Summoned by a beacon in the sky in the shape of a Leverpull, a splinter faction of the New York/New Jersey cell of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tree Bark assembled on Saturday the twenty-fourth of July at Stately Kane Manor, by the shores of Lake Hopatcong, which, we were repeatedly assured, is New Jersey's largest and cleanest lake, for some cool relief from the beastly heat wave that has seized the east in its malevolent grip.

Our kind host, non-millionaire playboy Brad Kane, first took the assembled geek-types on a tour of his subterranean BradCave, reached by a somewhat circuitous path of tunnels behind the washing machine, then set to work chopping, slicing, tossing & grilling enough food to satiate a peckish Brazilian rugby squad.

When roll call was taken, in attendance was our hard-working host Mr. Kane, the irrepressible Oleg O., Andrew Scott & Jennifer Clark, Jeff Connell, the lovely and talented Robert Callahan, Lisa Allen, and, of course, your humble narrator, who, despite numerous protestations of deep and overweening unworthiness, was whimsically appointed recording secretary, in the manner of major leaguers making the rookies carry their bags.

The day was steamy but beautiful, the water cool and clear, and despite some ominous warnings from our host about snapping turtles ending his skinny-dipping career, the intrepid Mr. Callahan and I at least managed to give the neighbors' waterslide a good working-over.

On to the primary matter--freeing the tree bark from its glassy confines.

Our system: we began haphazardly, worked through a disorganized middle phase, moved on to a grab-what-you-can free for all, then finished with a 'c'mon, Brad, raid the cellar' coda. I think the chilled whites were the first to go, but when I came back from swimming Andrew was trying to keep a couple of wines blind, and Callahan was yanking traps off and freeing corks with the easy, practiced motion of a circus geek having a go at a coopful of hens on Valium.

So, in no particular order, here's much of what we drank and what I can decipher of my damp chickenscratches...

Grunhauser Riesling Spätlese Mosel-Saar-Ruwer 1995: Pale straw color; interesting nose, spritzy lemon/lime & a gunpowdery note over a base of wet stones. Nicely sweet & crisp in the mouth, tangy & lightly sweet, well balanced, a fun, spritzy wine that turns a bit limey on the finish. A very good sipper for a hot day. Following a chorus of "get the A.P. number!" for those of you scoring at home: A.P. # 3 536 014 8-96. I like this one.

F & J Bailly Sancerre Vielles Vignes 1997: Pale, pale straw; soft nose of lime/citrus with a beguiling aroma of peaches underneath. Light & crisp-tasting, tangy and bright, with the typical sauvignon limey/stoney tastes playing off against that peachy softness. Interesting.

Dr. Paully Shore Bergweiler Riesling Spätlese 1996: (A.P.# 2 576 185 024 97) Pale straw with hints of amber; mild nose, soft and fresh, notes of rainwater & very light lemon/breadiness. Not as sweet as the Grunhauser, nor as tangy, but equally balanced, if on a narrower range of flavors. Nice finish; soft mineral/citrus notes hang out for a little while and chat. A good effort--after Encino Man and Jury Duty I'm surprised at Dr. Paully's deft touch here.

Venge Family Reserve Scout's Honor Napa Valley 1996 (88% zin, 12% sangiovese): Lisa tells me that Robert shudders visibly when this one is brought out: Medium garnet, slightly translucent; nose of sawdust & Robitussin/black cherry. In the mouth fairly lush, with black cherry & slightly darker grapey flavors, full-flavored, but simple & too woody even for me, a known termite. Dark tarry flavors take over on the finish.

Breton Chinon Les Picasses 1996: Dark purple Kool-Aid color; light nose, grapey overtones, hints of pine needles, with time & air veering more towards oregano. On the palate medium-bodied, cran-cherry fruity, tart & tight, with some fine firm tannins clamping down after the Ocean-Spray fruit. Richer than I remembered it being, still not quite my cup of tea (although I, like the cheese, seem to stand alone on this).

D'Arenberg Sparkling Chambourcin McLaren Vale 'The Peppermint Paddock' 1996: Medium-dark garnet with a purply crema; peppery, plummy nose--I don't know much about chambourcin or what it's a hybrid of (of what it's a hybrid?), but it seems like shiraz-light, with peppery, candied plum aromas; in the mouth it's a pleasant, rich quaff, without the roughness that I've found detracts from some fizzy shiraz. Richly flavored, medium-light candied plum/cherry with some tiny, tiny tannins. Sparkling red is still an odd duck to me, but this is the best one I've had to date.

Domaine des Baumards Savanierres Clos du Papillon 1996: Just lightly yellow off-straw color; bright nose, spritzy lemon, baking bread, rainwater, maybe almond? In the mouth it feels rich & rounded, nice citrusfruity flavors, crisp, but not too crisp. Very smooth & perhaps ever-so-slightly sweet? Nice lemony finish. Very easy going down, rich and smooth--pour me some more.

