Sunday morning. I awake with an odd taste in my mouth and a fuzziness about my brain. I smell strangely of meat and malt and seem to be wearing someone else's pants.

What has happened here?

Last night... last night... it's all starting to come back to me...

There were six of us, six lucky bastards being shown the true meaning of hospitality at the elegant Manhattan digs of the WLDG's own SFJoe. In attendance were your humble narrator and Frau Lisa, Mike and Kim Bassman, the irrepressible Brad Kane, swanky man-about-town Andrew Scott, and, of course, our benevolent host, slingin' the metaphoric hash with one hand and pouring the vino with the other, slingin' and pourin', slingin' and pourin. Of course, "hash" is a fairly weak metaphor for the kind of culinary delights that kept appearing from across the Line-of-Death kitchen boundary: exquisite tuna tartare as an appetizer, oysters and morels, fresh corn relish, blackened duck breast to die for, and so on. Joe's hospitality is apparently legendary, but this was my first opportunity to see exactly why. Now I understand completely.

Joe started the ball rolling with two whites, served blind, in a mini-comparison.

White 1: Pretty, light lemony-yellow. Light, bright nose, slightly creamy lemon/lime, stony notes underneath and an odd note that Kim describes as celery, but strikes me as almost gunpowdery; tart & crisp, slightly puckery-tart at first, a medium-weight wine, slightly heavy mouthfeel, but very crisp, bit of a creaminess to the minerally background & citrusy notes, tangy long finish. Seems like a riesling to me. (Prager Feinburgunder Smaragd 1995)

White 2: Pale yellow; light chardonnay nose--pear & slight butteriness with some flinty notes underneath; bit of wood, but not enough to be a problem. In the mouth slightly oily, chardonnay feel, round in the mouth but with some nice crisp acidity & a flinty undertone that follows the nose. Pear flavors in the midpalate, quiet smooth finish. Pleasant. Nice white Burg? (Ridge Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 1993)

Well, the lesson here being that these two extremely different wines were made from the same grape, "Feinburgunder" being Austrian slang for "Chardonnay sneakily disguised as Riesling."

Actually, as I remember, this was about the point where Andrew staggered in from the rainstorm outside, drenched and looking like a drowned rat-about-town, but producing four very safe, dry, bagged bottles from a waterproof, stormproof backpack, along with equally dry herbs from his garden for the chef. Joe, host supreme, quickly provides him with a dry 'Ridge: Day in the Vineyards' T-shirt in a foreshadowing of things to come.

We move on with more whites, all blind:

White 3: Pale yellow; spritzy mineral/citrus/gasoliney nose--rieslingish--Feinburgunder?! Nahhhh. Bright and smooth, medium acidity, crisp but not sharp, nice weight, feels good in the mouth, rich & tangy. Alsace riesling? (Zind-Humbrecht Clos St. Urbain Rangen Riesling Reserve Lutece 1988)

Nice. Mike apparently picked this up for some absurdly low price at Warehouse. I mentally remind myself to go check out Warehouse again sometime soon.

White 4: Paler yellow; very light nose, light honey/mineral background with some interesting raspberry notes floating above. A sip, and YOW mouth-puckering acidity grabs me under my tongue and won't let go. Very, very, very tart, but also a pleasantly rich, medium-weight wine that has more beguiling raspberry notes that emerge with a bit of air. Brad and Andrew, sitting by me, like this very much, but it's a bit shrill for my tastes. (Francois Cazin Cour-Cheverny Vendages Manuelles 1996)

White 5: Light yellow-tan; Soft, ethereal nose--limestone, honey-lemon; a taste, and after the sharp Cour-Cheverny this seems very round and mellower than it might have otherwise, I suspect. Pleasantly stonefruity, mellow, pleasant, with decent crispness. I have no idea what it is. (Chateau Montelena Johannisberg Riesling Potter Valley 1997)

White 6: (I brought this one, so it's not really blind); Pale ecru color; light, light nose, mineral/rainwater/ginger. Slightly viscous in the mouth, medium-bodied, crisp enough but far from sharp. Flavor base is rainwater/minerally, with a light peachiness in there as well. Interesting wine--very calm and restrained and silky. Some folks guess white Bordeaux. (Domaine Gauby Roussillon Vielles Vignes 1996)

That ended the whites. We sat down to our gorgeous repast of blackened duck breast and started in on the blind reds. I'm having trouble paying attention to taking notes, can't seem to balance the fork in one hand and pen in the other, and I am powerless to resist the platter of duck every time it passes by, so if my recollections seem sketchy, please understand.

