I'm at Kane's place. It's hot.

What am I doing here?

Kane's cooking something. Jay Miller is here too, thank god for that, he's a calming presence. And Dressner, and Jayson Cohen and some other people whose features are a bit vague. Or maybe it's my head that's vague, am I drunk already? Okay, Lisa's out on the balcony smoking, that's a relief.

Deep breath. Don't panic.

It's New Year's Eve, right? That's it, I remember now. Yes. We're celebrating that, or possibly something else, something involving a small silver object, polished.

Why am I wearing a paisley shirt? It's kind of tight. Binding. I'm sweating. It's hot in here, did I mention that?

Okay, it must be New Year's Eve because Jay's pouring me something fizzy, a Canard Duchêne Champagne Brut Rosé 1969. Whoa. Pale amber-brown with light pinkish hints, the color of Red Zinger herbal tea. Muted spiciness on the nose, caramel and orange rind, hint of rose petal, tea. Just lightly fizzy, petillant. Tastes gently faded, pressed flowers and tea hints, delicate and clearly faded, but interesting. Against all odds, it seems to gain composure and finesse with an hour or so of air. Is this real? I can't tell, but I'm content to just sip and wonder at it.

Something cold and damp brushes against my hand. I jerk it back, but it's only Buster, nosing around for a potential scraps windfall. He stares up with those soulful brown eyes, and there on the table beside me is a bottle of Thomas-Labaille Sancerre Chavignol les Monts Damnés Cuvée Buster 2005. Whoa. Where did that come from? Smells lightly tropical--pineapple and yellow apple hints, chalk underneath. Tastes roundish, almost oily, texturally more along the lines of white Burgundy than your average Sancerre. Nice structure, but also some pillowfruity fleshiness, along with a whole lot of almost over-the-top richness. Star Chick Sommelier Vanessa Treviño Boyd is troubled by the abundant fruit, but it doesn't bother me. Is she a pleasure-hating antihedonist? I can't imagine that's the case, but I fall silent nonetheless.

There's something in a decanter making the rounds. Dressner takes a sniff and cries "My god, this smells like pineapple juice!" He's nailed it of course, as it's a Tedeschi Vineyards Maui Blanc Pineapple Wine NV. This bottle is still young, with only about a year's cellar time. In another year or so, if experience is a guide, the fruitjuice character will recede and a more winey profile will emerge.

Here I am: Domaine du Clos Naudin/Foreau Vouvray Demisec 2005 rocks me like a hurricane. Medium-pale straw color, it's richly aromatic--hay, quinine, lime, chamomile, chalk. Robust, on the sweet side of demisec but with branching oak-tree-like acidity holding everything up. Perhaps it hasn't the precision and finesse of Huet, but there's more power and richness here. I've been a little disappointed with the last half-dozen demisecs from these guys. But this one, yow. No, more like YOW! I jot down a quick note: 'MUST buy before Florida Jim runs table. QUICK QUICK QUICK!'

Whew. Okay, next up is a Terra Nostra de Vinos Albariño Rí&as Baixas Finca de Arantei Single Vineyard 2004. Wow, lotsa rocks in here--lemon-drizzled chalk, gravel, a curious pleather note. Crisp and racy-tasting, mediumweight, taut wine with some chewy lemonstony flesh. Clean, pleasant.

Why is Dressner wearing a bolo tie, anyway?

No time to figure it out, just have some Domaine de Roally Viré-Clessé 2004. Smells sweetly freshfruity--apple, pineapple and pear with a touch of date and vanilla cream. Tastes firm and ripe, very pure-tasting, long and creamyfruity. A rich, mouthfilling wine that has an air of pride about it--really nice, it's heartening to see an underappreciated grape overachieve like this. For those of you who only associate chardonnay with oaky-bland white Burgundy, fruitless Chablis or California butterbombs, you might want to hold your doubts in check long enough to try this one.

Now for something a little more mainstream, a Cederberg Buketraube Cederberg (South Africa) 2006. Gently vinyl-smelling, applepie spice, lilikoi and gardenia. Tastes lightly sweet and rather pillowy, with a glossy-lipstick texture and just enough structure to get by. The combination of applepie and tropical lipstick makes this come off rather like the bastard child of albalonga and muscat (which probably tastes better than it sounds). One of the better buketraubes I've had recently, lots of flavor, smooth and easy to drink.

Kane is eying me. I eye him back. "You look good," he says. "Been working out? Lost weight?"

I pluck at my sleeve, "It's the paisley shirt," I explain. "It's tight, hugs my curves."

