Too much stupid crap going on in our lives lately for me to have much time to write. However, the Memorial Day weekend has given me a tiny breather from work-related madness and a brief opportunity to see other human beings in a nontyping, nonvirtual setting.

These are their stories...

Breakfast with Andrew and Jennifer Munro Clark at Madame Claude Café, Jersey City

We have a rare and precious opportunity to get together with our favorite internet recluses, pursuant to their own peculiar earlybirdish terms. Breakfast is the best meal to meet, Andrew explains--they've recently become Amish--as they go to bed at seven o'clock and rise well before sunrise to till the fields and milk the cats.

Small gatherings sometimes make me edgy--I worry that there won't be enough red, or white, or sweet or whatever. What if I bring two reds and two sweeties and they bring two reds and two sweeties and everyone orders fish? You see what I mean. So as an afterthought I just grab a Le Petit Chambord (Francois Cazin) Cour-Cheverny Cuvée Renaissance Vendange Manuelles 2002 off the rack as I'm running out the door. Happily, they've gotten lost somewhere in the swamps of Jersey, so we beat them to the restaurant and settle in for that all-important first glass of the morning. They finally straggle in, cursing Mapquest all the while. Let's get this underway!

Okay, I am a dumbshit: I forgot this wine only begins to open up after twenty-four hours of air. Right now it's impregnable; puckery-taut acidity dives under your tongue, grabs fistfuls of glands and squeezes hard. Why didn't I decant it? What the hell is the matter with me? Goddamn it. Angry, so angry, must choke down rage, bile. Wasted, wasted, foolishly wasted. I look up, and everyone else is chattering on about porcupines or something and they don't seem to be noticing my dark night of the soul. Deep breath, take another sip, let the fear and pain ebb.

For reference, here's the note from the last time I had this, with about a day and a half's worth of air:

Le Petit Chambord (Francois Cazin) Cour-Cheverny Cuvée Renaissance Vendange Manuelles 2002: Bright, vivid aromatics--hay and rocks and lemon zest, clean and crisp-smelling, like breathing Haleakala air at ten thousand feet. A sip, and there's juicy, saliva-jolting acidity, but firm velvety flesh as well, perhaps even a tiny hint of sugar? Lemonstony-tasting, limned with yellow apple flavor/green apple acidity. This has the toe-curling vividness of the '96 and the turn towards exuberance of the '97, but it's more complete than either. Damn damn long, the flavors just echo back and forth across the cavern of my gullet for ages, was ever a wine so persistent? (Were I a crass bonehead I'd be tempted to do what the pointy guys do and take out a stopwatch, but I was raised right so I don't.) Supernatural focus, like the wine is flowing through a dime-sized hole in the middle of Hoover Dam. Sour raspberry, rainwater and one petal from a lone white flower on the finish, just going on and on.

Actually, it's still nice wine, just not the knock-me-down-and-ravish-me kind of stuff I remember.

What the hell are they talking about? Porcupines? Apparently they've had a porcupine invasion on their farm. This tidbit is included as part of a parcel of animal-related stories, including 'The Mouse Family in the Sock Drawer,' 'The Mystery of the Murdered Koi,' and my favorite, 'The Cute Black and White Kitty That Wasn't a Kitty At All.'

With the foie gras platter we break out the Château Doisy-Vedrines Sauternes 2001. Smells sweetly tropical--butterscotch and vanilla, pineapple and botrytic hay hints. Very sweet and rich, lightly botrytised but boisterous and creamy-oily, opulent Sauternes that mixes wonderfully with the liver. Damn, the size and weight of this wine compared to recent vintages takes me by surprise and makes me say "Gaaah."

Here's an old pal, a Clos Roche Blanche Sauvignon Touraine Cuvée Buster 1998. This hasn't really hit its stride, it actually hasn't developed a great deal over the past few years, seems frozen in time. The nose still has a hint of honeydew, a trace of celery seed, a dab of ginger, light and muted aromatics. The flavors reflect the nose, although a lemon-limey streak wells up in the middle and tries (but fails) to upstage the gingery notes on the finish. Very nice, a crisp and feathery wine with lots of expressiveness in a relatively light-bodied package. I believe this was the last year the Buster sauvignon was produced. I miss it. Buster, we hardly knew ye. Hold.

