Jan Larue/wine 9/24 Year of the Plague

Jan was one of the famous people I worked with & lived with at NYU. And never realized, till I just looked up his obit, just how special he was. I mainly started this note today when I dared to visit my favorite wine store (first time since March – usually J has been going into stores to protect me) to buy a case of decent wine to entertain our only covid guest - the son & his belle. Still hanging onto summer I got whites & mostly rieslings (the belle likes dry rieslings – bless her soul) and thought of Jan Larue who introduced me to them. Especially JJ Prum, a Mosel., his favorite.

Jan was Harvard/Princeton/Harvard. PhD in ethnomusicology – I just learned reading his obit in Wikepedia. Okinawa folk music. He was chair of NYU's music department. During the Pacific War he was a Navy Captain. I met him when I was called in as a research support consultant to build an 18th Century (Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, etc.) musical theme database (usually violin melody). Larue was known for his 17,000 “Symphonic Theme” catalog. Like many of my NYU consulting projects I spent hours with the “PI” (principle investigator – Prof. Larue). We clicked since I, being a fiddler, had a musical background. He invited me to his Friday wine tastings & as we studied many many wines, I really got to know him.

His weekly wine tastings were legendary. Usually he would bring in a few bottles from his home cellar. And his cellar was famous. It was cut out of rock under his fabulous house on the Long Island Sound near Greenwich. A house that looked like a Roosevelt estate (his wife looked like Eleanor). It shared a small bay with one other house which belonged to the president of IBM's Youngstown Research Center.

Most summers Jan and his wife would go to Europe's famous libraries where he would mull over original manuscripts as he built his Symphonic Theme catalog. And he would buy cases of wine. In those days a bottle of Latour would cost $5 in France (can you imagine). Cases and cases & they would take a French ship back at summers end with vast quantities of wine to be cellared. Can you imagine $50 cases of Lafite? He did this year after year in the 50s, 60s, 70s.

So his tastings all had themes. Vertical tastings were the same wine but different vintages. Horizontal tastings were similar wines from the same year. Or we would take notes as we tasted a wine as it aerated over an hour. Or blind tastings. We took notes as we drank away. Usually famous wines. Mostly Bordeaux, Burgundy, German rieslings, Cote Du Rhones. Lots of Petrus.

But I had a couple of other famous academic friends he enjoyed – one a Pulitzer Prize winner in music, one a grand operatic basso, one a church organist – all wine lovers. We had spectacular dinners in the Village at the Grove Street Cafe. They served good French cuisine and welcomed you to bring your own wine (small corkage fee). (Grove Street Cafe staff mostly died during the Aids Epidemic of the 80s.) And J & I had home wine tastings inviting our group of 8. Blind tastings (bottles unidentified). 8 people & 8 bottles. An old math prof swooned with her head ending up in the dessert at a horizontal Beaujolais tasting. And we were fairly correct in ordering the Beaujolais thru the villages of their origin. I remember there was about a 50 cents step up the ladder thru the named villages after Beaujolais Village (the cheapest). And except for the math prof, we did fairly well in our guesses to order the wines.

So I got to know Jan. I had a small sailboat, my first, after a couple years of sailing & so with Navy Captain Larue I dared to take her to one of the “1776” bi-centennial celebrations near the Brooklyn Bridge. We sailed that small “Weekender”, she was called by the designer Alden, a 19' boat with a porcelain toilet between the two bunks you could crawl/stoop into her small cabin. There was a leaver on the toilet which converted it into a bilge pump to dry out the cabin. With a 3 ½ hp outboard from Port Washington in the Sound near the Throgs Neck Bridge (LaGuardia) down the East River past the UN under the bridges past the Brooklyn Bridge to Govenor's Island where we were to anchor for the night of fireworks. I remember Jan standing like a Captain & me at the tiller steering. Great times & great wines.