Poor Jay Miller.

I tried to warn him, even to the extent of squalling "Watch out, that stuff will FUCK you UP!" every time SFJoe waved the bottle of 1928 Armagnac in his direction, but would the man listen?

No. He just kept glancing at his watch and saying "I was supposed to leave at ten, it's now _____ (twelve, twelve-thirty, one, one-thirty...), I have to be at work in ____ (five, four, three...) hours," and then he'd return inexorably to the small glass with the amber fluid. I look up from my drunken wrangling with Joe to shake my head sorrowfully. He'll regret it in the morning, I know from sad experience; that Armagnac smells like love and wraps around your tongue like a latex anaconda, but in the end it takes you over the edge, pins you down and beats on the inside of your skull till you pray for death.

But enough of that, let me begin properly at the beginning...

So anyway, we arrive at SFJoe's sixth annual Bastille Day midsummer porkfest an hour late. I'm a bit off kilter, annoyed at arriving an hour late, annoyed at Lisa because she snapped at me when she realized we were going to be arriving an hour late, annoyed that I've forgotten that there was supposed to be a theme of French wine, having brought some American swill with the usual intention of shocking and horrifying the local citizenry.

So everyone is here and Joe is chopping and mincing around the kitchen. That is, mincing and chopping, both while in the kitchen. Mincing, with a knife, oh you know what I mean. Someone hands me a glass of Huet Vouvray Le Mont Sec 1996, and it's like water on a wilted fern. Medium to medium light gold color, brightly aromatic, all lemon-honey and rocks. In the piehole it's zippily crisp, squeaky-dry and weighty, wonderfully nimble for such a bruiser. The middle blooms with quince and more lemon, which hang on with the rocky underpinnings all the way through the long, flickery finish. Damn, this is good.

Next is a Raveneau Chablis Chapelots 2000. Smells like... air? Nothing? Okay, must focus. Swirl, swirl, okay, here's some light yellow apple hints, traces of light chalkiness. Smooth and silky, refined and cohesive, it's nevertheless rather vague and inert after the brawny and precise Huet. Not bad for chardonnay, I guess.

Here's a Trimbach Riesling Clos St. Hune Spâtlese Trocken 1988: Pale straw-tan color. Smells beguiling: light vinyl, white flowers and white peach, wonderfully subtle up my nose. Tastes creamy and lithe, plenty crisp but with the impression of tongue-stroking softness, a feathery glide up and down that just asks to be savored. Marvellous with Joe's signature scallop-olestra dish.

Lisa mentioned that she dissected scallops recently in biology class and Joe looks perplexed. "What next, dissecting a marshmallow?" he asks.

I didn't realize this was going to be a grand cru jeebus, and I'm feeling a little underprepared. Okay, maybe my ugly American will do itself proud, let's open it up to give it a little time to air out. Justin Winery Isosceles Paso Robles 2000: Goddamnit, it's corked--Lisa's yellow flag is thrown without compunction. I'm really sick of this. I suppose it's fitting, since it was outside the Kane-declared theme, but that, coupled with the fact that we're late and have shown up (having forgotten the theme) with wrong wine in the first place, sends me plunging into the valley of sullenness.

For reasons unfathomable, a glass of Corked Champagne has been saved for me. "Go ahead, smell THAT!" someone says. Why they want me to do this I only realize when the glass approaches, for it's foully, reekingly tainted. I won't even bring it close to my nose, and when a figure who may or may not have been Kane offhandedly goes to dump it in the bucket on the table, I stop him and insist he take it out of the room and dump it into the kitchen sink.

Well, that was pleasant. Thanks for sharing that experience with me, chums.

Can't a hard-workin' man get some dry Bonnezeaux around here? Why yes, here's the cult favorite Marc Angeli Anjou La Lune 2000. Always an impressive wine to nose at, this has lost some of the Creamsiclishness that it had when it was an infant. Now it's showing more muscat-apple spiciness laced with white roses; the hints of orange and vanilla are still there, but they've moved to the background. Dry, but not severely so, it's a big, friendly wine that I find irresistible. Focus isn't a strong point, but the smooth flow of spicy chenin eases my mind and momentarily soothes my psyche.

Until I look up from my glass to find that I am being indicted on the charge of having no Jewdar. I plead nolo contendere, but offer up geographic isolation as a mitigating factor. The court is not moved. Is there more wine? Better move on to some reds...

