So I'm striding merrily along the streets of Metuchen, laden with bags and bottles, singing along to 'Baby Got Back' on my pod, breathing the crisp winter air and thinking I'm on top of the world. The directions I've been sent tell me to follow a long brick wall to Eden's place, and I only have to jump one snow-covered median and circle back around through two parking lots before I find the address in question. Ding dong, I ring.

The door opens, twenty-four eyes alight on me like klieg lights, everyone already sitting at the dining room table, seemingly poised to begin eating. "We were taking bets on when you'd arrive!" sings a voice from the back, to general amusement.

What the...?

Hold on a second, I'm not late at all, not even fashionably so--my pod says 5:50, and we weren't slated to start until six. Sure, people were invited to come early to prepare, but I'm making a cold salad and don't need prep time. More comments about my punctuality fly at me. This is crazy--they're mean! Mean foodies! My eyes narrow to slits; this is all Jay Miller's doing. I'm not afraid to say it--that guy is a punctuality fetishist. I briefly consider screeching "STOP PICKING ON ME, YOU RULE-HAPPY FOODIE BASTARDS!", but decide that would probably be indiscreet, settling instead for some agitated chewing on the inside of my cheek.

Flustered, I bumble into the kitchen, figure I'll stick my cult romorantin in the freeze for a little while to get it chilly, but am grabbed and steered away from the freezer in the manner of a toddler being pulled away from a hot stove. "That's FULL," I'm informed, "We have ice buckets for this kind of thing."

"Ooh, sorry, sorry," I mutter.

Damn, I keep breaking rules. I am bad. Then a strange thought bubbles up into what's left of my cerebral cortex: these fascistic foodies are in fact the same amiable winos I often jeeb with. Is there something about food-focus that inspires rigidity? Food needs to be timed carefully? I'm addled at the ramifications of this line of thought.

More research is needed.

Our gracious hostess goes to pour me some Veuve Cliquot Champagne Brut Reserve 1996, then realizes I have no stemware. We were supposed to bring our own stemware? As Joe Schultz used to say: shitfuck. "You'd know that if you'd read the email," trills Kane helpfully. I decide to see if I can lacerate his brainstem with the power of my mind.

Nnnnnggg... aarrnnnngggg....

Nope, nothing. Damn, gotta work on that.

Eden graciously fetches me some of her stems. I've only been here five minutes and I've broken three different rules. Am I the fucking black sheep or what? Plus, I keep saying 'fucking,' something I can't seem to help. I'm a potty-mouthed rule-breaking blacksheep, damnit. I blame the rap music--it's not my fault, those rappers have warped my innocent little mind.

Panic setting in. Must... escape... uncomfortable... reality.... What have we here? Why, it's a Weingut Harkamp Sauvignon Blanc Trocken 'Klassic' 2002. Austrian sauvignon? Yeah, whatever. I pour myself a waterglassful, drink deeply. Sweet sweet wine, takes away the pain.... Mmm, smells grassy and lightly white-grapefruity, hint of litterbox and cream, seems to have seen some nice fresh barrels. Medium-large sauvignon, there's a flash of heat in the middle, but mostly it's creamy-grassy-citric in a foursquare manner, decent but inert, rather pedestrian stuff but what the hell.

The crowd is pressing in on me: "Where's Lisa?" they're demanding to know, the very question a threat. I stammer that she's sent me on ahead without her, as I was the one with both the food and wine. No one seems satisfied with this answer, perhaps I ought to just piss on the floor right now and get it over with. Instead I just shut up and start sucking down the sauvignon, eyes nervous and darting.

The whole foodie plan-thing is to have everyone take turns serving their courses, and it looks like Manuel and Josie's turn is up first. They bicker briefly over the proper serving procedure for their tuna & scallop tartares--Josie wants to serve them on rice crackers, but Manuel throws caution to the wind and just sends the package around after the tartares go by, inviting us to do the assembly ourselves. "I'm breaking the rules! I'm breaking the rules!" cries Manuel, "I'm creating a finger food!"

Frankly, I'm relieved that other people are rulebreakers as well. That and the creeping flush from the Austrian sauvignon go a long way towards making me feel better. Perhaps they'll turn on Manuel and rend him limb from limb and I won't have to go crash on Andrew Scott's front porch after all.

The tartare medley is fresh, flavorful and subtle. I like the tuna more, but that's just me, I'm a tuna guy all the way, scallops just ain't right if they ain't seen some heat. Manuel announces that he needs a rubber stamp with the word "Fuck" on it, to save him the trouble of actually having to write it out every time. Interesting notion. Isn't Bruce L. making a documentary about the word "Fuck"? Or was that a movie about the word "WOW!™," I can't keep the details straight, there's too much going on.

