So Lisa and I arrive at the sixth annual 'Bon Voyage Dressners/Happy Birthday Lisa, Brad and SFJoe Festivizational Event,' only to find some kind of masquerade bottle shindig already underway, the long table at Manhattan's historic Café Loup groaning under the weight of mysterious bagged and foil-wrapped bottles.

Yow, there are all kinds of folks here. Look, it's Mike Bassman! I remember him! One of the casualties of the great winegeek fertility spike of a few years back.

And there's the irrepressible Bradley Kane IV, chatting with Luca Mazzoleni and a vivacious young lady friend of Luca's whose name goes in one ear and out the other. And of course there are the guests of honor, SFJoe and the various and sundry Louises and Dressners.

The jeeb is already in full swing, the mystery bottles passing in review at top speed. Before I can even get settled in, someone hands me a Mystery Foil-Wrapped White #1 and I take a quick pour. Medium straw-tan color, whiff of kerosene, touch of oxidation, hints of hay. Tastes crisp, lightly gingery-creamy, easygoing and rather neutrally rustic. The only thing I know about this is that it's something well outside my experience. On the spot, I hedge madly: some weird southern Italian, Greek or Yugoslavian grape? (Massa Vecchia Oriento??) (The label is unparseable; even after it's unveiled, I still can't figure out what it is or where it's from.)

I'm breathlessly unwrapping the Impitoyable knockoffs that I picked up today cheap from Jamie at Chambers. I struggle a little to fit my fingers into the rather small fingerholes, hoping against hope that they'll soon come out with a fat-finger version for those of us with more robust digits.

I've got the glasses out just in time, for here's a Mystery Foil-Wrapped Pink #1: Vivid pink, almost neon color. Smells bright and fruity, watermelon-strawberry candy, with a touch of yamskin underneath only slightly grounding the bright cherry-soda fruitiness. Crisp, simple and glossy, a happily one-note little New World rosé. Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare is my guess, or, just to be cheeky, a deeply colored Louis/Dressner red. (Heitz Cellars Grignolino Rosé Napa Valley 2001)

Where did all these wrapped and bagged bottles come from, anyway? My god, there's more coming, and coming fast. I try to stall by making small talk with nearby geeks, ordering up some oysters, asking questions that I know the answers to, anything to slow the flow of bottles ever so slightly.

My new glasses inspire Lisa to tell the story of being stopped in a downtown park by cops while walking back from a tasting with a bag full of half-full bottles, and upon being challenged for public drinking having Jennifer Munro plead "But we don't even have any stemware...!", which apparently amused the officers so much that they were allowed to proceed unticketed.

Here's a Mystery Bagged White #1: Pale straw color. Smells of lemon and beanbag chair, textbook riesling right off. Tastes lightly sweet with good structure and integration, a solid young German riesling of some kind, very pleasant but workmanlike. I dunno. Some young German riesling, okay? (Berncasteler Doctor H. Thanisch Riesling Spätlese 1998)

Well, so far I'm at least on the right continent with most of my guesses. That's a victory of sorts as far as I'm concerned.

Finally a bottle that declares itself, a Domaine de la Bongran/Thevenet Mâcon-Villages Cuvée Tradition 1999. Medium straw-gold color. Smells of hay, lemon and tangerine, baked yellow apples, almost aggressively aromatic. Rich and creamy-smooth pear-apple fruit up front, moderate to low acidity, but gets bumpy as it heads into the finish, with some jarring toastiness and a bit more tannin than I usually like in my chardonnay. Nice, awkward, a very poor match with the oysters that I'm trying to choke down. Is there a Muscadet in the house? No...?

"This looks to be a real mixed-up evening," says Dressner, leaning in towards me, "You need to find a Hoke."

This doesn't sound right to me. "A Hoke?" I swallow my last oyster and try to focus.

"A hook, a HOOK. There's no theme here, nothing obvious is presenting itself. No crack whores, no everyone-cancelling-at-the-last-minute, no visiting out of town geeks, nothing dominating the action. You need a hook to tie it all together. What will be tonight's hook?"

We sit in silence for a moment mulling this over, eyes wandering over the table and its denizens.

"There's Brad..." he begins, then trails off uncertainly.

"Bottles in foil?" I suggest. "Wines that have undergone both reverse osmosis and malolactic fermentation in barrel?" "The Buster Passport Predicament?"

Nothing is coming, but there's wine to be had. For instance, a Monte Vertine Le Pergola Torte 1982. Medium ruby color, bricking at the rim. Oh, sweet smellies, pretty layers of preserved cherry and leather, laced with fruitcake and dried bay leaf and just a hint of truffliness, a delight to sniff at. A sip, and it's a bit austere in the piehole, earthy at first, then thin and soft in the middle, diffuse, lacking mouthgrab. Finishes on a more positive note, leather and old wood hints, but then some aggressive glassy tannins charge in and make trouble, so I'm not sure what to think. Smells great, seems past its best days.

