Lisa and I arrived at the stately Manhattan digs of Bradley Kane, Esq. a bit behind schedule Saturday night to find the place abuzz with anticipation for the next showing of 'Iron Chef,' described to our wondering ears as a Japanese-TV import where gaudily attired heavyweight chefs defend their titles in a one-hour/one-ingredient duel to the death with challengers from across the world, all ably moderated by an emcee in Michael Jackson-Liberace regalia and judged by a panel of various and sundry giggling actresses, food critics and businessmen types. Quite the spectacle apparently and, despite Jeff Connell's protestations of "What about 'Buffy'?!", we are assured that it is the ONLY thing on television worth watching these days.

Having rejected the notion of a Kane Kult Klassic, we're doing our usual free-for-all, with the usual NO PINOT SHALL ENTER HEREIN caveat holding as true as ever chez Bradley. Apparently our host went so far as to instruct the doorman to confiscate any pinot-based wines coming through the front door and summarily smash them while laughing maniacally, just to get the point across with utmost clarity.

Okay, I made that last bit up.

But only just barely.

In the kitchen Kane-san is doing his own Aluminum Chef routine, fighting off the challenges from the WLDG's own SFChefJoe, who has come armed with fungi and is attempting to jab the rapidly-browning lamb with a meat thermometer. Andrew, resplendent in uncannily scarlet trousers, is whispering in hushed tones with Connell over the pale yellow contents of two decanters while Jennifer tries to explain that no, he bought the pants while she had her back turned and now it's too late because he's bonded with them like a baby duckling.

So, with an hour or so of non-ferrous time to kill before the televisual spectacle begins, I might as well have some vino to help while away the minutes... let's see, what looks good...?

I start with contents of the decanters, as they seem to be the subject of much fascinated discussion by the Loirebunnies.

Decanter one seems to contain Domaine du Clos Naudin/Foreau Vouvray Demisec 1997: Pale gold color; waxy honey-lemon & minerals, bright and vivid-smelling. Tastes rich and dense and tangy, with a soupcon of sweetness in a strong stonyfruity frame, a brawny wine with a lot of fruit and a lot of structure. Kickass Vouvray that appeals to my fondness for bruisers, with a long rich finish. Bright and impressive. Where can I buy some of this?

In the second decanter is Chavignol Sancerre Les Monts Damnés Cuvée Buster 1998: Pale straw color. I smell this wine, and I am puzzled. Chalky lemony-peachy notes with a curious mintiness, not like any Sancerre I've had before. I swirl and sniff and can't quite make out what this wine is saying. Very distinctive, to say the least. Densely flavored, but quite nimble and deft at the same time, a suggestion of off-dryness, ever so faint, and a startlingly long finish that just keeps humming along when you think it's done. I don't know, this wine... it defeats me. First I think it's odd, then I like it, then it's odd again, then it seems flat, then it seems sharp, then I don't know what to make of it. I keep expecting it to clear its throat and speak up, but I'm not catching its lingo, and it needs more time spent with it than the twenty minutes I've been sitting here trying to listen, so I bow humbly in resignation and move on to something else.

Scott-Clark Cellars Chardonnay Central Coast 1999: A juicy-fruity nose on this one, bright apple-pear-banana hints, no overt oakiness, very fresh and fruity-smelling. A complete turnaround from the complex-to-the-point-of-exhaustion Chavignol. In the mouth a nice burst of the same kind of bright yellow tropical fruit fades quickly, but is friendly and honest, with a touch of RS that serves to bring out the fruitiness. Simple, pleasant & crisp, a good QPR chardonnay without the usual Californian oak-soaking. Another winner from SCC, a rare California chardonnay producer that seems to trust their grapes to show their stuff.

Dr. Bürklin-Wölf Riesling Wächënhëimër Spatlësë 1998 (A.P.#36-27-35): Herr Doktor says open wide and say ahhh... Pale lemon-yellow color; light nose, honey & white flowers with a touch of beanbag chair, soft and quietly aromatic. More vivid in the mouth, with nice tart green-apple & lemon-honey flavors, slightly round, slightly unctuous, with a good balance of crispness and sugar. Pleasant and tangy, not terribly distinctive but very decent and well-crafted.

Vincent Raimbault Vouvray 1989: Lemon, limestone & tea on the nose, which is a bit reticent, showing more stoniness than anything else. In the mouth it's brightly acidic, a bit lean and sharp. Refreshing and crisp, but just this side of knife-hard, not giving a lot.

