Time: Mid-June, 2007

Place: Kane's swingin' bachelor pad, upper east side, Manhattan

Occasion: Birthday weekend festivizations for Kane, Lisa and SFJoe

So Lisa and I hustle over the tidal strait to Kane's place, laden with wine and raw shrimp. The big birthday fête is a cook-your-own event this year, and I'm doing the shrimpetizer. By the time we arrive most of the crowd is already gathered. There's Manuel 'Bubbles' Camblor with better two-thirds Josie, there's ex-scientist Jayson Cohen and glowing three-fifths Laura, there's "good ol'" .sasha, Eden "Lisa" Blum with non-fiancé Scott, and the rest. I don't see perpetually tardy Jay Miller yet, but I figure he'll make his way here eventually.

I wave to the crowd, then sweep into the kitchen with my ziploc bags full of spices and oils, needing only a decent-sized chef's pan before the magic can begin. Incredibly, all Kane owns is a small dented round-bottomed wok that's missing its base, so that the pan wobbles and tips over if you let go of the handle. And to think he once floated the idea of having a culinary jeeb at his place! Eden is much amused by my fumbling attempts to chop and cook with my right hand while keeping the thing from dumping its contents all over the rangetop with my left. I'm not used to this lack of basic tools, and it makes me cross enough to snap at Kane when yips at me, for the second time, that I'm using "the wrong kind of oil."

I whirl on him as far as my two-hand dance will allow: "It's MY damn recipe, Kane. You cook, you use whatever oil you want. THIS recipe, MY recipe, uses olive oil! Semi-virgin!"

Kane notes my flared nostrils, backs off without further word. I proceed as best as I can, and somehow manage to bang out a decent quantity of not-raw spicy Catalan-style shrimp. Sweaty and frustrated from my culinary struggles, I spot an F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Von Den Terrassen Smaragd 1991, pour myself a comforting dram, and settle back next to the air conditioner to recover. Lessee now... shy, quiet aromatics--wet rocks, pineapple juice, celery seed, all rather reticent. A sip, and it's a broadbeamed wine, hard and rather awkward. There's a nice flavorosity, but also some knifelike acidity and, after an initial quiet fruitiness, the middle recedes into taut neutrality, finishing with a quiet stony whisper. Not without interest, but not very pleasurable either. I peer around for SFJoe, but there's no sign of him. Surely this is one of his?


Okay, what's next? Ah, here's a Dönnhöff Riesling Niederhauser Hermannshole Spätlese 2000. Been a year or two, hmmm, okay, still smells happily subtle--light honey-gardenia, sweet smelling, touch of yellow apple, just pleasant to sniff at. Tastes friendly, a bit soft and fleshy but with a pleasant tartness to the lemon-appley fruit that's cushioned by a gentle sweetness. Small and intricate riesling, a soothing little netsuke of a wine.

Kane trots out a bottle of Huet Vouvray le Mont Demisec 2002 for our edification. Shy smellies, gentle waxy lemon-chalk-bergamot aromas, with just a touch of apricot making an appearance. Beautifully balanced, light sweetness and vivid acidity, although there's a shyness that makes the acidity stick out a bit more than it did in its youth. On release, this was a wine to inspire Castanedean visions, one of a trio of vivid young demisecs. Its tide has ebbed in the intervening years, it has crawled under the covers and pulled the blanket over its head, but even so there's a lot to like, as well as a lot to contemplate. I sip away happily, basking in the presence of distant greatness.

Jayson seems conflicted about the Huet, pacing and muttering: "Brad, you shouldn't have opened this now, it's a complete waste. I mean I love it, it's delicious, but it's totally wasted now. But I love drinking it, it's really incredible. But you still shouldn't have opened it. Let me have some more. Wow, this is just amazing. But totally shut down, a real waste." I watch this schizophrenic monologue with polite puzzlement, then grab another shrimp. Mmmm... shrimp.

Here's a producer I don't know, a Gérard Boulay Sancerre Chavignol les Monts Damnés 2005. Rainwatery aromatics, minerals laced with lime rind. Tastes bright and cheerful, simple and stony and a bit hot on the finish. This reminds me much more of a straightforward producer like, say, Crochet than any other Mont Damnés I've had. Nothing much to complain about, but not at all distinctive, kind of nondescript Sancerre.

Speaking of Loirus Nondescriptus, we've got a Domaine des Aubuissières Vouvray Cuvée de Silex 2005, which is pleasant enough, smells lightly chalky and lemony. Touch of sugar, nice balance, fairly inconsequential little Vouvray, decent and simple, would do in a pinch but a bit lost in this company.

