So I have it on good authority that some very good wine is made in Italy, a country that I'm told is attached to the lower half of Switzerland. In fact, here's someone who claims to be from Italy right here, one Luca Mazzoleni. He's here with us at Greg's place, where we're drinking ourselves silly and taking obnoxious advantage of the legendary dal Piaz hospitality. The irrepressible Brad Kane is here, as is nathan "I'm a real person, damnit" vandergrift, Jayson Cohen, Paul North, probably a few more reprobates whose names escape me now.

First, a starter white, a Scott-Clark Cellars/Garage Scott-Clark Chenin Blanc Central Valley 'Acorn' 2001. "Bring me the most unripe grapes in the whole of the Central Valley!" he cried, and they did. And it was good. This is showing very differently than the bottle at my birthday party--more open and aromatic, less coiled. Very cohesive, quiet and elegant, the previous sharp acidity here seems couched in gingery-almond flesh. Curious, but I suppose with these artisanal nonmanipulated wines you get a lot of bottle variation. vandernipper starts asking about getting on the mailing list, whimpering that he'd missed the whole Screagle thing and wanted in "on the ground floor" for this one. I said it with reservation before, I say it unreservedly now: the finest California chenin I've tasted.

So much for whites. On to the Baroli.

The first is a Cantine Due Palme Primitivo Salento 2000. Medium dark garnet color. Sweetly fruity nose, ripe black cherry and raspberry underlied with smoke. Tastes quite boisterous and friendly, richly simple gobby red fruit, meaty mouthfeel, juicy espresso-berry finish. A happy young generic red wine, although I'm told this isn't a Barolo at all, but a prim.

Actually a Barolo and not an impostor is the Clerico Ciabot Mentin Ginestra Barolo 1985. Medium ruby color. Smells of rust and blood, beef broth and old book spine, lean red fruit and cedar hints. A sip, and it's quite tight in the piehole after such an aromatic nosepackage, tight cherry fruit laced with brown herbs, some fine glassy tannins, a little bit of a rough ride. Not bad, a little tired.

Another real Barolo is the Mascarello Barolo Belvedere 1985. Medium-light ruby color, paler. Faded cherry fruit on the nose, along with an unusual combination of metallic and organic aromas that can best be summed up as 'rusty cow carcass.' Tastes thin and brown-herby. Lisa: "Nasty." This sure could've used some of the syrah that Luca mentions is sometimes snuck into Barolo to fill it out.

nathan is perfoming an heroic harangue on the subject of an American newsletter writer who is decidedly not nathan's favorite wine writer. He says a great deal that I haven't time to write down, but the phrase "ballgag and buttplug" comes up repeatedly and I think the discerning reader will get the drift. He posits a competing, honestly-titled newsletter of his own called 'nathan's Fucked-Up Views on Wine,' but I'm not sure this represents a concrete proposal.

While watching this virtuoso performance I sample a Mascarello Barolo Santo Stefano di Perro 1985: Just a shade darker than the last, medium ruby color. Cherry-bloody nose, spicy beef broth and bay leaf hints. Medium bodied, it tastes like briars and cherries, with a narrow core of redness that is fading to brown away from the center. Aggressively tannic, a fading wine with a cruel streak. "Get off my lawn, you damn kids!" it shouts at me, shaking its bony fist.

Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 1985: Another lighter wine, medium-light ruby color. Smells cherried as well, laced with rust and rosebush and dark sod. Much more delicate in the piehole, light red earthy fruit, crisp and nimble, better focus, less angry. A pleasant, light little wine whose small-amplitude decay is charming rather than freaky. Quite decent.

Luca and Greg sit, heads together, muttering obscure descriptors to each other. "Nettles... Nettles...? Nettles." "Bouillon... Bouillon...? Bouillon." And so on. It's a little disconcerting. What are they up to?

Mascarello Barolo Villero 1985: Medium-light ruby color, ambering at the rim. Plenty going on in the nose, semi-faded cherry fruit laced with leathery mushroom, rose attar and cedar. Tastes tightly coiled and cherried, younger and less faded than the others.

vandergrift, in the first flush of intoxication, begins to enumerate the individual wine board people whose asses he intends to kick and whose heads he promises to eat, Camblor-style. I take down all the names and reasons for each individual ass-kicking/head-eating, just in case such information might prove useful in the future. You never know when you might have indulge in a little constructive greymail.

Cordero de Montezumolo Barolo 'Enrico VI' 1985: Medium-light ruby color, ambering at the rim. Smells of baked bricks and dried cherries, hints of fruitcake and a whiny high note of VA. Light and loosely-knit, it seems older and lighter than the other wines, more faded. Perhaps a damaged bottle? Not a favorite, it is quickly dubbed 'Montezumolo's Revenge.'

My god, Greg is passing out plates full of buckwheat noodles, shiitake and chanterelle mushrooms in a duck liver sauce. Intense.

Ooh, here's an interesting exchange...

Greg: (Spotting about half a dozen glasses arrayed in front of Brad) "What the hell are you doing, Kane? How many damn glasses do you have?!"

