage only became available last year. And ready it is, to say nothing of willing and able: not the most deeply colored Rioja, this one nevertheless brings a bit of weight and food-friendly acidity to the table, along with a spicy, sandalwood note. It has no trouble at all with the rather heavy—not to say greasy—meal, cutting straight through. A middleweight winner.
This too vanishes pretty quickly, as the main course winds down, and is shortly replaced by:
  1. 1996 Bourriquot, Napa, Michael Havens—it’s unusual at these events to leave the last word to a California wine, as they rarely really have much to say. But this is no ordinary California wine, and no ordinary maker: for some years Michael Havens made this lovely blend, a winning combination of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the same combination—in the same proportion I think—as Cheval Blanc, the great St-Émilion. You wouldn’t mistake this wine for its model, as it doesn’t taste remotely French, but there’s no missing the seriousness of purpose. At thirteen years of age, this beauty has a lustrous deep color, great viscosity, and the kind of complex sweetness that can be gotten from Merlot on those rare occasions the maker bothers to take it seriously. Just about as good as the second wine, and that’s going some.
Concurrent with the consumption of this, Mr. Collins (the official pâtissier of the N.F.C.S.C.U.P.C.) produces a plate of Perunillas, a Spanish dessert cookie, and it is immediately apparent that the culinary bar has been set quite considerably higher, and not only for desserts. These are surpassingly light and flaky confections, with a generally lemon background flavor and...hmm...something else, something deeply savory, primevally delicious...Turns out it’s our old friend lard, the real hero of real barbecue, the ne plus ultra of cooking fats, the Babe Ruth of lipids, and the reason these little confections taste Spanish—and compellingly delicious. By now we’ve moved on to matters musical, strapping in, tuning drones, that kind of thing; but I find myself laying out of even the few tunes I can more or less play, because I’m unable to play the uilleann pipes with a cookie in my hand.

Perhaps a couple of observations from Nora, the official Black and Tan Coonhound of the N.F.C.S.C.U.P.C.:

Hey, over here—biscuit. Biscuit. Hmm, nobody’s listening. Perhaps I need to be a little more forceful. BISCUIT, BISCUIT, BISCUIT, BISCUIT, BISCUIT. Christ, don’t these idiots speak English. BISCUIT, BISCUIT, BISCUIT, BISCUIT. Jeez, could you spare it...?

And a word from Zoe, the cat:

That’s right, I really am this beautiful. I’ll bet you can just hardly believe how beautiful I am, or how lucky you are that I’m willing to spend a few seconds in the same room with you. It’s a banner moment in your life, isn’t it? OK, that’s all you deserve; I’m out of here.

Respectfully submitted,

Michael O’Donovan
Food and Wine Correspondent, N.F.C.S.C.U.P.C.


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