Vinum Cellars Cabernet Franc Sierra Foothills 2001. Some hits and misses lately with these guys, whose ethos I applaud (the bottle actually says the wine is patterned after Chinons, bless their hearts). Ripe black cherry-cassis aromatics, underlying gravelly stoniness, gently toasty. Full-bodied but well composed, a large-scaled cab franc with a lot of chewy flesh and a startling tannic bite on the finish. A little bit too overbearing to be Chinonesque, although closer than any other California cabernet that I can think of. Perhaps a 2003 Chinon. Plus, it's like twenty-five bucks, which buys some damn good actual Chinon, so... you know... I like it, but... still.... No, honestly, it's a miracle that even with horrendous exchange rate you can still buy organically-grown Loire cab franc made by artisinal producers from hundred-year-old vines for twenty bucks, all because the various newsletter-writing Pointy Guys seem to hate Loire reds. I get down on my knees and thank the gods every single day for this miraculous perfect storm of marketing ignorance. Glory be! Hallelujah! Can I get a witness?! Just one?! Ooh wait, more wine is coming.

Hey, here's a blast from the past, a Château Pontet-Canet Pauillac 1994. Textbook Pauillac writ small on the nose; tobacco, cedar and muted cassis, quiet aromatics, traces of toast and a flicker of licorice. Angular at first, a bit rough on entry, but widens and smooths in the middle, turning calm and rather sedate by the time the prettily layered finish rolls around. This has resolved much faster than I'd thought it would--it actually seems as if it has plateaued out. This was never as interesting as the '95 or '96, but I thought it would take longer to come around, maybe it's time to investigate one of those, eh what?

For contrast, here's an Eric Texier Côte-Rôtie Vieilles Vignes 1999. Medium-dark purply-black color. Wonderfully rich aromatics--iodine and violets, baconberry and newly turned earth. Quite crisp and rough-edged, almost overly so until my steak comes along, timid souls would say it had acidity issues; not me. Its aggressiveness is a good counterweight to the supple, smooth Pontet-Canet. Very nice. Maybe it needs a few more years, but it's happily chatty now, almost on a par with the same producer's '99 Brézèmes. I've decided aging syrah past ten years is a waste of cellar space anyway, so I'm going to drink the rest soon.

One more Sauternes for the road, a Château de Malle Sauternes 2001. Jeez, I'd saved this for later because I'd assumed it would be sweeter than the Doisy-Vedrines. It isn't, although it's significantly more botrytis-marked. A wave of happy rot laced with vanilla, butterscotch and apricot. Quite sweet and rich, although not as plush as the Doisy-Vedrines, with a slightly tart orange-rind/botrytis finish. A vivid young thing, powerully puppyish, generously oaked but also generously everything-elsed.

Don't get lost! I wave at their backs, then head home for a quick shower and coffee before heading off to Kane's place for lunch.

Lunch at Kane's Apartment with Bradley, Jayson, Josie and Manuel

We begin with this summer's version of the most-annotated wine in internet history, the Alain Renardat-Fâche Vin de Bugey Cerdon NV. Fresh strawberry juice, just a hint of earthiness, frothy pink fizz, lightly sweet and juicy-crisp. Happy happy stuff, consistently one of the top three wines in the world, summer afternoon division. This year's seems a bit plumper and redder-hued than usual; I suppose it's probably juice from the dreadful summer of '03, but the character of the wine is merely a bit glossier, while the essential character remains unchanged under a fluffy blanket of babyfat.

Here's Manuel, who seems to have forcibly removed all of his hair. Did he lose a bet? Flowbie accident? Joe Pantoliano fan club? No, it turns out he just got a glimpse of an incipient bald spot and decided summary coif execution was the only possible response. There are apparently very few shades of gray in the Camblor worldview (I can see him shouting at the mirror: "If my hair isn't with me, it's against me!"). And here's Josie, hobbling unsteadily, having broken a couple of toes on one foot. Finally kicked Manuel's ass just a bit too hard, I think to myself, although she naturally tells another story entirely.

And here's the long-lost apprentice agent of the court, Jayson Cohen, now living the impoverished student's life in a roach-infested designated alcohol-free dorm in Chelsea. He's having to hide bottles of Roumier under his mattress for fear of confiscation; it all sounds very exciting, if a bit lumpy.