My eyes are glazing over, threatening to roll back in my head and take me away to another place. I've had to wake up unbearably early and mandoline till my forearms ached.

Must. Focus.


Here's a Domaine Thevenot-le-Brun Pinot Beurot Bourgogne Haut Côtes de Nuits 2003. Smells very strange, lots of vanilla, hint of ripe banana down low, green spearmint up high. For all the odd aromatics, the wine is strangely fruitless--vanilla oak and a gentle acidity hang out in the moderately viscous midpalate, which turns out to be the finish as the wine just stops abruptly. The question ricochets around the table: what the hell is pinot beurot? Judging from this wine, I would guess that pinot beurot is the bastard offspring of chardonnay and niagara.

Kane looks up from his plate, "Well, I don't know about anyone else, but I'm full," he proclaims. Polite titters. (That's a funny word, isn't it? "Titters." Huh.) A discussion about peanut allergies has broken out at the far end of the table, which I ignore until I realize that my salad has peanuts in it, and if anyone's allergic it might be a good time to find out. I am assured that the discussion is purely academic. "We're eclectic conversationalists," says Jeff.

"Say that six times fast," I suggest, but I don't think he hears me.

Weingut Sighardt Donabaum Gewürztraminer Select Bruck 2002: Smells roseyfloral, minerals and lightly lycheeish, shy aromatics. Medium-lightbodied, seems almost entirely dry, a smooth and light gewürz with a brisk air about it. Unusually elegant and racy, with an underlying stoniness that adds to the air of restraint. Very nice, a good match with Jeff and Jim's curried shrimp with countless condiments. Apples, toasted pecans, raisins... they keep coming, so many condiments... candied ginger, chopped figs... please god make them stop... watercress, monkey brains....

The phone rings, Eden listens, hands it to me. It's Lisa, and I wince, as it's her angry voice, walking the knife's edge between tears and havoc. She's PISSED because she's apparently gotten on a train that didn't stop at Metuchen, so she's at Edison waiting to take the STUPID FUCKING train back this way. She's been at an AMA convocation all day, this is all too much, now. She. Really. Just. Wants. To. Go. Home.

Instinctively grasping the situation, I quickly don my patient martyr hat, say that sounds fine with me if that's what she feels she needs and that we were really just getting started and everyone would be sad if she didn't show up but that they'd surely understand that she needed some down time after such a long and hectic day and that even though I never see her during the week I don't mind missing her on the weekend as well if that's what she feels is best and that the papaya salad was turning out very well and it was a shame she wouldn't be able to have a taste of it but if she needed to go home and relax alone we'd all surely understand and so on, all in the kind of calm, soothing monotone you'd use with a frightened schizophrenic.

It works. She is silent for a moment, then snarls "Here comes the train, I guess I'll be there soon." Click.

Phew. Another crisis averted through the proper use of passive-aggressive motivational techniques. I must warn the unwary reader, though: I've been trained for this since birth--don't try it at home.

Domaine Latour-Giraud Meursault les Narvaux 2002: Light pear-apple fruit laced with toast and vanilla, medium-bodied, with sufficient acidity, enough spine to get by. Not bad at all, a bit oakier than I like, but I suppose complaining about oak in white Burgundy is like complaining about too much snow at Vail.

I'm cleaning up my cabbage-leaf mess in the kitchen when Asher comes in to start putting his dish together. "Wasn't it just about a year ago tonight that we were at Marty the L's birthday party?" he asks wistfully.

I think a moment. "Of course," I say, "I was fairly verschnockered that night, but do I remember his dog singing. How can you forget a singing dog? And that '74 Freemark Abbey petite sirah, oh man..."

"Hey, I brought that," he says, "It was one of the only wines I could find from his birthyear."

"Oh yeah," I say. "Good times. Good times."

And they were. Yes.

Now that my salad is served and I can relax, I sample the Claude Courtois Romorantin les Cailloux du Paradis NV. Really the 2000 (or so Connell says), it's a medium-gold color, smells of white honey, lemon blossom and hay. In the piehole it's firmer at the core than I remember, with a velvety-plush skin and just a hint of oiliness. But wait, there's a gentle oxidative streak mingling with the honey-apricot-mineral flavors, the wine flickers spicily and loosens in the middle. Very peculiar romo, comes at you like romo erectus at first, then softens and feathers out unctuously, spreading on my tongue like an oil slick. Makes for a peculiarly fine match with the limey papaya salad--I'd actually first made this salad as part of a 'Dishes That Can't Possibly Match With Any Wine' evening; turns out I'd underestimated my own subtle genius for food-wine matching.

