A vast cloud of New York-area WLDGers descended locustlike upon an unsuspecting Minetta Tavern last night (10-14) for an offline welcoming Craig Potts and Maureen Nelson to our fair city.

The theme, as suggested by Mr. Potts himself, was 'Cellar Gems,' a somewhat fluid term that would allow for a wide range of interesting treasures to be offered up for sacrifice to the thirsty multitudes.

When Lisa and I arrived the irrepressible Brad Kane was holding court, with Oleg O. and Mike Bassman flying stag tonight (until Kim graced us with her presence later on) and Craig (Guest of Honor Number One) centrally seated, accepting offerings as was his due. We were soon joined by a steady stream of other board luminaries--Jeff Steinberg, Mike Cohen, Bernd Eschgfaller, Philippe (Kane's Garnet buddy), Marco, Munna and Svetlana, a too-short cameo appearance by Don Rice, Matthew Broderick, Brian my vinous godfather and the lovely and charming Chloe, and finally Maureen (Guest of Honor Number Two) and her friend Irene.

Quickly sizing up the situation, I see Oleg has a lovely new Riedel travel case with him, so I position us at his elbow, feigning camaraderie in order to cadge a piece of his precious, precious stemware.

As always at these squalid functions, I split my time evenly between taking half-assed notes and doing some half-assed socializing. By seven-thirty we all had seriously itchy Screwpull fingers, just aching to put the moves on some gems, and finally the dam bursts and the heist begins...

The first sacrificial gem is the Didier Dageneau Pouilly Fume Pur Sang 1997: a pale wine, with a soft, rich, sprightly nose. How can it be both soft and sprightly? I don't know, but it manages. More vivid in the mouth than on the nose--nice white grapefruity-flowery notes and a stony background make this a bright starter wine, and it provokes some interesting reactions, from Chloe's "agile" to Craig's "hmmm... sharp cheddar." The acidity, which starts out hidden behind the rich fruit, wells up to a nice zingy tang on the finish.

Next to come around is a Moulin Touchais Anjou 1976: a real change of pace--slightly gold, interesting honey-marzipan-stony aromas waft up out of the glass. Showing its age, but still lots of life here--pleasantly sweet but with a good crisp spine, a nicely balanced wine with a sweet, nutty finish.

At this point Munna, like Zoltan the Magnificent, produces two Paul Masson carafes full of mysterious red liquid, and proceeds to send the first around the room for inspection and deliberation.

Paul Masson Carafe #1: On first sniff, seems Bordeauxish, cab-based... tomatoey, cedar & tobacco hints, fairly rich & velvety nose here... got some age, bit of browning, but it smells a bit faded. A taste, and it's surprisingly acidic, very crisp. I think it's a Pauillac from the late 70s, but Oleg, sitting next to me, wonders if it might be an older SuperTuscan. Everyone can only agree that it's cabernet-based, but Bordeaux is the universal suspect. It is revealed as San Leonardo (Trentino) 1988, and I tell Oleg that he is a god among tasters. He likes that sort of thing. At any rate, the wine does seem considerably older to me than its ten years would indicate. Go figure.

Back on the white track, a Soulez Savennieres Roche Aux Moines 1985 comes around: yeasty, minerally nose, light lemony hints. A sip, and zing! some lip-smacking, tongue-yankin' acidity reaches out and says hello. Not much fruity-fruit, a very minerally-based wine. Brian, translating the label, says something about monks and wonders aloud about the 'grand cru' status and whether there were grand crus in Savenierres. We all look around, but there is no one to explain. Wistfully, we return to tasting, with one last white coming down the pipeline.

Trimbach Clos St. Hune VT 1989: Mmmm, nose is very lush, velvety & tropical-fruity, with green-appley hints over a rainwatery-stony background. Sweet, but lightly spätlese-sweet, very nicely balanced in the mouth, a real nice package. Light honey-lemon-apple notes flit around the midpalate and melt into a long minerally finish. Super, and my favorite among the whites.

Now the parade of ruby & garnet gems begins...

