So we arrive at Kane's new place to find SFJoe conducting some kind of blind tasting. People are talking about Trimbach, riesling, Alsace, I don't know what else. He hands me a glass.... Pale color. Straw, touch of grapefruit, lots of chalkiness.... Tastes big and broad and taut, pure and more than a little imposing, a doorless castle that I'm having some difficulty breaching. Whatever it is, I'd give it time, as it's a bit impenetrable now. I leave my guess of a Denis Touraine Azay-le-Rideau Sec unspoken and just say "Whatever it is, it's nice." Joe decides that this is close enough and I win the door prize, a three-pound lobster dinner, for the wine is revealed as Domaine de l'Ecu (Boussard) Muscadet Expression de Gneiss 2002.

Whatever it is, it's gneiss...

Its brother wine, Domaine de l'Ecu (Boussard) Muscadet Expression d'Orthogneiss 2002 is similarly large and hard, a bit more citric and not quite as chalky-smelling. Tastes very marginally rounder, ever so slightly more relaxed, still imposing and in need of time. Damn these are fine wines, but they're also a bit much right now, a little overwhelming.

It's New Year's Eve, and suddenly we're having a lobster and '02 Vouvray horizontal.

Huet Vouvray Le Mont Sec 2002. At first the light musty streak could be a wet-wool chenin thing, but after half an hour sitting it comes clean, revealed as a demure hint of our old friend TCA, come to help us ring in the new year. Happy romantic ruined wine new year!

Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Sec 2002. Ah, that's more like it: fresh lemony-waxy aromatics, chalky streak emerges shyly with a little swirling. Racy and pure, bright and crisp but with good heft and a certain aloof, fast-lane quality. A vivid, exciting young Vouvray that leaves me feeling a little tousled.

Connell announces, apropos of nothing, that he finally had the opportunity to taste Marcassin chardonnay. SFJoe, suitably impressed, confesses that he has never had the pleasure. Reaching past my three-pound lobster, I pick up my dish of drawn butter and proffer it generously in his direction. As a result of this whimsical gesture, Kane sprays small pieces of lobster all over me, Lisa, the table and the wall. He apologizes profusely, but I know that I will earn newfound respect from my cat when I get home, so I let it slide.

While I'm picking the crustacean out of my hair, we continue with a Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Demisec 2002. Similar aromatic profile to the intact Sec--lemon, paraffin, chalk--but deeper and fuller in the piehole, with a warmth and langour that the racy Sec lacks. Young and coiled, but beautiful, complete, breathtaking. Having a wine like this for the first time is like being at the opening night of a Sondheim show--there's history in the air, electricity, genius.

I thought there was another demisec, but SFJoe races off to some more compelling A-List New Year's Eve event and whatever it is goes with him. We wave goodbye and ask him to give our regards to the big boys.

So what are we left with? Let's see, here's a Champalou Vouvray 2002. Smells of yellow apples and light quince, hints of chalk. Maybe a hint of sugar, just enough to plump out the fruit. Tastes blunt and friendly, a loose, easygoing Vouvray that seems lost in this company but is probably a very pleasant little quaffer.

Champalou Vouvray La Cuvée des Fondreaux 2002. Smells of yellow apples and quince dusted with chalk and chamomile. Just a touch of sugar, sec-tendre. Leaner and more minerally than the last, but a step above it in terms of focus; there's greater density here, more layering of the quincey-minerally-lemon tea flavors. Very good, flavorful and balanced Vouvray.

Champalou Vouvray Brut NV. Exuberantly frothy bubbly. Smells like tart yellow apples with a hint of chamomile. Tastes bright, simple, crisp. Decent party fizz.

The Champalous are pleasant wines, but suffer from following the glorious Huets--they come off as simple and two-dimensional. Of course, they only cost half as much, so draw your own conclusions. There follows much anguished discussion of the startling new price levels, the weak dollar, various grey market sources, some shady connection who is repeatedly and cryptically referred to as "The Wino from the Black Lagoon," the possibility of delivery from Europe, etc.

Paul Georg Champagne Brut Rosé NV. Pale salmon color, boisterous big bubbles. Smells flinty, cherries and talc, with an undersmellage of stoniness. This is the kind of oafish, unsubtle Champagne that I'm rather partial to, plus it's a rosˇ so it actually tastes like something. Flavorful and fun fizz, we toast in 2004 as the Manhattan skies light up with fireworks. I call my mom and hold the phone out the window so she can hear the booms.

Becherelle (Joly) Savennières 2001. Very funky aromatics, sulfurously stinky. Underneath the funk there's a big, ripe wine that isn't quite as far out as the '01 Coulee de Serrant, but is still a pillow-edged bruiser. Flint-edged yellow quince-apple fruit, smooth creamy midpalate dissolves slowly into a long minerally finish. Very nice, once you're past the funk.