Maison J. Drouhin Beaune Greves 1996. Medium dead red color. Taut cherry-beet aromatics, dusted with hints of cinnamon and clove. Crisp, closed and on the hard side, it's got something going on but it's not ready to show it to me just yet. With air there's some minor movement away from the clenched fist, some flashes of poise and potential, but I have no patience to sit and listen. Snap out of it already!

What the hell are they talking about down at the end of the table? Dried ponds? Lungfish? Mucusballs?

"What is the purpose of a pond?" asks Connell. There is a contemplative silence. Me drink more now good.

Fourrier Griotte-Chambertin Vieille Vigne 2000. This domaine, known mostly for its campaign to remove excess Ss from wine labels, has always been a favorite. Lots of horehound-laced berry-cherry fruit, straightforward and cheerful. Flavors follow the smells in a minor key, a small, expressive mouthful of pinot, delicate on the outside but with a firm core. Nice. Unassuming. Nice.

Château de Pez St. Estèphe 1990. Hey, it's one of those oddball grapes from the southeast of France that we've all heard about! Smells like a pool of black currants, hints of smoke and tobacco and old leather. Tastes cassis-berried, smooth and very likeable, with sufficient acidity. Here there be gobs! Softer and fleshier than I remembered, perhaps it's just the company.

Alain Graillot Crôzes-Hermitage La Guiraude 2001. Dark purply-black color. Smells of black olives and african violets, smoked meat and a good whiff of iodine. Rich and racy, it has a plush skin that is unusual for Graillot, velvety smoky-dark softness surrounding the usual stern acidic core. The mouthfeel is quite matte, almost to the point of roughness, but the wine is fuller and less dominated by structure than usual; it's a kinder, Kane-friendly Guiraude. Impressive. Still, you'll want to hold it for at least a demidecade or two.

Joe says "I've got a bunch of probably-dead bottles that I was just going to get rid of. Shall we try them?" Yes, we shall. I personally volunteer to be the last stop before the drain.

Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel California Geyserville 1982. Hey, it's alive! Quietly earthy muted cherry, tree bark and old cedar. Soft and muted, tastes of faded berries and brown sugar, no tannin at all, soft and... oops, it's going away... there it goes, oh dear. Seemed lively at first, disintegrates before our very eyes, turning belly-up and expiring quietly in the glass. But for the first ten minutes it was pretty nice.

Ridge Vineyards Petite Sirah York Creek 1982: Another corked bottle. Ah, to have been lovingly stored all these years when it was spoiled all the while, it's the quintessential romantic moment.

Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1989: No longer a varietal zinfandel, this has studied hard and graduated to the esteemed ranks of proprietary wines. Touch of acetonic volatility hovers over a dark muted blackberry-cassis fruit, suffused with a crushed-brick earthiness. Soft and warm up front, turns silky and earthy in the middle, finishes quietly. Easygoing and fully resolved, not even a flicker of tannin left. This is drinking very nicely, but may be just one or two steps over the crest of the hill. Drink 'em if you got 'em.

Here's a Chevillon Nuits-St.-George Bousselots 1993, which is (continuing tonight's theme) also quite corked, the fourth lost bottle so far this evening. It's been awhile since we've had a night like this, I guess this is making up for the unprecedented three-month run last year without one tainted bottle. Lisa accepts my challenge to draw a TCA molecule, sketching it out on a pad she carries for just such purposes. She shows it to Joe, who makes one correction, then gives it his seal of approval. We eye it angrily, the enemy of all that is good and lovely in this world, mapped out in front of our very eyes. Damn, it's an ugly sonofabitch, too.

Now with a pair of funky cheeses, it's a Moulin Touchais Anjou 1959. Medium gold color. There is a quick flare of horror at the prospect of yet another tainted bottle, but we're okay, as it's just a combination of bottle funk and old chenin wet-woolliness. "It's funky," I say, "but in a good way, a woolly way, not like a dank basement." Kane, seemingly thinking aloud, says dreamily, "I love the smell of dank basements..."

No one can come up with a suitable rejoinder, so the matter is let drop.

Oh my, this is luscious; layered and bright and oh so subtly expressive. The aromas of tea, quince, honey, leather lanolin and orange-apricot all swirl and flicker through my nostrils. Medium sweet, still vivid and bright, lemon-honeyed in the middle, spreading out in light, precise layers on the finish. Could use a few more decades, but drinking wonderfully right now. Drink or hold.

As I come out of my chenin reverie I find that Lisa is poking her hand under my nose, trying insistently to force me to sniff at her cheese-smeared finger. The first cheese had a sweat-socky thing, but this new one smells kind of musky and slightly metallic, earthy and spicily familiar, like... like... ah, hm. Oh.