Margan Verdelho Hunter Valley 1998: Lisa throws her yellow flag. Corked. Damn. A general murmur of TCA-fueled anger flits around the room. Fingers clench and unclench on fragile stemware. Eyes dart right and left, and things are starting to look ugly for our heroic host who, sensing mood of the crowd turning surly, quickly throws some red meat in their direction. Meat good. Nice meat. The bloodlust settles, for now.

Back in TVLand the secret ingredient for the Iron Chef competition is announced: Jianzha (sp?) Ham! The rarest of the black-faced/white-bodied pigs! Shrieks of excitement! And the contestants are off, the televised Metallic Men of the Kitchen flying into winter-melon ham soup, ham salad, ham daiquiris and various other extraordinary ham-based concoctions while we dive into our own culinary delights and gape wide-eyed at the peculiar conflict unfolding before us.

Andrew pauses during the first commercial break to let us notice that he's half dressed like an Iron Chef already, takes a portentious bite out of a yellow pepper and announces a ten-minute speed round blind tasting. Here we go, kiddies.

Mystery Wine 'X': Medium garnet, with light browning at the rim, a bit of age here... muted dark raspberry fruit with leathery hints, I'm thinking France definitely, maybe mourvedre-based. The wine has very decent fruit, but is surprisingly tannic. There is some wondering about a pruniness that I don't really see, and there is a whimsical notion tossed out that it might be an old Amador zin. As it opens up it seems a bit more Bordeauxlike, which is where the consensus among the Iron Geeks is going (an 83 Pomerol is suggested), but I've got mourvedre in my head and finally vote for late-80s Southern France, which is as specific as I'm willing to be.

Turns out we're all gloriously WRONG in the best tradition of Kanefests, for it is Château Cayrou Cahors 1985. Stymied once again by that damn malbec! Much merriment ensues, along with much mutual congratulation on the level of WRONGness, and we move on to Mystery Wine 'Y'.

Mystery Wine 'Y': Medium-dark garnet... egad... Lisa has her hand in the air... Kane objects, in vain... the flag comes down mercilessly. Another TCA casualty. A real pity too, because there's clearly some nice dark ripe fruit under there taunting us with its nonavailability. Turns out to be Château de Pez 1990, but the mood-pendulum begins to swing dangerously back towards a postconcert Pete Townshend kind of atmosphere, and only the forced deportation of the women in the direction of Krispy Kreme with promises of sweets to come saves the place from a good rock-star-style trashing.

While the doughnuts are being conjured, we move on to a few more reds.

Château La Grave Figeac St. Emilion 1983: Matte, slightly muddy medium ruby, fading to brown-amber just off the rim. Beguiling tomato-cherry-raspberry compote nose, with the volume turned way down and faded to a muted red hum, soft and earthy, with a distinctive band-aidy high note above it all. In the mouth it's crisp and the fruit has turned feathery at the edges, layering and fading but with a still-lively core and a nice soft finish. This wine may have already crested, but it's drinking very well indeed now.

Boiron Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Relagnes 1983: Laconic Iron Wino Connell finally speaks:

"Sort of decent..."

We pause in our tracks, then scramble madly for pours of our own, for this is a ringing endorsement indeed. Medium ruby fading to amber at the edges; slightly faded, leathery, carrot-cake spicy nose shows its age, but holds the attention very well. A soft wine, with brown-edged redfruit settling slowly on your palate, layered and complex and mellow. Nice. Sorta decent indeed, but I'd drink any more fairly soon.

Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1994: Medium-dark ruby; fairly forward ripe dark red berryfruit w/hints of leather. Tangy and dense, a bit medicinal-ripe, a fairly lush style of CdP with some stern young tannins. There's a nice core of dark red fruit that needs time to settle and spread out a bit. Points for potential, though. Try again in seven years, three months.

Qupé Syrah Bien Nacido Hillside Estate 1995: Medium-dark garnet; sweet-smelling candied blackberry-oaky fruit is the first impression. And actually it's the second and third impression as well. The full-bore oak is a bit of a shame, as it seems like there's some nice tangy smoky-dense syrah fruit under there somewhere calling out for help, and the wine has good balance and very respectable crispness. Pity, because the fruit seems supple and rich, to paint over it so thickly. Drink with cajun food or wood-smoked meats and it should show a bit better. Or perhaps try it after a Sine Qua Non vertical.