Brad: (Frozen in mid-swirl) "Um... Spiegelau?"

Okay, so it wasn't all that interesting.

Rinaldi Barolo Riserva Selezionata 1985: Muddy medium ruby color, quite cloudy. Bright, simple aromatics, cranberries and bay leaf laced with truffle. Tastes clean and well-honed, honest forthright fruit, crisp acidity, very nice but not very complex. A straightforwardly fruity, unchallenging wine that someone calls "Kane Barolo."

Here follows the Tolkien interlude, when we get all geeky about The Lord of the Rings. Funny the high ratio of crossover between winegeeks and Tolkien geeks.

Riccardo Fenocchio Pianpolnere Soprano Barolo 1985: Corked. Well, since Jay's not here I suppose there had to be one.

Greg and Brad attempt to revive their longstanding clash on the topic of the Middle East, but are shouted down by the more rational thinkers among us. As a quick distraction, I suggest to Lisa that she ask nathan about his views on a certain American wine writer. She does, and a marvellously consistent repeat performance is staged. Ballgag, buttplug. Ballgag, buttplug.

Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva 1985: Medium ruby color, heavily sedimented. Rich smelling, dark bricky muted berry-cherry fruit, hints of old leather and bay leaf, tobacco and newly-spaded sod. In the piehole it's mellow and full, the fruit has real depth and sustain and isn't falling away. There's good supporting acidity, but the feel of the wine is rather easygoing and meaty. The midpalate is centered and full, the finish mixes muted red fruit and leather in an elegant melange. A rather subtle but sneakily impressive wine whose cohesion, depth and balance are striking. The real deal.

Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva 1985: The most ripe and richly fruited of any of the older wines so far, yet retains a happy liveliness. This seems younger than the other '85s, red and ripe and seamless, with a deep minerally undercurrent and some agressive tannins. The most intensely fruited and focused of the '85s--although it has neither the balance nor the elegance of the Giacosa, it's a fun alternative. This is also the only one of the '85s that I'd bother giving a few more years in the cellar.

At this point nathan blames Jayson for the sediment in the Giacosa, accusing him of shaking the bottle up while pouring. An Abbott and Costello routine ensues: Lisa suggests "Let it settle," which Greg hears as "subtle" and disagrees with loudly while someone else hears it as "saddle" and agrees wholeheartedly. Soon the whole table is in an uproar, arguing passionately about the subtlety of the saddle notes in the wine. After about ten minutes of confusion things are straightened out. Or not.

Livia Fontana Barolo Villero 1996: Medium-dark garnet color. Dark red plum and cherry aromatics laced throughout with creamy toasted wood. Tastes of tar and berries--tight, coiled, ripe and ferociously tannic. There's a lot here, but it's a waste to drink this now. Someone calls it "Woody and strict," which is about right.

Lisa, who has to study for an organic chemistry midterm, announces that she's leaving. Jayson, who has seemed slightly despondent since being fingered for shaking the Giacosa, grumps that he'd better go soon too because Laura told him that if he came home drunk he'd be sleeping on the couch. Concerned, I catch Lisa's eye. She assures me nonverbally that such a condition does not apply to me and scurries out into the night.

Without Lisa's civilizing influence the atmosphere immediately begins to nosedive, rapidly approaching the level of one of the 'Porky's' sequels. "Is anyone else as addicted to pocket pool as I am?" seems to be the question of the hour, there is altogether too much speculation on the personal lives of thirteen-year-old Dominican girls, and there follows a discussion of the lack of understanding women have for the need for occasional male adjustment. 'What about OUR needs?' is the cry.

I need to drink more.

Here's the transitional wine, a Turley Cellars Petite Syrah[sic] Napa Valley Aïda Vineyard 1995. Black tar and purple jam on the nose. Dark, dark blackberry-asphalt flavors, weighty and deeply flavored. Medium acidity and still quite monolithic, a brooding, fiercely dense wine. This has lost the boisterousness of its younger days and is settling in nicely. Although it's still in need of years and years it no longer tastes like a barrel sample. A freaky wine, but a nice change of pace after so many decaying, brown-herby wines. vandergelder seems puzzled. "Tastes like... purple," he says. As we're tasting it I'm startled to see what appears to be the clip for an automatic pistol being passed down the table. nathan grabs it as it goes by, ejects one of what turns out to be the 9mm cartridges, points it in my direction and starts whacking at the back of it with a butter knife.

This is the kind of thing that always makes people ask me "You make this stuff up, right?" to which I invariably reply "Sorry, but I haven't the requisite imagination."

After the bullet has been wrestled away from nathan and I've emerged from under the table, I notice that a whole new passel of whites has appeared, where once there was only the one. These are apparently from Germany, a country immediately to the east of Switzerland. Sadly, we have no native German to explain them to us, the man called Horst having cancelled at the last minute.

