A full week had gone by, but the aftertaste of gobbified jam-fruit and scorched wood persisted, persisted, persisted. Those of us who survived the Under $20 Spanish Jeebusito were a shambling, damaged lot all week long, going through the motions at our various jobs, twitching uncontrollably at the mere sight of an entilded 'n'.

In the end it was Jay Miller who made the call: "We need," he declared, "to have an 'anything-BUT-under-$20-Spanish jeebus' so that we may return to normalcy and once again be productive members of the community of winegeeks."

Sadly, most of the participants were simply too shattered to even be in the same room with anything remotely vinous. Poor Camblor could only tremble and weep at the notion of sitting and tasting, Kane suddenly had "relatives" who were "visiting" from "out of town." I hear secondhand that Apprentice Chick Sommelier Eden Blum has been stricken with wine rickets, a debilitating case of wine rickets, so unusual in someone her age.

So it is that only five of us gather at Jersey City's informal Beechwood Cafˇ in an attempt to binge and purge ourselves of all memories of that black day.

Actually, only four of us, because John Morris hadn't even been at the Spanish hootie. What's he doing here, anyway? Can he understand our pain? Can he know the hell that we few, we unhappy few, have slogged through one oak-and-point-soaked gobby glassful at a time? My guts clench at the thought of exposing my innermost feelings to someone who wasn't with us in the trenches, but a few moments' consideration changes my mind. It seems best, I decide, to have someone on hand with a bit of emotional distance, lest we grow too knotty with one another and fall to poisonous squabbling. You see, once the norms of social-vinous intercourse have been violated with such ferocity, jeebi can easily devolve into savagery; John's calming presence will prevent this. Plus, Kane's not here, so we're probably okay.

So let the strained, uneasy fun begin! And of course the healing, let that begin too!

We start off with a Domaine des Terres Dorées/J.P. Brun FRV 100 de Jean-Paul Brun Vin Mousseaux Aromatique de Qualité NV. Beaujolais sees your Cerdon de Bugey and raises you two jiggers of gamay. Frothy and pink, lightly sweet, cherry-strawberry confection, in the mold of Cerdon de Bugey but with more of a cherry-juice flavor than the ubiquitous Renardat-F‰che. Jay takes a sip and actually laughs aloud. Fun summer fizz, delightful.

Here's a Château Soucherie/Tijou Savennières Clos des Perrieres 1997, or at least something masquerading as such. Bah. I love this wine, but this bottle is damaged. Not undrinkable, but oxidized and flat-tasting, a feeble shadow of itself.

Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St. Jacques 1995. At first it seems rather hard and lean, tannic and ungiving, but it opens substantially after an hour or so of air, after which it seems slightly less hard and lean, maybe a bit softer around the edges, grudging complexity, a feathery, tantalizing cushion to the hard, lean core. Then it suddenly springs to life, turning vivid and quite lovely, expressive and feathery-taut, very pure pinot. Then it seems to shy away again like a skittish colt, closing in on itself and showing mostly structure. Goddamn Burgundy, won't you hold still, damnit?

I've ordered the roast chicken, but when my plate comes I'm startled to see a tiny, tiny bird on my plate. I glance around, wondering if I've accidentally been given another patron's baked parakeet, but we're the only ones in the place so I guess this is mine.

Ah well, it's certainly tasty budgie, at least.

Here a merlot from an obscure appellation in France, a Château l'Evangile Pomerol 1988. Gently ripe aromatics--pipe tobacco, cassis & smoke, interesting chalky undertone. Equally soft and gentle in the piehole, a calm wash of velvety tobacco-laced redness that wavers and recedes a bit in the middle, then lolls sedately as it slowly drains away, a fat stripey cat on a Flokati rug. Understructured and somewhat lifeless after the initial surge, there's nevertheless a pleasant warmth to the easily complex redfruit that I find rather charming. Not bad for merlot, and a nice match with my roast sparrow.

Here's a proprietary wine from an obscure appellation in California, a Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello 1987 (92% cabernet sauvignon, 5% merlot, 3% cabernet franc) (11.7%). Sweet old-chest cedar and cement dust in a quiet dusty-cassis base, light brown-herby streak to the muted red aromatics, maybe a touch of anise. Seems quite resolved, a low-key medium-crisp wine with good balance but hardly a whisper of tannin left. There's a certain fleshy languor here, a relaxed quality that gives the velvety midpalate a slightly vague sense, but there's a pleasant little bricky-tarry rally at the end that helps snap things back into focus. Not bad for proprietary wine, and I like it very much, although it seems to be just slightly past peak.

The waiter, while enumerating the desserts, mentions a "sour cream cake." Lisa giggles because she thought he said "sauerkraut." When the waiter leaves she relates this to us, and we all have a hearty chuckle at the notion of a sauerkraut cake. Except for Jeff, who perks up and immediately insists that saeurkraut in cake makes good eatin', top notch dessertifyin'. He makes repeated and increasingly devout expressions of seriousness, but we're not convinced, and mock him. Enraged, he vows to email us enough sauerkraut cake recipes to choke a virtual goat. We fleer and scorn at his solemnity, escalating the sauerkraut standoff. It's a lucky thing John Morris is here, as this could've gotten really ugly; as it is we back off and allow cooler heads and riper wines to prevail.

Speaking of which, here's a proprietary wine from a very large appellation in the United States, a Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 2002 (74% cabernet sauvignon, 18% merlot, 8% petit verdot) (13.3%). Mostly missing the usual 'Draper Cologne' American oak aromas; this is the least wood-marked young Monte Bello that I can recall (I've only been drinking them at release since the '95, so take that for what it's worth). Lots of quiet cassis and new-turned-sod aromatics. The wine isn't a bruiser in the mold of the '96 or the '99, it's actually rather small-scaled and has a certain purity of fruit that I find unusual in a toddler Monte Bello. The finish is a bit closed down by a gaggle of glassy tannins, but there's some licoricey persistence, if not great length. The texture is pleasantly matte, there's nothing glossy here, it's just past mediumweight, on the small size for a MB, but very appealing, like appeal of the run-on sentence. It's not focused like a laser, exactly, but the sense of midpalate spread comes off as amiable fleshiness rather than lack of focus. Nice wine; I'd guess it to be a midterm ager, maybe not one for the ages but a charming youngster nonetheless.

We drink a get-well-soon toast for Apprentice Chick Sommelier Eden Blum. Feel better, Eden! If you need antibiotics Lisa can hook you up!

Here's a nebbiolo from an obscure appellation in Italy, a Paitin Barbaresco Sorì Paitin 1993. Smells of dried cherries, leather and a dab of tarriness down deep. Tastes taut and well-honed with an almost niggardly angularity, a medium-light bodied wine with a vivid stony-cherry presence. A gravelly streak makes itself known in the middle, the finish turns towards Li Hing Cherry, with a snappy licorice flickertang at the last. Very nice, on the lean side but racy, pure and long.

I don't know, that's it I guess. For those of us still trying to put our lives back on track, this helped. Sort of. Some of us. A little. Well, Jay seems cheerier, and that's good enough for me. I guess.

When I get home my email inbox is overflowing with recipes for sauerkraut cake.

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