Arnoldo-Caprai Sagrantino di Montefalco 1996: Medium-dark garnet; soft and smooth black cherry-raspberry nose, upfront and forwardly fruity, with a tarry background behind the plush fruit. Joe calls it 'Italian zin' and that's pretty darn close (closer, actually, than any primitivo I've had)--in the mouth it tastes just like it smells, tangy black-cherry-berryfruit and tar, ripe and fairly lush, turning tarrier still on the finish. A round, fleshy wine with plenty of meaty forward fruit. An ager? Nah, but fine young drinking for a zinlover like me, even being two or three vertebrae short of a spine.

By now we've become addled by the peculiar technique the Iron Chef translators have of subtitling some things, dubbing others, then doing both at the same time, then neither. Or maybe we're addled because of all the hooch. No, it's definitely the show, which culminates with the two contenders' culinary efforts being judged by what appears to be the Japanese Lisa Kudrow ("Wow, that's like... really good... I mean, just... really really... good."). The Iron Chef vanquishes his challenger in a rout and order is restored once again to the Universe, although there are some catcalls of "Fix! Fix!" from the Peanut Gallery in Manhattan.

The chefly apotheosis fully played out, we collapse in reverent exhaustion and immediately set to the Krispy Kreme Krullers that the ladies have provided in so timely a fashion, complementing them with some sweet whites.

La Sansonniere Bonnezeaux 1992: Light-medium gold; distinct initial gunpowdery notes blow off to reveal a bright apricot-pear-botrytis cocktail underneath. Crisp & medium-sweet & tangy, very well balanced, lightly viscous tropical-apricot fruits make themselves heard over a mess o'botrytis and linger gingerly for awhile in the twilight of the palate. Very good.

Domaine Schoffit Gewürztraminer Alsace VT 1989: Medium gold. Fairly light hints of minerally gewürziness--lychee, softly floral-fruity. In the mouth a nice flash of lychee-spicy fruit that quickly comes apart amidst light sweetness and fades into a watery disjointedness. Disappointing, as I am usually a Schoffit booster. Is this over the hill or was it odd all along?

Domaine Cauhapé Jurancon Vendages du 6 Novembre 1994: Medium gold-amber; pleasant light buttery-vanilla-orange rind aromas; tastes tangy & slightly creamy, some nice fruit, good balance of medium sweetness to firm acidity. Nice, medium-weight Jurancon that is lively and bright in a balanced, easygoing package, clearly superior to the 7 & 8 Novembre 1994, and not giving much away to the vaunted 5 Novembre 1994, either.

Churchill's Porto Agua Alta 1992: Dark garnet, purply at the rim. Nice dark core of purply-earthy berryfruit, dusty and brambly and tangy. Medium-lightly sweet, not a big dense wine, just a nice young core of dark fruit that has just begun to spread, tangy and with a medium-weight, slightly rough matte mouthfeel. Needs time, but is nonetheless very pleasant in its purply youth.

Out of doughnuts and sweeties and growing ever more restless for new sensory input, the crowd now begins its time-honored ritual of badgering the host until he gives up and opens more stuff. It doesn't take long.

Pinon Vouvray Cuvée Tradition 1997: This is showing a bit sterner than I remember it, its lemon-rainwater nose giving up light tight sour cherry-floral hints as well. Tangy, lightly waxy and bracingly tart after a bunch of sweet stuff, there's still a tight core of white stony fruit, rich and promising and wrapped up tight tonight. I'm putting my little stash on ice for a good while. One of my favorite bargains of 1999.

Domaine de Combebelle Cabernet Sauvignon Vin de Pay d'Oc Comte Cathare Prestige 1995: Why is this wine making me write down its long, long name at this hour? Will it really bring me prestige, as the label seems to promise? Deep medium-dark purply-garnet, fresh cassisfruit aromas. Yow, there's some zippy acidity along with some rich simple cassis fruit, then a mess of tannins clamps down. Very peculiar combination of bright simple fruit and dominatrix-style structure, this wine coos in your ear, then beats you on the ass. Not entirely pleasant (unless you're into that kind of thing) but not boring either.

My notes from this point onwards only get slurrier and harder to read, and the last thing I remember clearly is getting very emotional about B-17s and the men who flew in them. Or something like that, the lesson being that we should probably lay off the History Channel after nineteen wines. After succeeding in our mission of keeping our honorable host occupied until the wee hours after the less ferrous geeks have parachuted to safety, Lisa and I finally flee, another small faceless set of statistics in the overhospitality crisis plaguing the eastern seaboard.

Whose cuisine reigns supreme?

Iron Winegeeks! Iron Winegeeks!

Whose is the wine that tastes most fine?

Iron Winegeeks! Iron Winegeeks!

Words to live by.

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