Well then. Yes. I see what she's getting at. Ahhhmmmm.... yes.

I'm trying to keep this as delicate as possible, so ah let's just say that the cheese has a rather pungent spicebox womanliness to it. Lisa notices it first, I notice it, then most everyone notices it. Only an innate sense of propriety prevents me from reporting that it is summarily dubbed 'The Pussy Cheese.' And when it is discovered that the label, astoundingly enough, reads "Cowgirl Creamery Cheese," much uproarious merriment of a rather ribald nature ensues on this and several other closely related subjects.

No no no.

See what I've done? Now I'm ashamed of myself. I've sunk to a new low. I'm very, very sorry. No, really. You shouldn't have to read this kind of vulgar drivel when all you're looking for is a nice note or two about wines with good black cherry fruit or whatever, it's simply not decent. Please forget I ever said anything about it. It's disgraceful, a group of adults (or at least me) behaving like seventh graders. I was raised better than this, really I was.

Well, at least in theory.

In all the uncouth hubbub I miss something. Is there a Roty red from 1994 somewhere? Or is it also corked? Whatever it is, it's gone now, but Joe has a mystery wine that he's passing around.

Joe's Mystery Wine: Medium ruby color. Earthy, gamy nose ("This thing REEKS!" squeals Kane). A sip, and it's got a hard, sour-cherry entry, spreading out a little in the middle, where the redness mutes out towards brickiness, and muted red berry flavors emerge to clothe the earlier tartness. The wine finishes with a light horehound spiciness, but the overall impression is one of thinness and severity. Connell pronounces it a Gevrey-Chambertin, the rest of us figure why bother to guess? (F. Esmonin Gevrey-Chambertin Les Ruchottes 1993)

Grumbling about the '94 Roty that I missed, I make an offhand remark, something along the lines of "Did anybody make good Burgundy in 1994?" and Joe is off again, returning with Domaine de l'Arlot Nuits St. George Clos de l'Arlot 1994. Medium straw color. Yellow apple, pear, smoke and burnt firecracker paper. Also tastes slightly burnt, was there a fire in the vineyard? If you ignore the burnt taste, you've got a lean, fading yellowfruity wine that doesn't do much for me.

And another, this time a Lou Latour Corton-Charlemagne 1994. Medium straw color. Bit fruitier-smelling than the last, pineapple and pear laced with vanilla and light butterscotch. Plenty of new wood here, but there's decently lively fruit as well, although the two aren't quite in synch. Still, it's not bad on its own oaky-chardonnay terms. Drinkable, sort of.

We're all fairly well lit, but when Kane absentmindedly bangs his lip attempting to drink white Burgundy straight from the decanter while Connell is spilling the stuff all over the table, I know things are going too far. It's now that the little voice inside my head starts whispering "When the Armagnac comes out, for the love of god DON'T TOUCH IT!"

Stupid killjoy voice.

Kane and Joe are having one of those circular Kane-style arguments, although this time it isn't about acidity. Let's listen in...

Joe: "This is awfully woody."

Brad: "It's not woody at all."

Joe: "It's VERY woody."

Brad: "It's sweet and FRUITY. Fruit, caramel, botrytis, no wood."

Joe: "Where do you think that caramel comes from? Stems?"

Brad: "It's not woody!"

And so on. I have to see what they're talking about, so I try the Kracher Nouvelle Vague Grande Cuvée Number 10 Trockenbeerenauslese 1998 that's going past.

Yow. This may be nouvelle, but it sure as hell isn't vague. Rich, almost overpowering nose, botrytis-infused caramel, hay, ripe pear, vanilla, orange rind and Snickers bar. There's a whole lot going on, but it's trying too hard. A sip, and it's like tasting maple syrup, sweet and more sweet, rich and weighty in the piehole. There's enough acidity to get by, but the sweetness is overwhelming and a few sips are all I can handle. Finishes with just a touch of woody bitterness. Pretty interesting stuff, a powerhouse that is absolutely suffused with botrytis, but strange and slightly alarming.

Jay, who can barely stand, is attempting to escape while Joe and Kane argue about something. Out of my alcohol-induced haze I keep hearing the word "Marichu" and finally have to ask "What in the world is Marichu?"

Lisa pipes up: "You know, Pikachu's cousin. Instead of shooting lightning out his ass, she shoots it out of--"

"Oh for god's sake, let's not go there."

Brad has the last word: "And it smells like cheese!"


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