Red 1: (Another of mine, not blind for me) Medium ruby; slightly stinky earthy nose, cassis/menthol notes; in the mouth smooth & slightly funky--plummy & pleasant, slightly tarry, cassis/damp badger/menthol flavors, light tannins. Joe and Brad thinks it seems cooked, seems okay to the rest of us. Mike and Andrew pick this as South of France, Brad says cab, Joe votes for satellite Bordeaux. (Mas de Gourgonnier Réserve du Mas Les Baux de Provence 1994)

Red 2: (Mine also) Medium garnet; earthy, spicy/horehound nose; rich, earthy smooth pinot. I've had this wine several times and always like it a lot, but it seems a bit closed tonight. (Bitouzet-Prieur Volnay Taillepieds 1993)

Red 3: (Sighted) Tardieu-Laurent Cornas 1996: Dark, dense garnet; nose of rich new oak over blackberry, earth & band-aids. Smooth, velvety wine with decent acidity & nice rich fruit and a long smooth finish. Pleasant enough, but made somewhat unremarkable by a boatload of oak. Joe, shaking his head at the oak levels in this one, says merely "it's a shame."

Red 4: Medium-dark garnet; cassis & light minty/menthol, tar & toasty hints; brisk, crisp, full-flavored and smooth, with light tannins. I like it. Andrew says Bordeaux, I agree. (Château Lynch-Moussas Pauillac 1996) We high-five.

At this point the evening takes a Twilight-Zoneish turn for me, for to my horror Joe has somehow acquired a bottle of my old nemesis Wincarnis N.V. Jamaican Meat Wine (made with only the finest extracts of meat and malt!) and is passing glassfuls of it around the table for sampling, along with a cell phone that is connected to the guy who provided this bottle, to whom we give our impressions of this wonder. Just as I start to look around for Allen Funt, Mike Bassman, gesticulating wildly, knocks a full glass of the stuff right into the middle of my previously Meat Wine-free lap, giving my white pants the look of an orange-yellow leopard skin. Not wanting to have dogs follow me home, I change quickly into some shorts that our gracious host was kind enough to provide. What can you say about a host who wines, feeds and clothes you?

When I return Andrew has produced his matched trio of bagged bottles and declares a mini-blind tasting on the Pinot Noir theme.

Pinot 1: Pale medium-light garnet; light soft nose; soft cherry-earth flavors, pleasant & smooth, fairly simple & low-acid, toasty oaky hints on the finish. A small, softer-styled wine, but nice. (Porter Creek Russian River Valley Creekside Vineyard 1995)

Pinot 2: Another controversy--Brad and Joe think this is corked, the rest of us don't see it. Happily, I have a tremendous tolerance for TCA, so I'm the last person to ask, but Lisa can't stand the stuff even in tiny doses and she doesn't see it, so we all sniff and wait and sniff and wait some more. Eventually I just take notes: Medium-light garnet; rich, light but smooth pinot nose of earth, plum & carroty hints; balanced and crisp in the mouth, spicy cherry, savory/earthy notes, very fine tannins. (Prince Florent de Mérode Corton Les Bressandes 1995)

Pinot 3: Medium garnet; richer cherry/cranberry/mushroomy fruit. Bit tart in the mouth, sharper than number one, rich, nice pinot, more guts than the first, more of an edge. (Piguet-Girardin Santenay La Comme 1er Cru 1995)

Or perhaps number three was the one Brad and Joe thought was corked. My recollection is a little fuzzy.

Anyway, our host had one last blind red for us:

Final Mystery Red: Medium-dark garnet; smooth cassisfruit--toast and tar, slightly oreganoish. In the mouth fresh cherry/plum, rich & dark & smooth. Seems youngish, openly tannic & fresh. Mike says St. Julien, Andrew says Graves, I, on the theory that enough wildass guesses will lead to at least one astonishing success by the year 2020, proclaim it the '95 La Mission Haut-Brion. (Opus, Quo Vadis Dominus Napa 1985) Go figure. At any rate, it was very nice.

Well, having put that many reds out of their misery, it was time to move on to the sweeties:

Papin-Chevalier La Pierre de Coulaine Savannieres Doux 1997: Pretty light gold color; spritzy apricot/hay/pineapple notes just leap out of the glass at you. Crisp in the mouth, a lively, very sweet and rich sweetie with a nice backbone of acidity that keeps it from even beginning to cloy. Very tasty.

Bodegas Toro Albalá Cordoba Pedro Ximénez 1972: Black as tar, thick as motor oil, sweet as hell. Marshmallow-caramel on the nose, toast and cream follow in the mouth. Very dense, very sweet, very interesting PX. I never quite know what to make of this stuff, but I like it in small doses.

Well, that about did it for me. A vast amount of excellent food and wine had left me ready to be poured into a cab and transported over state lines. I survived the trip, and today it seems my pants have survived the meat wine. All credit for a wonderful evening must go to our host, who went way above and beyond the call of duty to provide for us. Yet, speaking for myself, some of the credit must go to Robin, our virtual host, since six months ago all of these gracious folks were complete strangers, and it's only through the electronic magic of this virtual pub that Lisa and I were able to meet so many kind and kindred spirits.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming...

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