So it's birthday season again, and those of us in the New York Gang whose odometers turn over in early fall are driven to get together and attempt to wash away the ravages of time with oceans of wine. The grave gapes, so we must drink, and dance. Like Zorba, only not quite so greeky.

Anyway, my turn has come round in the rotation, so the Island of Lost Winegeeks is the venue. The tram is back up and running, offering potential attendees a panoramic view of the city and the ocean that races prettily alongside it. Why then they almost as one decide to subject themselves to Kane's maniacal driving is utterly beyond me. And yet it is so, as I am informed by the regulation 'We're on our way!' phone call from the road.

I hang up the phone, sigh, and pour myself some Francois Pinon Vouvray Petillant Sec NV. Our house fizz. Enough notes on this, just drink it and shut up.

The doorman buzzes and in come the winegeeks, white-knuckled and pale of visage from the drive over. Here's louche hipster Manuel Camblor and the ever-punctual Jay Miller. Bigshot Wine Guy Joe Dressner follows along behind, and there's the happy Kanester himself, mercifully immune to the effects of his own psychotic road stylings.

I trot out a Domaine du Closel Savennières la Jalousie 1995. A recent library release, I bought this in part to test Kane's persistent theory that Closel '95s have entered a final death spiral. But I am soon chagrinfulized, for this does nothing to disprove the theory. Flat-tasting, baked-applejuicy and mostly lifeless, with some decent but disjointed acidity attempting to keep things in line. Kane may not be right, but he's not wrong either, at least not yet; the evidence seems to be mounting relentlessly Kanewards.

Next up is a Château de la Roche-Aux-Moines (Joly) Savenières-Roche-Aux-Moines Clos de la Bergerie 1996. Odd-smelling, scorched milk and hay, baked lemon and apple juice, quince jam, touch of rosemary(!). Mildly oxidized, hard and slightly shrill, despite being broad-beamed. The fruit falls away in the middle, leaving shrill acidity hanging around for the finish. Kind of unpleasant.

Not much luck with Savennières tonight, kids.

Brad starts speaking aloud what seems to be an ongoing inner dialogue about how Andrea Immer gets a bum rap. "People shouldn't say she's cute, or that she's perky!" he protests to himself. "Her show isn't for geeks, it's for the general public!"

No one's sure where this came from. Dressner looks puzzled: "General Public...?" he muses aloud. "Is that the guy who made the big mess over there in Iraq...?"

We're only momentarily distracted by a corked bottle of Maximin Grünhauser Riesling Somethingorother 1995. Sigh.

Something catches my ear, and I turn down the table towards Lisa: "Did you really just say 'oral cavity' when you meant 'mouth'?

She looks sheepish. "Third year med student disease. My brain's being medwashed. I'll be on guard, won't happen again."

Sheesh. I recover from this jargon flareup with a Thomas-Labaille Sancerre Chavignol les Monts Damnés Cuvée Buster 2002. Gently kaleidoscopic aromatics, lime rind and cardamon, chalk and peachblossom, white grapefruit and honeydew melon; the more I sniff at it the more difficult it is to pin down. A sip, and the wine comes at me gently at first, with a soothing wash of lightly citric minerally fruit that opens up umbrellalike in the middle, turning towards peachy-grapefruitiness. The acidity is medium-firm, there's a sense of well-muscled relaxation about the midpalate, finishes with a long stonycitric bzzzzz. Subtle, chameleonic and strikingly complete.

Dressner and Kane are swapping juicy ITB gossip, but take turns looking over at me nervously and insisting, "This is all off the record, of course."

Damn, guys. You're stifling me here. And on my birthday, yet.

Radikon Venizia Giulia Bianco 'Oslavje' Non-Filtrato 2001. Medium amber-gold color. Smells spicy--orange rind and minerals, warmed honey. Medium acidity, substantial-tasting and rich. There's an extravagant quality here that makes this come off almost like a dry late-harvest sweetie. The pomander-spicy finish is especially striking. Odd, interesting wine that I find very difficult to categorize.

I proudly point out that I've put Manuel's hip kit into my iTunes rotation. Dressner, not digging the hipster tunes, asks if I have any show tunes, a musical genre he carries a torch for. "Man of La Mancha, West Side Story, The King and I, anything like that?"

I explain that I'm a little short on Broadway tunes, besides Sondheim of course.

"You know what show I really loved? Fiorello! Did you ever see that?"

The little giant? "No."

"Carousel? South Pacific? I love South Pacific!"

"I was in South Pacific in high school. Would you prefer the Ezio Pinza version or the Giorgio Tozzi version?"

"Ezio Pinza, of course!"

"Sorry, I don't have either." He is crestfallen.

Kane is passing around a foil-wrapped Mystery Wine. "Hey, stop that!" he yelps at Dressner, who is attempting to peel the foil and peek under it.

"Oh, it's so stupid," says Joe. "I just hate it."

"I just want you to try the wine without preconceptions," whimpers Kane.

