Several members of the New Jersey chapter of WLDGers Anonymous got together Sunday night at the lovely Basilico restaurant in New Jersey for a quiet welcome-to-town offline for Mike Ryan, late of Tokyo, now of Livingston, New Jersey. Of course, when you think of the great cities of the world you always must include Tokyo, London, Paris, New York, Livingston...

Lisa and I crawled out of our sickbeds long enough to make it over to Basilico (in historic Millburn, New Jersey), one of the Garden State's many fine BYO restaurants. It was cold. I was cranky. Having just shaken off some kind of nasty winter bug, would I be able to taste anything at all, or was it going to be an evening of colored water and papier-mch food for me?

As it turned out, although I was a little uncertain at first, I gradually warmed up a bit and eventually got up to about 85% of full capacity after the first few wines.

We started off with a Felline Primitivo di Manduria 1997: Not getting too much on the nose, although that's probably just me... hints of dark cherry and smoke--I swirl some more, but it's not giving much. Tastes tart-cherry-tangy, with some assertive acidity behind the bright fruit. Not lush, a fairly lean wine that turns a bit smoky-tarry on the finish. This doesn't do much for me. Leave zin to the Californians, I say, at least if this is at all representative of the Italian version.

On to a white or two:

Groom Sauvignon Blanc Adelaide Hills 1999 perks me up a bit with a pretty, velvety-smooth nose with soft limey notes and a slight snap-pea greenness. In the mouth more limey/white grapefruit citrus flavors, with an interestingly round mouthfeel, not as lean as the Kiwi SBs that I'm more used to. There is plenty of crispness, but there's some definite glyceriney roundness as well. Pretty nice stuff, though. Imported by LisaLisa Imports (no relation).

Gallo Sonoma Chardonnay Northern Sonoma 1995: Pale yellow-gold; oh god, here we go again... butter, pear-apple, piles of oak, creamy popcorn, yadda yadda, you know the drill. Not undrinkable, but on the cusp. Flecks of fig & pear play peekaboo amidst the brutal oakiness; a disjointed wine with decent acidity, but a hollowness in the fat butter-flavored-oil midpalate that segues quickly into a pervasive bitter-flinty quality and then simply falls off a cliff. Short, ugly. There is talk that the bottle is 'flawed' somehow, but I'm not sure what is meant by that other than the taste, which I suspect is as it is meant to be. Dump bucket fodder.

Oy. Just as I'm thanking the wine gods for my leftover cold, here come some reds.

Castello di Verrazzano Cinquecentenario di Verrazzano Chianti Classico Riserva 1985: I admire the portrait on the bottle of (I think) Mandy Patinkin as Georges Seurat, and am surprised by the youthfulness of this wine--no sign of age at all, still a young translucent red color. Tastes of slightly medicinal sour-cherry with a smoky undertone--still primary and tart, with some sneaky light gritty tannins. A racy, lean and tart wine that needs time and/or air.

A pair of older California cabernets...

Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1970: We briefly ponder the white snap-off plastic top that covers the cork on this wine, then move on. It's faded, gone bricky, turning to brown at the rim. The nose is earthy & leafy, with a haze of extremely muted, almost brown cassis fruit--pleasant and layered. Tastes soft and feathery, settles finely on the tongue like ash, but it's a bit limpid in the mouth, lacking grip. Interesting, but past its prime and fading, although it does win the Thunderbird Prize (just edging the Groom) by virtue of becoming Mike's favorite pour of the evening.

Vichon Cabernet Sauvignon Fay Vineyard 1980: The cork has disintegrated, and Lisa of the Magic Fingers is called in to deal with the situation. After a brief struggle, the bottle gives up--it knows it's outgunned. Muddier color than the Martini, but there's a bit more red to the core. Fairly light nose, dark red muted cassis, some earth, not too much there. Got a bit more oomph in the mouth, though, more acidity, more spine. A fairly light wine, this too is fading, and, although it's not as complex as the Martini, has better grip in the mouth.

After the two older cabs we have two youths for contrast.

Amizetta Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve Napa Valley 1992: Medium-dark garnet color; slightly soft in the mouth, smooth... cassisfruity, with hints of pizza herbs & some fine tannins swooping in on the finish. A bit short, a bit generic, but lightly herby and pleasant.

Ferrari-Carano Reserve Sonoma 1992: A Bordeaux-style blend. Medium-dark purply-garnet; smoke, plum and cassis on the nose, dark and velvety-smelling. Nice dark forward dense fruit and a dose of smoky oakiness, a silky mouthfeel, decently balanced acidity, some gritty but fairly unobtrusive tannins. Pretty nice. This wine has a waistcoat, or, as we might put it these days, this wine is dead butch.

And the odds and ends...

Château de Pibarnon Bandol 1994: Medium, slightly cloudy garnet; clear redfruit nose with light hints of leather & horsiness, not lush-smelling, but pleasantly intricate. In the mouth there is a lot of structure--this is a lean, racy wine with a light but meaty mouthfeel. Medium-weight, still seems a bit young and tight, but there is definitely pleasure to be had here from the interplay of the dark, slightly hard berryfruit, the smoky/earthy notes and the coiled spine of acidity. This is not a wine that reaches out to you, but one that takes a bit of figuring out. Nevertheless, I like it.

Zenato Amarone Classico 1990: Slightly translucent medium garnet all the way through. Nose is a bit tight, a bit closed up, surrendering light berry-cassis notes with some swirling. Tastes silky and smoothly fruity, hints of brown sugar in the midpalate, plenty of primary redfruit to go around, plenty of potential, but this needs more time to develop.

And finally, a sweetie to send us off into the Jersey night...

Château Tirecul La Graviere Monbazillac 1996: Pale gold color; bright, lush nose--plenty of apricot, vanilla & botrytis to go around, although maybe more vanilla than I'd have preferred. It's a big-tasting wine, rich and sweet and boisterous, with lots of nice curves and a supple spine. Finishes with some slightly off-putting woody tannins, but that's a quibble, as I like the wine.

We offer a domo arigato to Oleg for organizing, then take Mike out into the cold Jersey night and give him a friendly shove in what Oleg thinks is the general direction of Livingston, his new home. Then we crawl back to our beds, to await the next call to arms.

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