He nods, understanding, then leans in close. "People think I was one of the voices in 'Aladdin,'" he whispers.

"That wasn't you?"

He shakes his head sadly. "You wouldn't believe the emails I get... late at night..." This is a little awkward. Is he crying?

Suddenly he leaps up. "OH MY GOD, THE CHICKEN! THE CHICKEN!" he shrieks, and is gone.

Soooo... um, speaking of chardonnay, here's a Domaine Bernard Defaix Chablis Cuvée Vieilles Vigne 2004. Smells of tart yellow apple and rainwater, tastes bright and zippy, green apple acidity with a lightly creamy edge. Bright, simple, taut and decent. Who'd have thunk we'd have two drinkable chardonnays in one evening? The kids back home on the island will never believe it.

A Domaine le Briseau/Nathalie & Christian Chaussard 'Clos des Longues Vignes' I Forgot to Write Down the Vintage is corked.

Dressner's going on about the Westminster Dog Show; he's a big doggy guy. I listen in, fascinated. It turns out that Buster's particular corgi/pit bull mix is known in AKC circles as a 'celtic shvance' (I'm not sure that's the right spelling, but that's what it sounded like), as it was classified in the days before the current fad of goofy schnaubrador/pointsetter/cockadoodle-type names robbed the animals of what's left of their shattered dignity.

A Domaine du Clos des Fées Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes Grenache Blanc Vieilles Vignes 2004 smells very waxy-floral, plumeria mingled with lemon and paraffin. Tastes glossy and thick, with demisec-level sweetness and just enough acidity to get by. Richly flavored and quite unsubtle--a cocktail wine, but a pleasantly straightforward and clean-tasting one.

Kane returns with a steaming plate of baked chicken. "Mangia!" he cries, and we sit down and do just that. Is it still New Year's Eve? It must be because here's a Fiacre de Chartogne Taillet Champagne Tête de Cuvée 1996. Woo, this is frothy, just a mouthful of thick froth at first. Smells bready-yeasty, lemoncream and a touch of vanilla underneath. Once I get past the offputting frothiness, it's a broadbeamed bubbly, short and a bit heavy, heartily generic Champagne that slaps me on the back just a little too enthusiastically.

I'm jarred out of my Champagne reverie by Camblor shouting at me from across the room: "That's OFF THE RECORD! You CAN [u]NOT[/u] write about that!!!"

What? What? "I wasn't even paying attention...?" I stammer.

"It wasn't anything about a secret plot on Castro!" Kane sings out helpfully.

It was probably something good. Damn, now I wish I'd been listening. This kind of thing has been happening more and more lately; I grow momentarily sulky.

Oh crap, more fizzy stuff. Feh. Okay, here's a Guy Larmandier Champagne Brut Rosé Premier Cru ˆ Vertus NV. Slightly flinty-funky at first, then a touch of lemon-cherry, more fizz. I dunno, it's all just starting to taste like bubbles, like the Dow Scrubbing Bubblesª are at work on my tongue. I give up. Pass.

There are a half dozen other Champagnes that I don't bother with. Too many real wines to bother with the carbonated underripe stuff. Why is there so much fizzy wine? Is it still New Year's Eve? That all seemed so long ago....

Thanks heavens, here's Star Chick Sommelier Vanessa Treviño Boyd bearing something noncarbonated, a Guiseppe Quintarelli Vino da Tavola Veneto Primofiore 2002. Ooh, lots of interesting smellies here--dried cherry, oak, black olive, underbrush, crushed brick. Tastes loose and fleshy, soft earthiness mingling with satiny dirtberry fruit. Somewhat dilute in the middle, but that's offset to a good degree by the charming, offbeat personality. I really like Quintarelli's wines, I'll probably even buy some once we get the millions paid off and those oversize novelty doctor bucks start rolling in. Until then I'll drink Vanessa's. She's a bigshot sommelier, she probably gets it free. Hell, it probably runs from the tap in her kitchen, right? That's how bigshot sommeliers live, at least in my head.

Here's a Cappellano Barbera d'Alba Gabutti 2001. Smells roughish, treebark-infused redfruit and tar. Quite crisp, tart and angular despite substantial ripeness. Medium bodied and compact, lots of mouthgrabbish vividity, a rustic little critter that cries out for a plate of waffledogs to take the edge off.

A Château Perron Madiran 2001 smells smoky-smooth, cassisberried and lightly toasty, but also oddly placid and squishy round the middle. Docile Madiran, with calm berryness and not a rough edge to be found. What kind of defanged Madiran is this?