"It's impossible. I already have preconceptions. You brought it, I won't like it. Oh, I just hate this..." he moans and grumbles for a while while the rest of us pass the thing around.

Brad's Mystery Wine: Smells like lemons and chalk, quiet shy aromatics, touch of paraffin. Tastes taut and hard, on the large side, medium acidity, but angular and disjointed, structure akimbo, with some bitterness on the finish. Seems young but fairly shut down. Some kind of Loire chenin, young Joly?

The comments are generally negative, and Brad is triumphant. "Ah hah!" he crows. "I've just proved my point--here's a wine you all love that you hate blind because I brought it!" He rips the foil off with a flourish, and it's a Domaine des Baumard Savennières Clos du Papillon 2002.

Once again I'm puzzled. I haven't loved this wine in the past. In fact, I've never tasted it before, and I've never been a huge fan of Baumard's dry wines. I point these data out to Kane, but he brushes them aside. Dressner moans again, "Oh, I just hate this." We pay him no mind.

The buzzer rings once more, and it's our old friend Bob the Nonwinegeek. Bob is presented with tonight's Margaret Mead Award for braving a room full of winegeeks and their insular wine and wineboard chatter. Kudos to Bob!

Here's an Agnes et René Mosse Anjou 'le Rouchefer' 2004. Spicy lemon-quince aromatics, velvety-ripe and expressive. Tastes tangy and firm, a solid wine with happy acidity and a lot of oomph, substance, while retaining a sense of calm restraint. It reminds me a bit of a more focused, less over-the-top Sablonnettes chenin, but it's nervier, less gonzo. Charming wine, walks the line between finesse and power, sternness and friendliness. Yum.

Lisa's mom sent us a grapevine bonsai as a birthday gift, but the poor thing arrives in terrible shape, motheaten and brown. We eye it sadly. "Phylloxera," I explain.

Last white, a Monte Xanic Chenin Colombard Baja California 2004 is rather neutral-smelling, light pineapple and sweet gardenia, canned pears in syrup, smells a bit overripe but not unpleasant, more generic jug-wine smelling. A sip, and the honeymoon is over: flabby, oversweet and viscous, with a weird firecrackery streak, like someone dipped three burnt sparklers into my canned fruit cocktail. Actively unpleasant to drink, and for me that's saying something. "If a wine had to be corked," I ponder aloud, "why couldn't it have been this one?"

"I've been thinking about dressing like Yul Brynner in The King and I," says Camblor. "You think I could pull it off?"

I eye him up and down. Mm-hm, good height, no hair... "Dude, if anyone can, you could."

Jay brings out a Chevillon Nuits-St.-Georges les Perrières 1988. "This was a conditional buy," he says. "I was told it might be cooked, so don't pour it all at once, pour a little and pore over it carefully." We do just that. The color looks good, medium ruby red, no sign of browning. No, it's certainly not cooked.

It is, however, corked. Jay shrugs, scoops it up: "Oh well, that'll do, too."

Château Certan de May de Certan de May de Certan Pomerol 1993. Medium ruby color, smells pleasantly Bordeauxish: shy cassis laced with cedar and graphite, light oregano hints. A sip, and it's a smooth, medium-lightbodied Pomerol, small and quite prettily composed. Not a great deal of weight or substance, but easygoing complexity and quiet flavorosity make it a real charmer, especially given the unheralded vintage. Very nice, and a great companion to Lisa's beef Wellington. Camblor leans in. "Keep it under your hat, but this was a trickle-down tip from the Secret .sasha Board," he whispers.

"You're on the SsB?!" I exclaim, perhaps too loudly.

"No, oh no no no," he shakes his head, glancing around furtively. "And if I were, I'd deny it. In fact, if we're speaking on the record then I feel obliged to deny that the Secret .sasha Board exists at all."

"But if it did, this is the kind of wine they'd recommend?"

His guard is up. "That's too speculative a question," he snaps, squirming in his chair, eyes darting. "I don't want to speak for those guys, IF in fact there is even such a thing as 'those guys,' which I'm not going on record as taking a position on one way or another."

They've gotten to him. We both know it, and we're both a little uncomfortable with the direction this conversation has taken. It is allowed to trail away unmourned.

A Bodegas Riojanas Rioja Reserva Viña Albina 2000 is corked.

Bodega y Cavas de Weinert Malbec Mendoza 'Estrella' 1977. There's a bit of mustiness which has a few of us wondering whether this will join tonight's increasingly long casualty list, but Lisa counsels patience, and in an hour it has blown off. It's a darkly colored wine, purply-black, that smells equally dark--espresso grinds and tree bark-laced blackberry-raspberry fruit. Tastes ripe and dark and rather monolithic, quite startlingly young. Large beamed red-black matte-textured fruit shoulders its way through the middle, finishes like the last sip of your third espresso. Compellingly brawny wine that is quite ripe-tasting, but in a good way.

Dressner moans, "Oh, it's horrible, horrible. You only like it because it's old."