"Gather round, kiddies," says Kane. "Now that you're all here we can try something blind!" Weeha, Uncle Brad, that sounds keen!

Brad's Mystery White. Smells lightly tropical, hints of canned fruit cocktail and plastic plumeria lei. Plush mouthfeel, low acidity, limp and flabby, maybe a touch of sugar. The response is muted and ambivalent, lots of shrugs and "Eh" noises. "This could be from just about anywhere," murmurs Jayson. My mind flips towards Zind-Humbrecht and sticks there. I vote for Alsatian pinot gris, Jayson finally settles on Northern Italy, Camblor says "Limp, flabby, must be '03," nobody has anything good to say about the wine. (Millbrook Tocai Friulano Hudson River Region 2004).

"Um, it showed much better at the office," shrugs Kane.

Damn, I was sooo close to guessing Hudson Valley tocai fruilano, too. Would've been my next guess, I swear.

Palacio da Brejoeira Vinho Verde 'Alvarinho' 2004. This has an AP number, a hand-numbered bottle (no. 6086), it's cult Vinho Verde! Smells stony. Brightly acidic at first, it fleshes out marginally in the middle, turning whitefloral and flickery-gingery. Finishes quietly, with a gentle mineral nudge. Not bad, but rather neutral wine, hard to pick anything to like or dislike. Nice structure, though.

Manuel seems unimpressed. "There's just not much there," he says. "Look," I tell him. "It's a Lyle Fass selection, you knew what you were getting--stony, taut, minerally wine, not an ounce of flesh on the whipsteely spine, just what Dr. Lyle always prescribes, right?" He admits the basic truth of my argument, although I'm not sure he likes the wine more.

Kane keeps emerging from the kitchen to challenge us with brief multiple-choice tests. Do we want our salad a) with the peachless slightly sweet peach dressing, b) with a vinaigrette that he'd have to whip up now, c) with a ranch dressing that was made by someone named Edith or something like that, or d) with no dressing at all? And would we prefer to have the salad a) right now as we sat in the living room, balancing the plates on our lap, b) at the table now, before the main course, c) at the same time as the main course, or d) after the main course, with dessert and a cheese plate? Should he a) make rice to serve with the grilled pork, b) serve the pork with bread only and no rice, c) serve the pork with both bread and rice, or d) serve the pork with salad only and neither bread nor rice? What about seating, should we a) move the table away from the wall and try to fit everyone--

"GRAB THE REINS, BRAD! BE THE HOST! IT IS YOUR DESSSSSSTINY!" I whinny, sending him scurrying back to the kitchen.

Someone had to say it.

Domaine Raymond Quenard Chignin-Bergeron 2004. More taut, minerally wine. Light lemonstony nose, hint of bananaskin. Crisp and more crisp, with just a touch of creaminess flowing into a pleasantly polleny finish. Seems infantile, young and not showing much besides structure. I've more experience than most with Chignin-Bergeron wines (almost half a glassfuls'-worth at this point in my career), so I feel entitled to pass judgment, and my judgment goes something like this: Buh? Where's Callahan when you need a wine explained?

Kane is explaining to Camblor that his (Camblor's) internet persona can come across as... well, let's say 'rather opinionated.' Kane cites some specific examples, and Camblor seems puzzled. "Did I actually say 'you're mother's a whore if you like this swill,' or did I just IMPLY it?" he asks wonderingly. No one is quite certain. Camblor then launches into the tale of his being given one precious bottle of 1939 Corona (Wow! Sixty year old beer!), a tale that only I seem to recognize from his extensive Rioja writeups. "C'mon," pleads Camblor to the assembled geeks, "I don't expect Kane to read my stuff, but et tu, Jayson...?"

Cohen looks sheepish. "It was like fifty pages long... I'm in law school... I can't keep up..." he trails off, and there's an awkward silence.

Into the silence boldly marches a Domaine Bernard Baudry Chinon Rosé 2004, soothing ruffled feathers all around. Very shy at first, opens over an hour or two into something that I can't read because my notes are illegible. Stupid lousy penmanship.

So we end up having the salad with the peach-free peach dressing (it turns out that the large and vaguely vulval drawing of a hairy-pitted half peach on the label is supposed to mean something along the lines of 'this dressing should be poured on peaches' or some other marketing crap like that), and with the salad comes much salacious gossip regarding various local WIWPs that I dare not repeat for fear of becoming a pariah and never being invited anywhere ever again. More so, I mean.