I swore by the time I tasted this wine again I'd know what a hyacinth smells like, but I failed that as well. Damn mainland flowers, where's my list? Hyacinth... geraniums... doesn't anyone care when a wine smells like pikake or lauhala pith?

Ooh, that's good. Note to self: use 'lauhala pith' in a tasting note, see if anyone notices.

The papaya salad is one of those dishes that I just can't make the same way twice; I have the incessant urge to fiddle and tweak the basic recipe every time to find out in how many directions it can stretch. My aim this time is to keep it demure and wine-compliant, and it seems to work, although maybe everybody is whispering insulting things to each other just out of my earshot, that's always a possibility.

The doorbell rings, and it's Lisa, frazzled from the various train problems. She sits for a moment, taking deep breaths and equally deep draughts of romorantin. The pain and rage slowly subside, I can feel it ebbing from across the room. Please, Brad, don't say a word for the next few minutes; our collective happiness depends on it. Freshly-spilled blood on Eden's shag carpet would be a stain on the evening as well.

Prager Riesling Weissenkirch Federspiel Steinrieg 2000: Taut aromatics, touch of vinyl over green pineapple, light flintiness. A sip, and wow, this is tight, puckery-tart and hard. A crisp, coiled wine that's hard to figure, marginally more giving aromatically than in the mouth. Hold 'em.

Camblor is explaining his musical tastes, and offers up as an example a band whose name I don't quite catch, but who perform "Too Drunk to Fuck" as a bossa nova. That stamp is really going to come in handy. Then he launches into a peculiar monologue about a woman in his building who had some kind of surgery that made her look like "two car batteries were sticking out of her ass." We go back and forth over this concept several times, with both me and Josie explaining that the concept doesn't really make any visceral sense to us. Manuel switches to Spanish, explains it to Josie at length; she looks at me and shrugs, "It doesn't make any more sense in Spanish than it did in English." Manuel grabs a pad and a pen and attempts to draw said deformity. By this point we're all growing a little desperate for a subject change.

Why look, it's a Montevertine Vino da Tavola di Toscana Pian de Ciampolo 2002! Smells of cherries and saddle leather, ripe and soft, easygoing and loosely-wrapped, somewhat dilute, but clear and pure and reeking of honesty, with a long, tart finish. Very pretty stuff. Rather primary now, but despite the looseness I'd put a few bottles down to see what happens. This is what I drink with Asher's savory eggplant with olive and feta concoction. Nummmmm.

For some reason we get onto the subject of guns at jeebi--Brad giggles at the memory of nathan vandergrift pointing live ammunition at me and whacking jovially at the back end of it with a knife blade, I uneasily call up the memory of Oleg waving his 9-mm around, upsetting the women and freezing the men in place. It's in my head in slow motion, but I still feel the little bead of sweat trickling down the back of my neck at the unfortunate confluence of drunks and guns. My goal in life is to avoid the only obituary stupider than "Died During Liposuction," namely "Killed In Firearms Accident While Dining With Drunken Misfits."

Domaine de l'Harmis? Harvins? Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2001: Monstrously corked, so much so that I can smell it in Eden's glass next to me, before it even hits mine. I guess there has to be one at every jeeb. Kane looks stricken; one less fat-bottomed wine for him to drink.

Kane keeps going on about pudding. Apparently he's fascinated with the notion that there are only three flavors of the stuff. Please, god, make him shut up. I'm relieved when Manuel stands, announces that he, earlier this month, had his very own winegeek nightmare: THREE bottles that he brought to a Spanish tasting were all corked. Mute astonishment, envy on my part. I've had two corked bottles once, but three... man, that's something. Impressed, Lisa mutters "Wow, a TCA hat trick." We toast his achievement with the corked Châteauneuf before we pour it back.

Jay passes around the bread he baked earlier in the day. "It had trouble rising," he says mournfully.

"They have pills for that these days," I offer, but I don't think he hears me. "But if it rises for more than six hours, consult your baker immediately..." At least I'm amusing myself, a valuable gift in these troubled times.

Carol's mini mushroom strudel rolls are really tasty, airy-crisp and savory. Sometimes at these big foodie things a light little nibbly food is wonderfully appreciated. I wish there were more, I only manage to snag two. Damn politeness, it's not the first time it's screwed me.

"Don't say I said that!" Kane barks at me from across the room, "Say Camblor said it!" What the fuck is he talking about? I just nod in his direction and pretend to be crossing out something in my notebook, this seems to satisfy him.