Domaine du Clos_l Savennières Clos du P@pillon 1995: Deep gold color. Oxidizatified. Flat, lifeless and apple-juicy, basically DOA. I suggest to Kane that this must be a mistreated bottle, he gets all animated and says "Nooooo--I had a BUNCH of bottles, they're ALL like that." I suggest he must've had a batch of mistreated bottles, but he cites no less an authority than Mme. de Jessey, who apparently confessed to him that all of her '95s were in their death spiral. I find this all very puzzling, as I've had at least a couple of '95 Clos_ls within the last year or two that didn't taste anything like this ruined. Plus, I thought I had reconciled with Mme. de Jessey after our late falling out and I'm hurt she's confiding in Kane. Nevertheless, he's the host, so I don't argue. He is delusional, though, you know that, right?

Dauvissat Chablis La Fôrest 2001. Flinty-toasty aromatics, pineapple and tart yellow apple underneath. Seems soft and loose and oaky compared to the Vouvrays, but there's decent potential if you let it sit for a few years. Mellow, decent. I brought this because I thought it would be a good match with lobster: it's not. Or maybe if we had grilled the lobster it would've been, but it's too smoky-woody right now.

As long as I'm doing 2002 Vouvray, I think to myself, why not race home and open a Francois Pinon Vouvray Cuvée Tradition (Demisec) 2002? Smells of rainwater and lemon tea, touch of white honey. Taut, tight, lemon-honeyed, with a middleweight mouthfeel and zippy acidity. Racy and light, wrapped quite tight now, rather hard to figure. Not as robust as the '97, more substance and heft than the '98, '99 or '01, better focus than the 2000. It's a subtly rich, lightly sweet wine that sneaks up on you; its seamlessness makes it seems rather easygoing right up front, but then it deepens and stretches in the middle and finishes with a small quartet of lemon, honey, chalk and quinine. It's no Haut-Lieu, but it's a step above the Champalous in terms of interest.

The next day or thereabouts we hit the wine hotbed of Metuchen for some total New Year's rockin' party action at Andrew Munro and Jennifer Clark's swingin' pastel pad.

To slake our train-induced thirst, Andew opens a Domaine des Griottes Les Fins de Vendanges Rosé Vin de Table NV. Whoops. Very, very corked. Fingers are crossed that the first corked wine of this evening is also the last.

Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Cuvée Buster 1997. Quiet aromatics, light hay and grapefruit, lemon and minerals. Tastes a little mellower than when I had it last, more muted--the citric zing up front has turned matte, leaving the hint of honeydew in the middle more prominent. Finishes with a tart lemon-stony flourish. Lovely and chameleonic as always, but I'm not sure if it's shutting down or just going through a quiet phase. Whatever is going on, the former most expensive Muscadet in the world is still a delight.

Dönnhoff Riesling Oberhause Brücke Spätlese 2000. Quiet-smelling, soft and whispery yellowfruit, ginger and white coral. Elegant in the piehole, lightly creamy-sweet and softly expressive, a shy little stoneflowery wine. Jay bought this at some auction where they put a cute little birdy sticker on the bottle. I'm not sure why he feels compelled to point this out, but at any rate it's a cute sticker. Small, lightly sweet and utterly charming, a shy little riesling that's winningly subtle.

Château d'Epiré Savennières 1999. Light lemon-chalky nose, hints of quince and chamomile. Tastes rocky, hard and minerally, all structure. Underfruited Savenni¸res, rocklicker's delight.

Domaine du Cl_sel Savennières Clos du P@pillon 1999. Lightly honeyed nose, chalk and an odd hint of maple syrup. Another stony all-structure wine, this has a matte mouthfeel, a taut acidic core and a bit of sourness on the finish. Rather severe for my tastes, although I must point out that I'm an idiot who doesn't know what he's talking about and wouldn't know a great wine if it bit him on the ass.

There is a '99 Papin Savenni¸res as well, but I recuse myself from notetaking, as I don't hear what it's trying to say. Or maybe it's not trying to say anything at all, but merely coughing up a hairball...? If you want to know about this one, ask Connell.

Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Demisec 1961. Medium gold color. Oh yeah, that's the stuff. Smells wonderful, leather and earth notes hit my nose first, followed by amber honey, apricot, lemon and wax hints. Utterly charming, nosalistically speaking. A sip, and it's a superbly balanced, wonderfully whole wine. No discernable sweetness, not a great deal of weight or substance, but very pretty and charmingly coy and elegant; Noel Coward in a smoking jacket, graying at the temples. The character of the wine reminds me of the few '49s I've encountered--small, expressive, puckish. The finish takes a surprisingly lubricious turn, spicy apricot and honey-leather just linger, linger and linger some more. Give it another ten years to really hit its stride, retry.

Andrew is playing the rousing chords of Mercyful Fate on the stereo, and is growing rather exasperated at the civilians referring to it as 'heavy metal.' "No, it's Satanic Death Metal," he explains, rolling his eyes exasperatedly--"listen, they're swearing allegiance to Satan... you won't catch Metallica doing that." All is clear now, so, in exchange for a promise of no more corked bottles, we too swear allegiance to our dark master and continue with the wines.