Next up is a Pierre-Jacques Druet Bourgueil Vaumoreau 1996. Tight, hard, shy. Great potential, bigtime waste to drink it now. Or maybe it's just because we're near the ocean. Didn't Druet say his wines should never be drunk within a mile of the ocean? I can't remember why, something about sea air ruining the precious fluidic balance or something. I sniff at the wind from the balcony; the brine of the nearby tidal strait is palpable in the air. Why oh why didn't we listen to Pierre-Jacques?

A Marc Pesnot Vin de Pays des Marches de Bretagne Cepage Abouriou 2002 is corked.

Lou Kessler is holding court in the living room, explaining that, according to a former dance partner, he has been blessed with a ten-percent-black ass. I'm not sure what that means, but he's pouring a Ridge Vineyards California Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello 1985, so perhaps I'll linger and attempt to decipher both statement and wine. Hmmm... muted bricky cassisfruit that smells warm and tobacco-spicy, like the wood-paneled smoking room in an old hunting lodge. Firm, broad of shoulder and narrow of waist, possessed of grace and strength. Layers of flavor, lots going on, seems far less resolved than a bottle a few years ago, more vigorous. Rich and elegant, deep and precise, just delicious.

Hey, did I mention our 2003 Monte Bello fell into a black hole? We get some every year, and our '04 arrived and we said 'Hey wait a minute, whatever happened to the '03?' We have our email order confirmation, but neither we nor the winery can track down anything past that. Very strange--I picture it floating away like poor Frank in 2001. Oh well, I hear '03 was a freakishly overripe low-acid vintage for most of Europe and Santa Cruz.

I turn to head back into the kitchen, but Lou stops me and presses a bottle into my hands. It's Burgundy! For me? Thanks, Lou! Every time I see Lou he gives me wine. Why can't everyone be more like Lou?

So now I'm juiced. What's next? An Eric Texier Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes 2004. Smells ripe and well-fruited--cherry-berryfruit laced with saddle leather & smoke. Squishier than I expect based on memories of pre-2003 vintages; there's a curious plushness here. Sandy tannins on the finish, bit of heat, touch of bitterness swallowed by a surge of redfruit. Nice enough, if you don't find ripeness a flaw, but I have fond memories of the firm, racy 2001, and this seems a bit pedestrian. Kane sure digs it: "At long last, a Texier Châteauneuf that's aware it's from the Southern Rhône," he burbles contentedly.

The crowd is gathered around the video screen, awaiting the ball drop. I shudder at the notion of being in Times Square on this most horrific of nights. On TV Britney Spears is french-kissing Dick Clark. What happened to her hair, anyway? And why are her eyes a spooky shade of cerulean? Freaky. I can't watch, it's too much. I turn away from the festive crowd and spot a solitary figure sitting in the corner, head in hands. It's Dressner, who tries to wave me off as I approach. "No, no, it's all right," he says haltingly.

"What's the matter?"

He sighs deeply, "Another year gone by, another reminder that I've gone my whole life without having even one passionate romance with a Spanish noblewoman..." he trails off.

Oh no, not this again.

I point out his many triumphs as a bigshot wine baron, his loving family, his devoted celtic schvance, all to no avail; he is disconsolate. I suppose it's only natural to have these kinds of reflections on New Year's Eve, but it's been getting worse the past few years, and we're all concerned.

Except Brad, who's busy waving around a bottle of Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2004. "Come and try it!" he urges. Must I? Apparently I must. Yeep, it smells like jam, like scorched raspberry jam. Tastes like scorched raspberry jam that's been teabagged to add some rough tannins. Bloppy stuff--candied, loose, hot and blowsy. I used to like these guys in the mid-90s. Either their style has changed drastically or my tastes have moved away from jellyfish fruitsacks. Kane, of course, loves it: "WINE OF THE YEAR! WINE OF THE YEAR!" he whoops, to general astonishment, then "OH MY GOD, THE CHICKEN! THE CHICKEN! " He bolts back into the kitchen; everyone else takes the opportunity to hurriedly dump their glasses into the nearest convenient red-bag receptacle.

I must have some real wine, and a Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Backus Vineyard 1992 is closest at hand. Calm, quiet cassis laced with stony earth and a high minty/eucalyptusy note. Medium bodied, composed and firm but feathering out to a gentle fleshiness at the edges. Firm acidity, some light tannins on the finish. Satiny and long, fine middleweight cabernet. Even Dressner likes it. Kane, back from the kitchen with yet another mound of chicken, takes a sniff and makes a squinchy face. "Mint, oh god oh god oh god oh god, I hate mint in cabernet" he moans, throwing himself down on the carpet and writhing. It's not widely known that Brad was cursed by a vengeful Amish witch doctor when he was but a lad: since that dreadful day he can only enjoy wines he himself has brought to the table. It's a sad and terrible spectacle, and we mourn for him.