Château Gruaud-Larose St. Julien 1988: Nice whiff of barnyardy funk at first nosage, then more textbook cassis and cedar notes. Ripe and plush up front, then ferociously tannic--stern tannins cut a hard line through the fleshy midpalate. There's a lot to like here, but also a strange severe-plush dichotomy--this is a wine gnawing furiously on its own tail. Likeable and interesting, but rather difficult as well.

At the edges of my sleepy-drunken haze I hear a voice saying "What about the rumor that Ted on Queer Eye isn't really gay?"

"Hey," I perk up, "I started that rumor!" It's true, my very own rumor has come back around to me. I feel a warm inner glow of accomplishment, or perhaps it's the Gruaud-Larose repeating on me, I'm not sure.

Jay protests, "C'mon he's the only one of those guys who even has a boyfriend."

"Don't spoil a good rumor with facts," I insist. "That guy knows nothing about wine, he's got those dorky glasses, he's no gay winegeek mafioso. 'Try this delicous Ecco Domani Merlot, straight boys, yum yum!' He's an actor, I tell you. My straightdar goes off every time he's on camera."

Jay seems to absorb this, but then suddenly stands, blinks three or four times, then lurches out the front door into the night. We eye one another uncertainly. "Is he going to purge, you think?" I ask somewhat rhetorically. He soon returns rather blearily, says "Careful where you step out there." He's joking, I feel fairly sure. Is this a foodie thing?

Olga Raffault Chinon les Picasses 1989: Smells warm and lightly piney, dark cran-cassis-toasty fruit underneath. Ripe but rather reserved, there's a lean and lovely composure here. Medium acidity, rather plush for a Raffault Picasses. Supple and expressive, there's good focus, although not the laserlike precision you see in the mid-90s versions. Plenty of lauhala pith here, it's a velvety pool of tobacco leaf-laced cranberry-cassis fruit. Lovely and precise, there's an amiable fleshiness as well. Lovely stuff, a Chinon that Kane approves of, oddly, as it has a piney streak and isn't really in the mold of the more assertive Bretons that are usually the only Chinons to light his fire.

I can't drink Raffault Chinon anymore without thinking of Star Chick Sommelier Vanessa Treviño Boyd's touching and funny Olga Raffault Story™. I briefly consider telling it as if it had happened to me, but I think a few people would spot it, or Kane would make one of his all-too-literal fusses or something, so I keep mum, smiling secret giggles. ("I'm Olga Raffault," she said, pointing to herself... great stuff.)

I'm not sure how Elyse did it, but she somehow managed to make sweet potato gratin for thirteen people using only one medium-sized sweet potato. It's the Miracle of the Sweet Potato, much like the miracle of the loaves and fishes except with a more substantial involvement of cheese and heavy cream.

Verset Cornas 1989: Quite volatile at first, not so much with a bit of air. Underneath the acetone hints are earthy-berry-lauhala pith notes, lovely nostrilizing here. A sip, and it's a muted and layered Cornas, the fleshiness of the midpalate is warm and inviting, the striation of flavors beguiling, crushed bricks, muted redfruit and earthy tones. Composed and elegant, a small-scaled wine with a shy side, somewhat lacking in mouthgrapple, but flavorful and calm, feathering out loosely at the edges. Drink up, I'd say.

Kane's rooster in wine is redolent of brandy; apparently there was some kind of miscalculation with the proportions and he poured a quart or two of the stuff into the mix, expecting it to cook off. It didn't, of course, but the searing burn of the raw spirits adds a saucy insouciance that I can't recall previously tasting in coq au vin, or coq au cognac, or whatever this is. A motion is put before the assembly that we'd do best to set this on fire, but sadly no consensus is reached.

Domaine des Schistes Maury 2000: Ripe and black-raspberryish, dark cocoa undercurrents, rather diffuse, but the sweet fleshiness has pleasant supporting acidity and the lack of concentration and complexity isn't offputting. A trifling wine, but a sweetly pleasant one, matching very well with Eden's tiny (pudding-filled?) chocolate cakes. These sweet wonders have a long long cinnamony finish, and reek of Kahlua. More booze in the food! I've also got some kind of a bean on top of mine, is that good? Did I win? And where the hell is Bert, anyway?

Jay clears his throat, and immediately silence descends, winegeeks straining to hear like meerkats testing the wind. "Well, I think it's about time for me to head out," he says, and suddenly everyone is leaping up, throwing on coats and tumbling out the door. I'm swept along, flotsam on the human tide, desperation to make the 10:43 train suddenly as palpable in the air as a corked Châteauneuf. How does he do that?

On the train back both Lisa and I are falling asleep, but Kane and the rest of the crew are up for more. "We're not nearly drunk enough!" he says, "Let's go to Camblor's place and raid his cellar!" Crazy kids. We wave farewell from the platform in Newark as the party train heads into the city.

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