Jay Miller finally arrives, makes his excuses, goes to sleep on the couch. We poke him a few times, but it seems he's been working too hard, poor little guy, so I decide to rifle through his bag and see if he's brought anything good. Hey, here's a Château Calon-Ségur Saint Estèphe 1966! Medium ruby color, bricking out at the rim. Very mild, almost meek aromatics--lightly spicy cedar and muted redfruit, bookspine, touch of stewed tomater. A sip, and it's a delicate wine, medium-lightbodied, softly spiced, caresses my tongue shyly. Fading away, quite pleasant. I even save an extra pour for Jay--when he wakes up, he'll like this.

From across the room, a voice sings out: "SHE'S FREE! PARIS IS FREE! THEY LET HER OUT AGAIN!"

Much hubbub, consternation, shouting, rejoicing, dismay, chaos. We race to Brad's Windows box to find out the scorching-hot details, but it turns out to be a false rumor: Paris is still in custody, being held at a correctional treatment center for medical and psychiatric examination. "What wouldn't you give to be a fly on that wall?" says Jay, roused by the hubbub.

"This is terrible. She's a political prisoner. It's Nelson Mandela all over again!" moans Jayson.

"Worse!" I cry. "Mandela had a cause to keep him strong. What does poor Paris have? False friends and media jackals, that's what!"

The crowd mourns. But finding no recourse in the face of such injustice, feels obliged to keep drinking.

Up next is BRAD KANE'S FAVORITE SPANISH WINE OF ALL TIME. Alarmed by this dubious distinction, I cringe in anticipation when the La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 'Centenario 1890-1990' 1973 is poured. But wait a minute, here are some subtle, delicate aromatics--earth and leather in muted bricky redfruit, balsamic hints. A softish, lightbodied wine, fleshy and feathery, low acidity, very gentle and quietly expressive. There's a whiff of decay around the edges, but the good kind. It's a nice little wine, easily chewy, nice layering, rather unassuming. Which, of course, brings to mind the obvious question: why THE FUCK is this Kane's favorite Spanish wine of all time? Apart from the lowish acidity, it seems to embody everything he routinely mocks Jay and me for enjoying. Something's rotten here, I smell a rat. It's either payola or some kind of desperate attempt at image rehabilitation. Time will tell, readers, but mark my words.

Here's a Domaine du Trevallon Vin de Pays de Rouches du Rhne Cabernet-Shiraz 2000. Sweetly ripe red- and blackfruity smellies. Tastes firm and broadbeamed, solid core of acidity surrounded by smoky-dark cassisberry fruit. Add a dollop of coconut and this could pass for a Penfold's Bin 389. Pretty decent cab-shiraz, although I can't say I remember that designation before. Taking a closer look, it appears someone has just written it on the label in felt-tip pen. Very curious. I think THIS must be Kane's favorite Spanish wine of all time, were it only Spanish. It certainly fits the mold much better than the delicate, subtle Rioja.

Lisa's is finishing up her OB/GYN rotation, which is naturally a source of fascination with the recent- and soon-to-be moms in attendance. "It's not a lot of fun," she sighs. "I swear, if I never see another twat again it'll be too soon." Laura and Josie nod in sympathy. I'm intrigued, for she seems to have settled on a new favorite in her long search for a workable euphemism for girl parts. I'll be curious to see how this plays out in the long run.

Let's have a little hit of Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello California 2004. Ripe cassis, gravel and smoke hints, touch of anise. There's a slight candied sheen to the fruit right up front, but it's a mere distraction as the middle turns matte and mineral-inflected. Very nice middleweight Monte Bello, compact but easygoing, almost entirely devoid of the coconutty 'Draper Aftershave' that so frightens the youngsters. "Good ol' " .sasha sips approvingly, always a good sign. Probably a midterm ager.

Yet again I've brought the only New World wine. C'mon now boys & girls, are we in a bit of a rut here?

A Jamet Cte-Rtie 1998 is next. Orange-amber color at the rim, browning well in from there. Smells of violets and smoky redfruit laced with yamskin. The fruit recedes in the middle, leaving brown leafy flavors and an abrasively tannic finish. Decent enough, but this bottle seems oddly advanced for a Cte-Rtie that's not ten years old.

Snatches of OB/GYN conversation occasionally waft over from the chicks' corner: "They wanted me to pee. They MADE me pee!" I do my best to tune it out, assisted by a Château Belair Marquis d'Aligre Margaux 1990. Ooh. Oh dear. I brought this, thinking a ripe roasty year Bordeaux that I'd usually avoid would fit Brad's theme of 'Wines I'd Want to Drink.' It's ripe and roasty all right, but it's also bland, dull and hollow, quite disagreeable. Oh well, at least it's my last 1990 Bordeaux.

A Domaine Ponsot Chambolle-Musigny les Charmes 1999 smells and tastes like pinot noir-flavored cough syrup. Jay takes a sip, gags, snarls "Grenache wannabe..." under his breath. No time for more than a cursory impression, move on.