No really, even I have limits, and this gossipfest was just over the line. If certain charismatic locals felt their ears burning at around 8 p.m. on the night of the 29th, I know nothing about it. And I'm not even sure what the phrase 'Top Tier Talent' means, at least in the context it seems to have adopted. For myself, speaking as an open and proud straight man, I merely offer up some inane observations on the charms of girlwatching on ideal days like yesterday, sunny all day, then briefly rainy and suddenly chilly in the afternoon--damp, chilly, underdressed women everywhere. When I hear myself saying things like "IT WAS A TITTY FIESTA!!!" in mixed company I realize that I'm in the bad wino no-man's-land where I've lost some inhibitions yet retain the vestiges of social sense that make me rather embarassed to have done so. At this point the choice is either to pull back and sober up a bit, or press on into the true comfort zone, where embarassment can be checked at the door and not picked up again until tomorrow morning.

Guess which road I choose...?

Fortunately Josie doesn't seem to mind the testosterone flying, taking things in good humor and giving us a brief treatise on the pencil rule.

"I like titties," chirps Manuel.

Look, gentle readers, I sense your judgmentalism, but heterosexuality isn't a lifestyle choice, it's who we are: WE'RE HERE! WE'RE EIGHTH-GRADE BOYS! GET USED TO IT!

Château Soucherie (Tijou) Savennières Clos des Perrieres 2002. Bit of mustiness at first that has me scratching myself, but it soon blows off. Underneath there's white peach, lemon and a rockbed's worth of minerals. Not the knock-you-down-and-grab-your-lapels wine that the '97 is, not quite the balletic purity of the '96, but a lovely stony-muscular youth, shut down now but showing all the potential in the world, little flickers of grace and strength lighting up the inside of my mouth like sparks of wintergreen. Lovely stuff, pure and focused and taut, a wine to dream on.

"STOP THAT!" Kane yelps at me. Wha? Hnh? What'd I do?

"That thing with your hair, STOP IT!"

Fluster. What the hell is he talking about? In my Tijou reverie I'd absentmindedly wound my ponytail up over the back of my head, and was tugging on it without realizing. Startled, I drop it, but when it becomes clear that it bothers our host I immediately resume.

"NnnnnNNGGGG," he moans, clutching his temples, "You're FREAKIN' ME OUT!"

Normally if I find a soft spot with Kane I'd continue to poke at it until he snaps completely, but he seems genuinely distressed and frankly his peculiarly vivid reaction is starting to freak ME out a bit, so I let it go, filing it away for future use, of course. You never know when you might need to stimulate an irrational fear in someone.

Domaine Jo Pithon Savennières La Croix Picot 2002. Smells apple-juicy, surfboard wax, Lemon Pledge and pollen streaks on a thick aromatic frame. Big, ripe and oxidative in the nouveau-Joly style, an utter turnaround from the nervy Tijou. Rather awkward, a busy wine: lots of noise, very little focus.

Jayson and Manuel are demanding to know why Kane would want to bother buying '03 Châteauneuf. "Is it because one of the Points Guys liked it?" Camblor demands. "Do you really want to spend fifty bucks for a bottle of prune juice?"

Kane sulks. "But I like prune juice," he mutters. "Write that down!" Jayson yelps in my ear. "I want that on the permanent record!" I assent.

Fritz Haag Riesling Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Spätlese 2002. Smells like a beanbag chair warehouse, vinyl and more vinyl, lightly laced with lemon zest and a light sweetness. Very taut, very primary, very very young and basically impenetrable, a wine chiseled from marble. Check back in thirty years.

Now that we've finished eating, it's time for a token red or two, starting with a P-J. Druet Bourgueil Fiefs de Louys 1996. Bourgueil in a Bordeaux bottle: what will they think of next? Very minerally-smelling, light black cherry and cassis hints, pine forest floor, plaster of Paris. Medium-bodied, taut and racy and very closed at first, with nervy tobacco-pine flavors in the middle and some rather severe tannins. Crisp, bright and on the lean side, in need of another decade or so. Over the rest of the night it opens ever so slightly.