Chidaine Montlouis Clos Habert 2002. Cheerfully aromatic, bright and friendly to smell, lemon zest and minerals galore, apricot and chalk. Tastes even brighter and zippier than it smells, with a wonderfully tart wave of stony-citric fruit coming right at you, then going all velvety with a touch of canteloupe softness emerging in the midpalate, finally narrowing to a single lean lemon-chalky note on the finish. Striking, complete, another lovely '02. Mr. Connell clarifies: while '02 is clearly a great demisec vintage, '03 is shaping into an extraordinary mo‘lleux vintage. Ugh, how annoying; I ask Lisa to begin looking into a second mortgage on the cat.

Domaine de Peyra Cuvée la Roche 1999. Giddily aromatic, strawberry-cherry laced with rhubarb, cinnamon and assy earthiness, or perhaps earthy assiness. Bright and crisp, cheerful and medium-light bodied. A joyful little wine, a party in my mouth. Consensus wine of the night.

Pierre Bréton Bourgueil Grandmont 1996. Slightly more open aromatically than the '97, gravel and dark cran-raspberry redfruit, crushed lava (a'a, not pahoehoe). A sip, and it's a forceful, aggressively taut wine, hard and chiseled, a mouthful of dark berry, rocks and gritty tannins. A beast: impressively built, tightly packed, nothing but slouching potential at this point. Let it sleep. Jay likes it more than the '97; it seems he's a bit of a masochist.

Pierre Bréton Bourgueil Grandmont 1997. Smells of cran-raspberry laced with dark sod and tobacco leaf. Tastes ripe and dark, medium-bodied, bright acidic core, some fine glassy tannins on the finish. Young and taut, but a chiffon-wrapped floozy compared to the '96.

Philippe Leclerc Gevrey-Chamberin Les Cazetiers 1992. Strangely shirazzy nose, plum and clove, quite ripe-smelling. Tastes soft and flavorful, with a bit of a reduced hoisin character and another wave of cloviness on the finish. Pleasant, but odd.

Joseph Drouhin Vosne-Romanée 1988. Medium ruby color. Smells lightly of dustberry and horehound. Satiny, light and supple little pinot, very smooth and easygoing. Not a lot of complexity, but a very pleasing little wine.

A fine match with the proto-cassoulet and grilled pork.

Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin Lavaux St. Jacques 1977. Sedimentary brown color, the same hue as homemade iced tea. I don't know if this is another badly stored bottle, or if the wine has just outlived its days on earth, but this bottle is a breeze from the crypt. Decayed earth and leaves cling to its corpse as it shambles into the night, and it seems in life to have had a preference for root beer, as there's a streak of that in the nose as well. Let it go, let it go, it has brains to eat.

Château Lafon-Rochet St. Estèphe 1955. Seems like another undead wine. Medium ruby color, ambering substantially at the rim, less so into the heart of the wine. Smells very developed and tertiary: earth and leaves, shoyu, tea, very very muted crushed-brick-laced redfruit. First sippage impressions are not positive--the wine is dominated by leafy flavors and acidity. I'm surprised because the TJCWRAAD Vintage Guide clearly states: "All wines from 1955 Are Drinking Well Right Now." Strangely (or perhaps not), with an hour or so of air the fruit reddens, plumps out a bit and fills in a few of the cracks in the facade. Normally a wine of this seasoning will fade with air, this seems to gather a second wind, like a vampire that has fed. Not quite on life-support, but not going anywhere but down from here.

Château Léoville-Barton St. Julien 1998. Medium-dark garnet, purpling lightly at the rim. Smells of dark redfruit laced with cedar, black olive and tobacco. Tastes young and clean, rather vague in the middle but finishes with a nice cherry-earthy hum. Not bad young Bordeaux, although there's a sense of understuffedness that's hard to shake.

Villa del Lago Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2003: Smells like... hmmm... it's an odd one... are you ready? Here we go: Beet Fruit Punch. Bigger and weightier than last year's version, although mostly in an odd way. I want to go back to it later, but circumstances intrude.

Montevertine Vina da Tavola di Toscana Il Sodaccio 1995. Muted cherry-leather hints, quiet but clear. Tastes taut and hard, there's a firm vein of nice dark fruit in there, but it's rather ungiving now. Give it time.

Vallana Gattinara 1997. Strange-smelling--plaster, plum and cherry with an odd truffley-mushroomy funkiness. No one is quite sure if something's wrong, or exactly what's going on with this wine. Tastes loose and slightly watery, with more dark fungus on the finish, as well as some fine glassy tannins. Odd, and not very pleasant.

Nalle Zinfandel Sonoma County Dry Creek Valley 1993. It's alive. Yep, that's about it, it's alive. Actually, it's not showing it's age at all. Still simple and straightforward, black cherry/raspberry flavors, ripe and smooth but fairly muted at this point. Not bad, not particularly good, just decent zin.

We're all about to start retasting and/or peer-group pressuring Andrew into raiding the cellar, when Lisa, who alone among us can read a railroad schedule, informs us that it's GO NOW or wait until the five-fifteen a.m. train. We GO NOW, trundling drunkenly out the door, at the same time realizing that we didn't have any more corked wines after all, and joyfully thanking our new master for coming through for us.

Happy Satanic New Year to all!

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