Josh Raynolds appears from nowhere, dishes out a series of exotic meat courses, then disappears just as mysteriously. Brisket that melts in your mouth, chewy-rich sausages, a rack of sweet pork ribs, intensely spicy Thai pork that sneaks up on your tastebuds with a can of gasoline and a match--it goes in sweet, then erupts into flames. He's the meat fairy!

And we never had time to thank him.

I mourn that all the spareribs are gone, but Brad points out that there's another whole rack sitting untouched over on the table. "Another rack!" I exclaim, "Damn, sling that rack over this way!"

Lisa, for no reason whatsoever, turns around and gives me a stiff elbow-shot to the ribs. "Ow, no--ribs, not my ribs, the pork ribs--AN UNTOUCHED RACK!" I explain.

Another shot to the ribs, harder this time. Discretion being the better part of valor, I decide to stop explaining.

Let's try to numb my aching ribs with a Bodegas Riojanas Rioja Gran Reserva 'Monte Real' 1964. Medium-light ruby color, ambering lightly at the rim. Smells lovely--dried cherry, earth, tea, leather, just a hint of truffley funkiness. Medium-lightbodied, with perky acidity clothed with surprisingly ripe cherry fruit. Lithe and nervy-tasting, fresher and more vivid than the Rioja Alta. The more I listen to it the more I'm enthralled--this is hitting all the notes, and, if you'll excuse the rhetorical flourish, just dances in my mouth. Head-turning wine, a step above BRAD KANE'S FAVORITE SPANISH WINE OF ALL TIME.

The question arises among the intelligentsia over on the other end of the room: "Is the tasting note a format that has outlived its usefulness? And if so, should it be banned?" I don't hear the resolution, although as of now I've received no word of a ban from the authorities. Frankly, I think it would only drive tasting notes underground, creating a black market that would make their face value soar. So actually, sure, put me down as a ban supporter. Won't anybody think of the children?

Some sweeties are making the rounds, first a Marcel Deiss Riesling Altenberg de Bergheim Vendages Tardives 1995. Kerosene hints over lemon-drizzled minerality, shy but interesting aromatics. Medium-sweet, with some calm stonyfloral fruit in the middle. Medium-bodied, crisp and pleasant, but seems to have advanced a bit since last tasted a few years back--I wouldn't hold this one too much longer.

Camblor ambles over, whispers a request that I not divulge certain personal items to the world at large. I agree to do so, for a very reasonable remuneration. So mum's the word, eh?

Next is a Huet Vouvray Cuvée Constance 1989. Not corked! Not corked! Pleasant dusting of botrytis, here are the usual lemonhead-apricot-paraffin-hay smellies, perhaps a bit shyer than last remembered. Still very young, and just a bit too sweet for my taste, although there's good supporting acidity. The big-sugar Constance wines are never quite my favorites (although I'm always willing to be convinced), but this is awfully nice. Broadbeamed and unsubtle, but very smooth going down. Maybe in ten years when this is a dry wine it'll be more compelling...?

Ooh, here's a Château Climens Sauternes-Barsac 1970. Mmmm... spicy pomander notes--dried orange rind, apricot, honey-vanilla, hay. Despite a certain pressed-flower hue it smells complex and pretty. There's a certain flattened-out quality to the midpalate, but that's a quibble, as there's generous sweetness, oodles of complexity and buoyant supporting acidity. A bit over the hill, but utterly charming. I have very fond memories of the '71; this isn't on that level. But it sure is nice tonight. Yum.

Sweeties gone, back to dry reds with a Mas de Daumas Gassac Vin de Pays de l'Herault 1991. Gentle simple blackcurrant aromatics, touch of earth, touch of smokiness. Tastes soft and easygoing, loosely wrapped, a bit watery in the middle but quite drinkable. Simple, pleasant.

Delas Hermitage 1983. Faded blackfruit and portobello mushroom, laced with earthy, underbrushy hints. Matte-textured, tastes kind of lean and hard, with a patina of decay. A bit over the hill, but pleasantly so. Well, sort of pleasantly so. Actually less pleasantly so the more I sip at it. Yeah, its best days are well behind it. After a little bit of air it starts to amble toward pondwateriness. Move on.

Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1988. Lean and hard, semi-fruitless high-acid Châteauneuf. What's to like?

We spend the tail end of the evening looking at Brad's profile on JDate and peering over his shoulder as he considers and rejects potential dates for ridiculously picky reasons. Our bleary eyes widen in astonishment as he shoots down one out-of-his-league woman after another as "too tall," "too short," "probably not Jewish," "hair too curly," "hair too short," "funny bump on her nose," and so on, until there's nobody left to reject.

"Nice work, Casanova," I offer. ""Now you're free to wait until Alyssa Milano shows up at your door wrapped in a big red bow. It's going to happen one day for sure--keep those standards impossibly high in the meantime!"

And with a bon mot of that caliber I know it's time to leave. Happy birthday to all, and to all a good night!

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