Next up is an old friend, a J.L. Chave Hermitage 1994. Medium-dark garnet color. Mmm... iodine... lots of iodine... red raspberry, baked yam, smoked meat and cracked peppercorn too, not ebulliently aromatic, but not reticent either, somewhere pleasant in between. A sip, and the acidity seems a little harder than in past bottles, just short of shrill, but there's lots of smoky, meaty flesh there to chew on. Medium-bodied, not a big wine but a lovingly complex one, with layers of flavor that come together and drift apart throughout the middle and on into the finish. The parts are all very nice, but the working together is what really makes this distinctive, a little concerto for strings in my mouth.

Ogier Côte-Rôtie 1995: Oh, bother. Corked. I was looking forward to this as a counterpoint to the Chave, but it seems we're screwed once again by our old friend the romance of cork.

Dressner is still mulling over the notion of a possible Hoke. "How about all these Italian professors who have endless academic theories and position papers about wine? Why is the educational system in Italy churning out nothing but wine professors, anyway?"

"Too obscure," I reply. We continue to throw out suggestions...

"No Triple Crown for Funny Cide today...?"

"The Kermit Lynch Experience CD...?"

"Camel toe...?"

But before we can decide I see Kane take a sip of something, make a horrible face, head straight for the spit bucket, then wail "Bleaaaaaaeeeeggggchhhhh!" Everyone else also recognizes the universal sign that there's good wine to be had, so I have to fight the eager crowd to get a pour of Foil-Wrapped Red #1: Medium to medium-light red color. Light but sneakily beguiling aromatics, hints of walnut and pizza herbs over tart cherryness. Taut, bright and nervy, a rather intense little wine that's also on the lean side. Dressner declares it "kind of bizarre, but nice." I guess red Sancerre, or maybe Pellé Menetou-Salon? (Domaine de Bellevière Coteaux du Loir Le Rouge-Gorge 2001)

Kane, aghast: "You all LIKE that?" General contented nodding. He affects several increasingly demented poses of shock and horror, for which he is rewarded with polite applause.

Mystery Red in Decanter: I know what this is because I brought it, so it's no mystery to me. (Pride Mountain Vineyard Merlot Napa Valley 1996) Dark garnet color. Sweetly oaky black cherry-cassis-toast-vanilla-smoke aromatics, I haven't had this in a few years and Pride Mountain wines are notoriously short-lived; this one is beginning to show clear cracks in the fruitcade, the bright creamy raspberry-sauce flavor has receded somewhat, leaving a whole lot of charry wood behind. Interestingly, it has also smoothed and calmed down, turning from the odd over-the-top portlike concoction that it was on release into a reasonable facsimile of a drinkable overwooded generic big red New World wine or one of those ugly garagiste St. Emilions. Probably as good now as it's ever going to get. Drink up, kiddies.

When it's unveiled Dressner says "Oh my god," and I rib him for calling it "Not bad, pretty restrained." He shrugs, "I meant for a late-harvest zin, which is what I thought it was, one of your Turley things." I attempt to start a chant of na-na na-na-na, DressnerlikedaPrideMerlot, but no one else is biting.

"C'mon now," he protests, "does that say anything of 'merlot' to you?"

"Of course not," I reply. "These are the people who have the wondrous ability to take any red grape and crank out a wine that tastes exactly like every other grape they vinify. You should taste their cab franc!" I pause and think that over for a moment... "Well, actually, I guess you just did."

Another old friend, a Château Cayrou Cahors 1982: Sweetly volatile, the acetone hints adding a high note to the wine's aromatics. Does any wine carry volatility better than Cahors? (Well, besides Musar, of course...). Under that there's the telltale pepper/bouillon/baked yam hints over a bricky muted raspberry base and light overtones of cedar. Smooth, balanced and complex on a compact scale, a very pleasing wine that I don't have enough time to dwell on, because the Burgundies are flowing this way.

Beginning with a Maison Joseph Drouhin Charmes-Chambertin 1996. Medium ruby color. Earthy-brick dusty nose, touch of clove, quiet aromatics. Tastes tartly cherried at first, then loses focus in the middle, dawdles a moment, then saunters sullenly to a smoky-gritty finish. Rather aggressivly uninteresting now, perhaps time will help it.

Wait a minute. If there's Drouhin here, then Miller is near. I stand up and scan the far end of the table, and sure enough, there's the familiar Mephistophelean visage. I wave, "Hi Jay!" He's talking to Luca, quite possibly about the vinous theories of Professor Attilio Scienza, but manages a slightly distracted reply-wave.

The Miller connection: it all makes sense now. And of course, here's a Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin Combe Aux Moines Vieille Vigne 1995. See above. Another tight, slightly hostile wine. Even more aromatically closed than the Drouhin, more minerally, very light stony-cherry hints are all that I can smell. Tastes tart and hard. Closed for business: let it sleep.

