We're late to Kane's place, as usual. Lisa and I had driven back from Connecticut, fallen into a stuporous summer-afternoon nap, then been the victim of unplanned subway rerouting. And damn, we can't even blame the Republican invasion, they and their protester friends having fled and turned the town back over to the rest of us. We also can't find an open grocery store to pick up the bread that was requested of us, so it's a shamefaced and sweaty pair of winegeeks that shows up on Brad's doorstep an hour or two later than planned.

Happily, Buster doesn't care, and neither do his pals Joe and Denyse. And, as much as you can count on us being late, you can count on Brad not having dinner ready until midnight, so against all odds things seem to have worked out all right.

I try to take a moment or two to decompress, but Brad 'The Lamb Guy' Kane bounds over and says "Have you tried it yet? Have you tried it yet??" while thrusting a bottle of Francois Pinon Vouvray Cuvée Tradition 2003 at me. I reflexively blurt out YES yes I have, and the little guy's so disappointed that I assure him I'm willing to pretend I haven't, and proceed accordingly, with many surprised and enthusiastic oohs and aahs thrown in for good measure. No one can fake it like me, brother: I have a degree in faking.

Um, so HAD I tasted it before, I MIGHT have thought it seemed to be another victim of the freak '03 summer, acid-deficient and limp. This bottle shows considerably better than that hypothetical one, still rather squishy but with a tangy green-apple snappiness to the midpalate fruit that helps assuage the lack of tumescence. It's actually quite friendly and likeable tonight--there's a great deal of flavor and I like it very much, although it's not a bottle I'd choose to age. Drink while you're waiting for your '00s and '02s to come around

Here's a Bodegas Muga Prado Enea Rioja Gran Reserva 1995. Quiet, velvety aromatics, balsamic hints, cherry and sandalwood, just a hint of high-note volatility. Medium bodied, tastes quiet and elegant, but rather closed and shy as well, a bright wine with an elusive vagueness at the core. The structure is good, firm acidity, fine tannins, lean and composed. Dressner calls it "pedestrian Rioja"; I wonder if it's just closed for business. Hold 'em if you got 'em.

It's midnight and we've only got salad plates, but here's the lamb. Tasting it blind, I guess it to be New Zealand, but Brad reports that it's actually Australian. Nice work, none of the usual heaviness and overmanipulated terroir-masking qualities here, just clean, tasty flesh. One of the new boutique organic/bio estates perhaps? He's not sure. But he does present the table with a canister of Himalayan salt from France, guaranteed to be two hundred million years old and full of wonderful special minerals from the cold places at the top of the world. There is a special salt implement, a small wooden tube that looks vaguely head-shoppish: all in all it's an electrifying condiment experience.

Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc 2001. Medium-dark garnet color. Smells lightly herbal, oregano and cedar over taut blackberry-cassis. Firm core of acidity, the velvety-plush midpalate seems to be receding--I daresay this is shutting down, and shutting down hard. A bottle six months ago was broad and spicy, exuberantly chewy-meaty, this is much more elegant and compact. Lots of anise and cedar on the finish, a nice match with the lamb.

I feel a rustling at my feet and look down, only to find the neck label from many of my favorite cult wines staring back up at me (and for the record, his eyes never looked so deep and soulful in black and white). Buster is prowling around under the table accepting surreptitious gobbets of lamb from all concerned. Brad frowns down at him, "The inside of my thigh is NOT LAMB," he announces. I wonder aloud if this is the first time this sentence has ever been spoken.

Château Montus Madiran 2000. Dark garnet color, purpling at the rim. Light hint of horsiness over tarry-brambly blackfruit. Dark and black at the core but surprisingly accessible and juicy, without too much overt abrasiveness. Some rough grainy tannins appear in the finish but are lost amidst the earthy-berry fruit.

Dressner is having some kind of cellphone adventure, dialing the phone and saying "Why are you mad? Leave the message of peace!" and answering with the same cryptic utterance when it rings. I figure it's some high stakes code-worded business deal, and I'm just about to ask him to explain himself when I'm suddenly violated by the extremely peculiar sensation of having a long wet tongue slide into the gap between my first and second toes (and if you know me, it's quite a gap). I yelp and almost knock my glass over until I realize that it's only Buster, foraging for whatever he can find under the table. I toss a piece of lamb towards the kitchen and he scuttles after it, leaving my toe-cleft wet and buzzing but none the worse for wear.

Château La Roque Pic St. Loup 'Cupa Numismae' 2000. Ripe dark cran-raspberry fruit, quiet earthy-leatheriness, lots of toast and smoke. Your basic generic ripe oaky red, but one that retains good balance and has a sense of composure, doesn't try to overpower. Smooth and compact, very decent.

Brad explains that when he was still working in retail, that Lisa, in her capacity as wine consumer, led him on to believe she was the perfect mate for him. She explains that it was only in order to get the employee discount on the high-octane shiraz we favored in those more innocent far-off days.

Domaine le Briseau Coteau du Loir 'Jules' 2002. Is this a Louis/Dressner wine? I guess not, but it sure looks like they're doing an hommage to the Louis/Dressner label, same typeface (Bodoni? Is that bodoni?), and layout style. Anyway, it's a medium gold color, with an smells ripe and a touch oxidative, airy-minerally-CreamSicle nose, rocks dusted with hints of vanilla and orange rind. Just a hint of fizziness, medium sweet and creamy-smooth, with a rich, dense middle tapering into a ripe, lip-smacking finish. A rather offbeat wine, but very likeable.

On the way back home we both fall fast asleep on the train and end up in Newark, bleary-eyed and emotionally naked. But our adventures there are a story for another day, suffice to say we eventually made it home safe and sound.

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