Nelson Cabernet Franc Sonoma 1990: Ruby-amber in the glass--color hints at more age than you'd think; slightly musty aromas raise a question or two before they blow off a bit to reveal a dark cherry/herby nose with some smoky oaky notes. In the mouth crisp & fairly rich, decent acidity, with a slight buttery feel to the cherry/herb flavors and a smooth, subtle finish.

Terre Rouge Sierra Foothills Enigma 1997 (Roussane/Marsanne/Viognier): I was trapped--as this wine was sniffed around the table the murmur began... "angel-food cake"... "angel-food cake"... "angel-food cake", so by the time it arrived in front of me the suggestion was well planted: Pale straw; sweet honeysuckle/melon/bready/yeasty nose (OK, ANGEL FOOD CAKE ALREADY... sheez...). Light & slightly buttery feel in the mouth, with a vague slippery/waxy touch. Not much else there--I don't know. Enigmatic.

Cotat Chavignol Sancerre Rosé 1997: Pink grapefruit color; mushroomy hint to the nose, stony hints underneath, and a smooth carrotiness; in the mouth crisp, with very light strawberry/earthy/mineral flavors and just a ghost of tannin, just a ghost. Very nice, but hard for me to get a handle on. Goes down very smoothly, though, I must say. Nice hot-weather wine.

Huet Vouvray Sec Le Haut Lieu 1997: pale straw, with a slight greenish cast; light nose, slightly bready/green-grapey notes. Nice crispness, minerally background, slightly soft mouthfeel. Nice, but doesn't make a big impression on me.

Somewhere along the line the convocation of tasters had flowed out onto the deck to enjoy the breeze and the moonrise over scenic Lake Hopatcong. At one end Lisa, Jeff and Robert were discussing the dialogues of Plato; at the other end Brad, Andrew & Jennifer were opening more bottles and pointing at neat-looking bugs. I wavered a moment, but when I heard Lisa ask if anyone had read The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind I made my move and sat with the bug-watching bottle-openers, pointing at fishies going splash and gurgling delightedly.

And still Brad brought out more wine. Undaunted, we soldiered on...

Arns Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1993: Medium-dark ruby-red; nice smoky/tar/cassis nose, rich but not lush; in the mouth cassis/tar/cedar/smoke, nice and full-flavored cal cab with some real good backbone and nice crispness. The fruit is forward, but fairly reserved, very far from jammy. Nice, medium-strong wine, a smooth, well-integrated package. Tasty.

Finca Villacreces Ribera del Duero 1994: Medium-dark garnet; there is a curious pruney quality to the grapey/bready/cherry nose that catches my attention; dark, black raspberry notes on the palate, crisp & richly flavored, turning towards licorice on the finish.

Müller-Catoir Rheinpfalz Haardter Bergergarten Gewürztraminer Auslese 1988: Light golden-amber; flinty lychee nose, lush & velvety; in the mouth lychee/honey, nice & rich & slightly oily-feeling, well balanced by some nice crisp acidity. I didn't take too many notes on this because I was enjoying the pure sweet gewürz fruit go down. Very, very nice.

A. Mann Riesling Schlossberg 1990: Light amber; stony/light honey nose; in the mouth surprisingly non-brisk; round, flat & a little lifeless. Appley flavors, some small stony notes, round mouthfeel, not too much here.

Marc Ollivier Clos des Briords Muscadet 1996: Light nose, rainwater, lemon/citrus & maybe a hint or two of peachy/melon warmth. In the mouth crisp & tangy & stony, not a whole lot of fruity-fruit, more minerally, but firm & nice weight & feel.

Rozes 20-Year-Old Porto: Amber orange-brown; earthy nose of cloves, orange rind, vanilla; medium-bodied tawny flavors. Fairly crisp, but also fairly sweet & simple, taste echoes the nose.

Francois Pinon Vouvray Cuvée Botrytis 1997: Pale gold; aromatically light, spritzy-straw, honey-apricot, but in the mouth bright & sweetly rich & dense, apricotty/apple flavors, hints of mandarin orange; very sweet & still balanced, tangy & complex. Yum. Hits your tongue in a tiny quantity and the flavors advance like a wave. Very tasty indeed.

Well, at this point it was decided that those who could still walk or attempt to maneuver an automobile would do so, and so we left the sylvan shores of New Jersey's largest and cleanest lake and drove off in the hands of those more sober and responsible than ourselves, beginning a long odyssey of wanderings across the desolate wetlands of New Jersey, my nose pressed against the backseat glass.

But that is a tale for another day. Suffice it to say we all lived to tell the tale.

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