Last red is a Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Bussia Soprana 1978. Sweetly cedary, no moths here. Beneath that, muted bricky preserved cherry, hints of tar, dried flowers, tea. Tasts faded and crisp, a bit over the hill but still kicking, still some pleasure here. Yes, it's thin and tannic, certainly, but also possessed of a rather poignant delicacy and high-tensile strength. Kane clutches his throat, "Army ants! My tongue!" he moans, collapsing onto the linoleum yet again. We politely avert our eyes until he stops twitching.

Other people favor bubbly, but I go the traditional route and see in 2008 with a glassful of Huet Vouvray Clos du Bourg Premiere Trie 1997. Mmmm... spicy botrytis, quince, hay, lemon, pineapple, lots of happy smellies. Tastes rich and wide and deep. This wine had lost all its sugar by 2004, now it's on the upward side of the resweetening curve, so it's medium-plus sweet, with some bright acidity playing a supporting role. Lovely, although perhaps a touch shy tonight. Perhaps that minute shyness is this wine's version of shutting down? Does that make sense? Who am I talking to?

More sweets, a Domaine Jo Pithon Coteaux du Layon St. Lambert Clos des Bonnes Blanches 1996. Medium amber-straw color. Smells apricotty, ripe pineapple and brown sugar, quince jam. Sweet to the point of being syrupy, with some shy acidity overwhelmed by a lot of sugar. Interesting, but overthick.

Domaine de la Soucherie Coteaux du Layon 1980. There's a flinty-woolly funkiness upon first nosage that calms and recedes with a little air, leaving behind pineapple-pollen-lemonstony aromatics. Actually, it's still pretty woolly, even with air, but it's a pleasant sheepiness, not the bad kind. Rather lightbodied, medium-minus sweet, there's a leanness here but also a lightness of foot. Small scaled and rather brittle tasting, light and funky-pretty Layon. When did Domaine de la Soucherie become Château Soucherie, anyway? Or is this a different crew entirely? Chinese knockoff? No really, who am I talking to?

Suddenly fireworks are going off outside, everyone rushes out to the balcony to get a gander. We can't see them directly, there are too many tall structures in the way. But we are startled to see their reflection in nearby buildings--it looks like hellfire, writhing in red and green in the mirrored glass across the way. We are amazed, and know not what to say, until Dressner yells "WOOOOOOOO!"

"WOOOOOO!" comes the refrain from below. People in the building across the way are celebrating with gusto. And, apparently, many libations.

"WOOOOOO!" yells Jayson.

"WOOOOOO!" comes back from the neighbors.

"WOOOOOO!" yells Joe Perry.

"WOOOOOO!" comes back from the neighbors.

"WOOOOOO!" yells Brad, then "OH MY GOD, THE CHICKEN! THE CHICKEN!" and he's gone.

"WOOOOOO!" comes back from the neighbors. Boy, they just never get tired of this.

"WOOOOOO!" yells Manuel.

"WOOOOOO!" comes back from the neighbors. It's kind of hypnotic.

"WOOOOOO!" I yell. Might as well get in on it.

"WOOOOOO!" comes back from the neighbors. Okay, that's enough, I'm done.

I wander back inside while the WOOOOOing continues, pour myself a glass of Château Rieussec Sauternes 1995 (.375). Smells nice, apricot and marshmallow, orange rind and vanilla, creamsicle. Sweet and lightly creamy Sauternes, firm at the core and a little flattened-out in the middle. Too young, certainly, but only moderately impressive. Not much in the way of botrytis, a little understuffed, not terribly complex, kind of average, substandard Rieussec.

Finally a Château Gillette Sauternes Crême de Tête 1983. Smells creamy-rich, creme brulée, botrytis, vanilla, orange rind, caramel. Quite sweet, butterfruity-rich, like liquid dessert in a glass. I don't know this house, but this is a very pretty, rich Sauternes with a lot going on. It's a bit broadbeamed, and there's little subtlety, but it seems to be in a happy place right now, very satisfying.

It's late and I'm tired. I bid Lisa call the water taxi, and we say farewell to all the celebrants, who are still absorbed in the game of call-and-response with the neighbors.

So, um... happy new year?


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