Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lunch with Norman Mailer and a visit with Lyle Fass

So, I’m downtown with Norman Mailer at a small café you’ve never heard of sharing a bottle of wine. We had just seen a rare “director’s cut” of La Strada through which Mailer had talked incessantly. We ordered a 2005 Gabriel Billard Pommard Les Vaumuriens that Lyle Fass had recommended to me. Very tight out of the bottle, we had the waiter, a tall thin fellow with a horse face, throw it in a decanter. We had planned to have a beer while we waited, but Mailer downed his in one gulp and called over a bottle of 2005 A.P. Vin Garys’ Vineyard from what was apparently his personal stash in the cellar of the café. The waiter came over and twisted off the cap, handing it to Mailer and asking him if he wanted to sniff it. Mailer goes absolutely berzerk and there was a bit of row that never really got beyond pushing and shoving stage and then Norman Mailer punches me in the mouth. The manager comes over and agrees to waive the corkage and we go back to the Garys’. I found it to be much more reserved than the ’04, which I appreciated greatly. It was pleasantly earthy with fairly tight cherry fruit and decent acidity. A little air brought out some baking spices, although it remained primarily about damp earth and sour cherries. We agreed that it was a nice effort in need of some age, although Mailer wondered aloud whether such a restrained effort was really indicative of Garys’ fruit. He also noted that there was a touch of heat on the finish that bothered him. I didn’t get that at all and noted that people often mistook whole cluster inclusion for alcohol. We wondered whether Andrew used stem inclusion and laughed about it for a while and then Norman Mailer punched me in the mouth.

We then turned to the Billard, which after an hour plus in the decanter had put on considerable weight and style. It was decidedly fruit driven, which surprised Mailer given that Lyle had recommended it. I assured him that Lyle recommended wines to the taste of his customer and not to his own palate and that’s what made him a resource. Mailer was dubious in that way of his and wanted to go over to Chambers St. after lunch and meet him, which we agreed to do. The fruit of the Billard was extremely focused and made the APVin seem a bit loose by comparison. It had a bit of funk and some graham cracker hovering around as well. Ultimately, it was the bright acidity that served as the third rail powering the fruit. Mailer noted how dark it was and I remarked maybe Billard used a long cold soak and we laughed for a while. Draining his last bit of one of the Riedel Vinums that he had brought (he had already smashed the previous three, but that’s another story), Mailer remarked that under $50 was really the sweet spot in 2005 Burgundy as the prices hadn’t run up as much as on the more expensive wines and that there was a lot of value there. I noted that Lyle had made the same comment and then Norman Mailer punched me in the mouth.

I’m rubbing my jaw gingerly when in walks the Dalai Lama with a coterie of what can only be described as monks. He has wearing, of course, the flowing orange robes, which I was never have been a big fan of, but I have to admit were quite in season. I had met His Holiness once at a party at David Geffen’s, although I wouldn’t say I know him. I mean, can you ever really get to know anyone at those parties? Apparently, Mailer and HH go way back (he calls him Tenzin). They wouldn’t tell me the story about from where, but both had juvenile little grins that told me it was probably something good. So, HH sits down with us. He had just gotten back from Chicago, where he and Manlin had put down Bryan Flannery steaks with a killer Chave. HH didn’t recall the vintage, so the only real point of the story seemed to be name dropping dinner with Manlin, which I found off-putting. Anyway, the conversation turns to Richard Gere and we all agree that Shilpa Shetty is a babe and that we would happily be imprisoned on her account. Unfortunately, HH starts complaining about how Gere won’t stop calling him. Mailer starts freaking out because, he claimed, he and Gere had served together in the South Pacific in WWII, which was unlikely since Gere was born in 1949, but there was really no reasoning with Mailer at that point. I’m looking around nervously as the monks begin to hover around the table and His Holiness gets up abruptly and angrily (which was bad form in my opinion), spilling some of Mailer’s wine on the sweater of Steve Wolfe, who happened to be at the next table. There was a bit of row that never really got beyond pushing and shoving stage and then Norman Mailer punches me in the mouth.

After things died down a bit, we finished off the rest of the bottles and made our way to Chambers St. Wines. I introduced Mailer to Lyle and they got along famously, as Mailer had just quit smoking. We talked for a while about the evolution of people’s palates. I noted that it was often difficult emotionally when you stop liking a wine as your palate changes. Does it invalidate your earlier opinion? Is it a question of getting it wrong or is wine so subjective that it is even subjective in a temporal sense of when you drink the wine in its evolution as well as your own? Mailer said he had no idea what I was talking about and Lyle commented that often it is just difficult for people to admit they were wrong. He noted that children learn to eat at a young age and are much more open to being wrong about likes and dislikes, while we learn to drink wine when we are older and are more set in our ways. Mailer agreed with him and we laughed for a while and then Lyle Fass punched me in the mouth.

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