Joseph Drouhin Musigny 1987: Medium-translucent, slightly muddy garnet, showing a touch of browing, just a touch. Ooh, love the funky nose, some nice pronounced barny-clove-earthy funk, over some soft cherry-earth fruit. Crisp and beguiling, the acidity is there, but the fruit seems to be spreading, to be turning muted, with just a shadow of tannins. My impression is that this is drinking very nicely now, but may not have a whole lot left, may be on the cusp.

Behrens and Hitchcock Ode to Picasso Napa Valley 1996: Is this a Meritage? Dunno, but it ties with Sine Qua Non for the Colossal Heavyweight-Bottle Prize. Medium-dark rich garnet; odd nose, with cassis and blackberry notes duking it out in my nostrils with a burnt-rubber smokyness. A full-bodied big ol' wine, very dark cherry & raspberry tastes with unintegrated toasted woodiness hanging in the background. Odd, and yet somehow strangely generic. A bit jarring after the delicate Musigny.

Chave Hermitage 1986: The drawbacks of being last on the pouring line are evident as only a few tablespoons of this make it down to our end of the table. Packed with sediment, this slurry has some wonderful aromas, just rich and beguiling singed meat, mushroom and faded raspberry notes. I smell it for awhile, savoring all the stuff that's going on. Sipping it, it's a bit thinner than I'd expected, light and tangy-crisp, meaty and truffley. Overt fruit is faded and takes a backseat, but there's a lot of character here.

Château Cantenac-Brown 1982: Some brown around the rim of the wine; soft, smoky nose, light coffee, muted fruit, pleasant, faded, doesn't have time to make much of an impression. The wines are starting to arrive faster and faster, egged on by Lisa yelling at Brad that if we weren't going to get any food, he'd better keep the wines moving if he wanted to live. We order very soon after.

At this point we notice that Maureen is off schmoozing with another table. Oleg says the guy she's talking to is a sitcom actor of some kind. Boy, only in town a day and already she's rubbing elbows with the rich and famous--ya gotta love it. At yet another table, Matthew Broderick, who I thought was with us, turns out to have no interest in tasting. Pity. Wanting to steer away from the incipient carnival atmosphere, we plunge forward with more reds.

Pride Mountain Vineyards Reserve Claret 1995: In style very similar to all of the other Pride wines I've had--lots of new oak, rich, crisp cherry/cassis fruit, which is darker in tone and denser than the fruit in the non-reserve bottlings, some dry fine tannins. Smoky-dense fruit, rich and a bit tight & brooding, with a nice tangy tarry purple finish. This is a monolith of a wine, as most of their wines are. I do like the regular bottlings of the cab and merlot and this is a tad richer, but it doesn't seem like a very big jump in quality to me-- the flavor profile is very similar. I wonder how this would compare with a table cuvˇe of half each of their Napa cab & merlot?

Heitz Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1985: Slightly browning dark garnet; fresh, slightly aquariumish hints to the nose (Oleg and Mike decide to call it 'seabreeze,' because Mike associates 'aquarium' with chlorine, whereas I, as a former fishmaster, don't), along with some nicely minty muted cassis. Nicely balanced wine--firm and crisp, but a bit disjointed--I get a bit of hollowness at first, then tartness. I mention this and Brian, who is singing its praises, gives me a snippy comment about it being not supposed to taste like Turley or Grange. I shake my fist at this silly oversimplification of my tasting preferences, resist the urge to unleash Lisa on him, and, in gentlemanly fashion, we agree to disagree.

Shafer Hillside Select Napa 1986: I failed to taste this wine. Things were coming too fast, my glasses were all full, the food was arriving. I appeal to the gallery to fill in the blanks.

Château La Tertre-Roteboeuf St. Emilion 1985: Another lovely nose; funky, beefy rump-roast hints over dark rich redfruit & hints of herbs. Meaty-rich nose, and tastes damn good too, fleshy and darkly fruity, impeccably balanced, rich and smoky and tangy, a wine in the prime of life that flows ever so smoothly, with a long, rich finish. Hmmm. That's only four uses of the word 'rich.' This deserves another. A (rich) pleasure, and my (rich) wine of the night so far.

Château La Louviere Pessac-Leognan 1990: Slightly more muted nose, actually seems a bit tight after the fleshier TR, smaller in scale. Still nice, though, redfruit, tobacco, earth, slight herbiness. Nice balance, some firm tannins in evidence. More time?

Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains 1988: Nose of cassis & hints of dark green bean & smoke, some nice earthy-funkiness--yet another beautifully balanced wine with a rich complex midsection that mingles the dark fruit with earthy notes and segues into a long, darkly fruity finish. Craig immediately and firmly declares this the wine of the night. I'd still go with the Tertre-Roteboeuf, but it's close.

Munna has been waiting long enough, and it's time for the second of the two Paul Masson carafes to emerge for circulation and speculation.

Paul Masson Carafe #2: Okay, this looks slightly brown around the rim... fleshy dark smoky nose, dark muted redfruit, hints of herb and earth, a meaty texture... could this be a St. Emilion? Is there a bit of merlot in that nose? I guess an '85 St. Emilion, but the wine is revealed as Château La Mission Haut-Brion 1985, so I have to be content with being right only on the year, just squeaking past Bassman, who had picked '86. Where do I pick up my door prize? Brad?

Martinelli Zinfandel Russian River Valley Luisa & Guiseppe 1997: Holy cats! This is indeed a change of pace: Hot cherry & chocolate on the nose, vivid, vivid cherry & a hint of alcohol. In the mouth mucho black cherry & tangy black raspberry fruit, thick and dense, with a touch of sweetness and a bit of a burn on the finish. Jarring and over-the-top fruity in this company, but I could see it going well with a plate of ribs...

Château Rausan-Segla Margaux 1989: Bright, brisk red cassis & silky tarry nose--small but vivid. In the mouth crisp and fairly rich--still young and slightly tight, but seeming to be on the verge of blossoming. Crisp acidity, some fine firm tannins. Young, but I see potential.

Château Fesles Anjou Vielles Vignes 1997: Young rich saturated red color; sweet cherry & dry tobacco notes on the nose; tangy, borderline tart cherry flavors, nice earthiness, some fine tannins; seems decent, but I don't quite understand what it's trying to say. Maybe it needs a day or two to come together.

The seemingly endless procession of rubies and garnets at an end, we tackle some sweet white gems.

Rene Renou Cuvée Zenith Bonnezeaux 1996: Quiet nose, seems a bit tight, I swirl and swirl but it's not giving much, soft pear-pineapple hints, but boy, one taste and it just explodes with flavors. Vivid pineappley tropical fruit zings around the mouth and echoes for ages. The fruit is young and seems a bit simple, but extremely concentrated. Crisp and bright and viscous and dense, not to mention sweet as hell. But still not much nose.

Château de Suronde Quarts du Chaume 1996: Pale gold; interesting, small nose, with a nice flinty note mixed in with the honeyed tropical fruit. The intense sweetness, almost goopiness of this wine is a big surprise, as I'm only familiar with this house's late 80s bottlings, done in a much MUCH lighter style. Rich and flavorful, but a bit cloying, just not quite enough acidity to cover all that sugar. It tastes thick and concentrated and rich, but after a sip or two I'm done.

Marcel Deiss Gewürztraminer SGN Altenberg de Bergheim 1994: Oh man, I'm a sucker for this. Rich lychee and honey and spritzy floral notes just make me smile. I've loved lychee since I was a kid, and there's a mess of it here. Best balance so far among the sweeties--nice and sweet but not gloppy or frighfully dense and perfectly balanced acidity make for a glass that I can't put down. Dessert wine of the night for me.

Château Lousteau-Vieil St. Croix du Mont 1985: Pale straw color; light lemon-apricot-vanilla on the nose; medium to light-bodied, or perhaps it's just a contrast with the colossi that have come before. Light lemony-honey flavors, bit of woodiness emerges on the finish. A light Sauterney-style wine.

There is also a Condrieu Moelleux of some kind, but I don't get any.

Great heavens, is that all? Time certainly flies when you're drinking great wine and meeting new friends. We haven't even started breaking the crockery yet, but it is a school night. Those of us that can still stand attend to those less fortunate and somehow we manage to pour ourselves out into the crisp New York fall evening, drunker but wiser. Our guests bid farewell, happily nevermore to be just names on a computer screen.

We do have fun, don't we?

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