At any rate, here's a Dönnhoff Riesling Niedesheimer Hermanshohle Spätlese 2001: Pretty, happy nose--lime rind, white honey, white peach and a crystalline minerality, with quartz and flecks of gardenia orbiting the aromatic core. A sip, and it's crisp and compact at the center but expands flavorfully outwards and turns slightly wacky-floral at the edges. The first impression is of lightness, the strength and flavor sneaks up on me quickly and stealthily and leaves me shaking my head wonderingly. Very, very impressive, a strikingly complete wine that has all its parts melded into a beautiful whole, on a par with the extraordinary 1998. A Bruce L. WOW (not affiliated with Bruce L. WOW, Inc., a Netherlands Antilles Corporation).

Dönnhoff Riesling Oberhauser Leisterberg Auslese 2001: Lacks the laserlike focus and completeness of the SpŠtlese, although the aromatic and flavor profile is the same--lime and rocks, hints of white flowers. It's just a bit looser and more diffuse, perhaps a touch sweeter. Still a very nice wine with some tangy lipsmacking citrusity in the middle, but suffers from coming right after the NH.

Jayson, in what I suspect is an attempt to rally from his earlier Giacosa rout, claims to have a skinny ex-girlfriend who can proudly and naturally fill out an F-cup. Much consternation and uproar. We dissect the whole notion of an "F" cup and, before we cede to him the title of Manliest of All Men, demand photographic evidence. He claims that such evidence exists, but that it will have to wait until our next female-free gathering. There is much dissatisfaction with this resolution, and angry mutterings and hisses are heard up and down the table.

To finish off the Donnhoff triangle here's a Dönnhoff Riesling Oberhauser Brucke Auslese 1995. Medium gold color. Smells lightly of gasoline (what our British friends would call "petrolly"), along with streaks of ripe mango and dried apricot. Tangy and sweet but strangely hollow in the middle with a sense of dilution and of being old before its time. I don't really know this wine--it's either aging too fast or this is a damaged bottle.

vandergrift keeps calling people on his cellphone, making cheap excuses as to why he's not where he ought to be. He calls Dressner, who is apparently on his bike somewhere in Brooklyn. He hands me the phone, I say "Why do I have this phone?", Dressner says "Hello, hello?" and there is a crash and the connection is lost. We dial him back, fearing the worst, but things seem to have worked out all right--he is still upright and rolling, but can't seem to be persuaded to roll this way.

Kurt Darting Riesling Pfalz Durkheimer Michelsberg Kabinett 2001: Airy, minerally nose, green apples and rainwater. Tastes lean and crisp, almost sharp. Bright and tangy, with racy tart fruit cushioned by a light sweetness. A taut, wiry wine without a trace of babyfat that slices through the late-evening torpor and zaps my tastebuds back to life. Fine stuff, maintaining the standards of the past few years.

Kurt Darting Rieslaner Pfalz Durkheimer Nonnengarten Auslese 2001: More robust fruit here, very ripe Bartlett pear and yellow apple fruit laced with a lipstick-vinyl undertone. The mouthfeel is rather weighty, there is a little too much sweetness. Not bad, but simple and sweet.

Paul has a Zind-Humbrecht wine of some kind. Jayson jumps up eagerly and yelps "Is it the BRAND?" nathan finds this amusing. Unfortunately, Paul disappears and reappears with an empty bottle, having either drank it all himself or poured it all out. There must be more to this story, but I am distracted by the arrival of Michelle, back from her hockey game. She quickly realizes that her living room is occupied by a surly crowd of testosterone-fueled drunks, and retreats posthaste to the safety of her room.

Van Volxem Riesling Scharzhofberger 2000: Smells of lime and rocks. Tastes limpid and lacking structure, pallid and watery. Not good.

J.J. Christoffel Riesling Erdener Trepchen Auslese 2001: Greenfruity nose, starfruit and lime rind, a lean and zingy citrus smellage. Lightly fizzy, with only a hint of sweetness, the wine has decent acidity but the fruit has some puppyfat and comes off a little pleasingly plump, soft at the edges and light. Unusual, a Kabinett-style Auslese Petillant. vandergriff keeps putting his thumb into the neck of this bottle, shaking it fiercely, then popping it. I'm not sure why, but he's certainly enjoying himself.

Reinhard? Reinhold? Haart Riesling Piesporter Goldtrapfchen Spätlese 2001: I have no memory of this wine. Soft, creamy nose, ginger and yellow apples. Not enough acidity. That's what I wrote, anyway.

As the evening winds down vandergelder's earlier drunken belligerence turns to drunken remorse and he starts asking "You're not really going to write all that about kicking asses, are you...? You're not really going to name names, are you...?" Eventually he works himself into a nervous lather and races around the table to grab my notebook. Happily he is defeated by my wretched handwriting, finally handing it back saying "I can't read any of this."

I smile cryptically, Connell-style.

Eventually it's just me and Paul and Greg. Paul passes out the cigarettes. Cigarettes are good. The friendly nicotine cuts through the dullness, revives tired brain cells and revitalizes the dissipated black bile.

And then I leave.

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