Camblor opines that he has twelve songs in him. He's considering picking up a vintage electric guitar to help ease them out.

An Negra Viticultors Vino de la Terra Illes Balears 'À/N' 2003. Smells of spicy cinnamon and plum-raspberry jam, with a hint of scorched-milkiness. Plump, overripe and blowsy. Generic, too. The label claims it's a "celebration... of indigenous grape varietals[sic]" but it tastes like it could come from just about anywhere with access to sunshine and French oak barrels.

Manuel has a Mystery Wine for us. Dressner collapses in a heap while we pass it around. Apparently this is some porn "actress's" wine? I'm not clear on the details, but some porn chick is married to somebody in the wine biz and hired a consultant and made a gobby wine and this is it. Or something like that, it's a little puzzling.

Manuel's Mystery Porn Wine: Dark garnet color. Smelly ripely plum-cassised, jammy dark fruit with a good dose of toastysmoky wooding. Could be a big shiraz-cabernet or something of that caribou, candied and reduced-tasting, with some fierce gritty tannins on the finish. Seems like they were pumping this one up but good. Lots of squeals of horror and dismay, but it's really not so bad as all that. Reduced, a bit shirazzified--the acidity is sort of like SweeTarts dropped in jam, but would one expect a porn wine to be a model of elegance? Not me, kid. (Bodegas de Santo Tomas Cabernet Merlot Baja California Gran Reserva 'Unico' 2002)

Wait a minute, Baja California? Is there some Baja/San Fernando Valley connection of which I'm unaware? More puzzlement.

Franco Noussan Vin de Table 'Cuvé de la Côte' NV. Lightly herbaceous, forest floor hints over pure dark cherry-berry fruit. Medium lightbodied, uncomplicated and unpolished, an interesting combination of roughness and finesse, with some gritty tannins. On the rustic side, seems like a wine to drink after a day mending fences out on the back forty. The bottle says "Produce of Italy," despite the French labelling. I'm confused. The small print reads "Mise en Bouteille par Franco Noussan, Saint Christophe Aoste Italie." I'm still confused.

The Mets have an opportunity to clinch the NL East on my birthday, but manage to blow it. Swept by the Pirates? Annoying. Their play down the stretch is worrisome to worry-prone Mets fans like your humble narrator.

Domaine de la Pépière Cepage Cabernet Cuvée Granit Mal Etiquetée 2005. By the time the bottle reaches me, it's empty. Badly labelled, empty wine. Everyone else seems to like it, though perhaps a little too much, the greedy buggers.

Jay is fading. He explains that he normally needs at least ten or eleven hours of sleep a night to get by, and that he, having been awake for almost twelve hours, is going to have to crash soon. This information is much marvelled at. I thought only our cat needed to sleep that much, but here's evidence otherwise. Maybe all that lucid dreaming doesn't leave you properly rested.

Lisa brings out the coffee and along with it, I am horrified to see, Satan's Own Cream Pitcher. I blanch, and turn to Manuel, trembling. "I can't be in the same room as that thing," I stammer. "It belonged to Lisa's grandmother's grandmother, I know my destiny is to somehow stupidly smash it to bits. We have an appointment in Samarra, that pitcher and I."

Camblor turns pale. "My god," he says. "Keep that thing away from me too!" We both inch farther down the table, making sure not to jostle it one iota in the process.

Moulin Touchais Coteaux du Layon 1971. Medium gold color. Shy quince-hay-honey aromatics laced with apricot and lightly toasted orange rind. Medium-plus sweetness, firm acidity, quite crisp, fine glassy tannins on the finish. Comes off mostly youthful, focused and composed. In a good place, smooth and fresh with a light patina of secondary development. There isn't the depth or focus of one of the top-tier Vouvray producers, say, but it's very nice middle aged chenin.

Dressner moans, "Oh, it's horrible, horrible. You only like it because it's old." Yes, plus I like it because it's tasty, and because it's a lovely match with the Cupcake Café cake, an apricot-laced beauty decorated in the style of the label of the 1963 Mouton.

Huet Vouvray le Haut-Lieu Moëlleux 1ere Trie 1989. Hey, a non-corked '89 Huet! What are the chances? Medium gold color. Happy lemon-apricot-quince aromatics laced with chalk and a generous spoonful of spicy-hay botrytis. Medium-plus sweet, bright acidity, richly flavorful but with a shyness about the middle. Really pretty but not quite singing. Give it another decade or so before revisiting, it should be rolling out the red carpet by then. Another great match with the apricot cake.

Without warning, the secret sign is given and everyone leaps up and flees the island as one, offering quick air kisses and hurried handclasps as they go. In two minutes we're alone again, naturally.

"My god," says Lisa, peering into the kitchen.


"I bought what I thought was food enough for twelve. We had five last-minute cancellations. Look what's left."

There, on a plate, are three asparagi, a half-dozen steak fries and maybe enough filet to make a sandwich for, say, a small Dutch child.

We drink a quick toast to last-minute cancellees, and set about the cleanup.

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