Château La Croix Chaigneau Lalande de Pomerol 2000. The murmurs run down the table, "Ooh, ripe." "Yow, ripe." "Jheees, ripe." Kane looks cross: "You guys are so used to drinking green shit you've forgotten what real wine is!" Real ripe wine, anyway. Not that ripeness is always a flaw, of course (cf. The Wit and Wisdom of Jay Miller, Volume III). There's a little bit of graphite, a little bit of fresh-spaded sod, but mostly a warm blanket of plummy-soft redfruit, low acidity, creamy texture and a hollow core. Perfect for those who like their Bordeaux in the mode of Sonoma merlot, but not really my kind of wine.

Jayson starts fishing around in Kane's fridge, emerges holding aloft a bottle of Cazin Cour-Cheverny. "Look what I found!" he crows. Kane snatches it back, "We're NOT drinking that, that's for my niece," he snaps, then tries to distract us with other bottles.

"Here, let's give this a try," he suggests, waving around a Côte du Rhône of some kind. We look closer--hey, an '02 Côte du Rhône? Forget it! Boooooo! Booooooo! He slinks away with the offending wine, returning with another. "Look!" he exclaims, "A South African chenin!"

Dead silence. Someone pipes up "No dice. We want the Cazin!"

How about this? A half-bottle of '75 Toro Albalá PX. Been there, had that, poured it on ice cream. "I'm a diabetic," protests Manuel. "You trying to kill me?" NEXT!

"Okay, wait, I know what you'll like," he scuttles off and returns in a flash. "Ta-DAAA! Tempier Bandol Blanc!"

Bandol blanc? Momentary confusion, heads together, huddle, confer.

"Is there any romorantin in it?" I ask.

"That's for MY NIECE," Kane insists. "Look, I've got three sisters, this won't work on me you bastards, you'll drink what I open and like it!"

Chekhov allusions aside, it's clear that he's been pushed too far, so we're stuck with an Argiolas Vermentino di Sardegna Costamolino 2004. We're just aching to find flaws here. "Green and dirty," sniffs Camblor. "Tastes like the Quenard," says Jayson, "that is to say, like nothing." Nice structure, though.

Another go at the Château de Malle Sauternes 2001. Cohen wrinkles his nose, "Whfoof--way too much botrytis!"

"Whaddaya mean, too much botrytis?" I ask, "How can you have too much botrytis?"

"I just don't like that all that much botrytis--what, is MORE botrytis always better?"

I think about this for a second or two. "No, not always, I guess, but I just like a lot of it."

"I like botrytis," chirps Manuel.

"But MORE? MORE is always better? MORE MORE MORE?"

Manuel stares blankly for a moment. "More is good," he finally admits.

One last sweetie for the road, a Quinta do Vesuvio Porto 2003 (barrel sample). Purply-black color, like squid ink. My god, speaking of 'more is better,' this is like purple shiraz-cocoa reduction sauce, dark and sweet and chewy-thick: what we have here, kiddies, is your quintessential Port Taffy.

And with that, we're off into the night. "But it's so early!" Kane complains as we head out the door. "We must be getting old!"

"Speak for yourself!"

Dinner at home, alone

All right, since we've just been surprised by the older sibling, let's take a look at the Château Pontet-Canet Pauillac 1995. Medium-dark garnet color. Aromatically it seems to be friendly, smells dark and quietly spicy--blackcurrant and licorice at first, then cedar and cigar, with a light dusting of oregano. In the piehole it's another story, though--tastes taut and rather hard, seems like it's just beginning to begin to loosen up. Hard acidity, hard blackfruit, hard-hearted at the moment, the tight core moderated only by a the first stirrings of a velvety-creamy skin. Completely different story than the '94. HOLD HOLD HOLD.

Hell, while we're at it let's get a vertical going with a Château Pontet-Canet Pauillac 1999. Medium-dark garnet color. Smells of blackberry-cassis, smoke and cedar chips. Tastes rather understuffed, if not quite thin then at least compact, a wine of small amplitude. Decent acidity, good balance, but also seems to be struggling under the weight of more smoky wood than the fruit will bear. There's pleasure here, but there are no highs or lows, only middles: "mediocre" is word that springs to mind.

A fine match with Boston Market's Swedish Meatballs dinner and a slice of leftover Mystic Pizza (BBQ chicken & onion).

Hmmm, the sun is starting to come up now, so it's probably time to stop typing and go do the dishes.

Dish, I mean.

And so to bed.

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