I've got some lamb that I'm supposed to eat, but there's no time for it now, as I hear the oohs and aahhs coming down the table following a bottle of Clos de Roilette/Coudert Fleurie Cuvée Tardive 2002. Mmm, smells of warm strawberry-raspberry compote underpinned with earth, satiny-smelling, with a plush nosefeel. Tastes smooth, elegant, supple, expressive, a real beauty that seems light and easy at first, but as it moves through the midpalate the strength and depth emerges to coil around my tongue like a velvet anaconda. SFJoe announces: "This is the first wine tonight that I've written BUY MORE in my notebook about." I quickly scribble BUY SOME in my notebook, just because someday I hope to be able to hang out with the cool kids, who all look up to SFJoe.

Castelvecchio Nebbiolo d'Alba 2000. Medium-dark garnet color. Ripe-smelling and robust in my nose, plums and red berries laced with licorice and sprinkled with burnt toast crumbs. This is a very big, meaty young nebbiolo. A sip, and it's got lots of slightly candied espresso-laced, chewy purple-red fruit, fairly low acidity and a fleshy mouthfeel. Friendly, ripe and quite unfocused, this is a Kane nebbiolo if there ever was one.

I think we're starting to see some of the bagged mystery bottles that I missed earlier make their way back down the table. Here's a Cold, Cold Foil-Wrapped White #1. I'm not sure where this came from, but there's a good buildup of frost on the outside of the bottle and the first wary sip is so cold that it hurts my teeth. Very pale straw color, with time it warms and gives up some light yellow apple, lemon-kerosene hints, seems to have some maturity. Shy, tart and a bit underripe-tasting: in the piehole it's mostly structure, not too much flesh on the bones, rather uninteresting. Middle-aged off-vintage German riesling? (J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese 1987)

The waitron removes my lamb mostly uneaten. "Didn't you like it?" asks Dressner. I did, but there was no time, and something had to give.

Here's a bottle that was once bagged but isn't anymore, a Colterenzio Sauvignon Alto Adige Lafóa 1997. Pale, slightly cloudy straw color. Egad, pungent litterbox aromas. I pass my glass towards Lisa, who looks at it quizzically, sniffs and yelps "Meee-OWWWW!" Underneath the catspray there are hints of grass and grapefruit, traces of lime rind and a light spicy creaminess. There seems to be good material here, it's got fine acidity and is bright and crisp, but I can't get past the overweening kittipissinicity.

Vilmart Champagne Brut Cuvée Rubis NV. Pale salmon color. Smells of cherry and carrot, has an easygoing fizziness and a touch of a candied-cherry quality. Not bad, but a little heavy, lacks nerve. Of course, the bottles been open for four hours and it may be a little flat at this point, so make of that what you will.

Château Rayne-Vigneau Sauternes 1988. Creamy, light nose, vanilla, orange rind, apricot, hay. Tastes big and rich, pretty sweet, nicely crisp and lightly botrytised. Sauternus Genericus, broad-beamed and friendly, if not terribly poised. Chubby and cheerful stuff that has hit its stride.

There's an animated conversation about spam happening across the table and SFJoe is launching into a description of his latest offer of some SUPERDUPERVIAGRA-type pill. Denyse Louis is puzzled at the notion of someone needing an erection for thirty-six solid hours, and SFJoe leans in conspiratorially, "Ah but that's the whole point. They call it 'The Orgy Drug'!"

I perk up at this, as it has a hooklike feel to it, and hastily scribble it down in my notebook. Can't quite figure out how I could work it in, though. Maybe when I sit down to type everything up it'll all fall into place.


Could happen.

Anyhoo, here's a Domaine le Clos de Caveau Vacqueyras Leo Muse 2000. Dark purply-red color. Smells reduced, dark raspberry-blackberry sauce laced with roastiness. A meaty wine, dense and chewily fruitpacked to the point of being tiring. Who is Leo Muse? Quickly dubbed The Reverse Osmosis Wine, it also wins the heavy bottle/deep punt award. I can fit two of my stout fingers entirely inside the punt. And I do, twirling the impaled bottle high in the air. "Stop that, that's disturbing!" snaps SFJoe.

Fritz Haag Riesling Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Auslese 1992. Medium straw color, golding in the center. Lots of kerosene here, yellow apple base, pine needles above and light minerals below. Medium sweet and lacking in focus, rather vague in the middle, but smooth, easygoing and layered, a pleasantly complex little sipper.

To fulfill the requirements of the North American Hybrid Quota Act of 2002, here's an Inniskillin Vidal Niagara Peninsula Ice Wine 1997. We watch as Kane absentmindedly pours most of the half-bottle into his glass. "Like the sweet stuff, huh?" I say. He looks down, "Oops," then starts doling out portions to those near him.

Mmm, smells like oranges and apricots wrapped in plastic and dusted with nutmeg and clove. A sip, and it's got a shiny apple-citrus thrust of glossy fruit, with a juicy lychee quality arising in the middle to meld nicely with the spicy apple-citrusicity. There's enough acid, but it's quite sweet and the dense mouthfeel has that vidal liquid-Saran-Wrap thing going on. SFJoe, a puzzled look on his puss, opines that "It tastes like it's made from Fine Corinthian Leather." Exactly. Still, it's spicy and expressive and well balanced for such a big, sweet wine, and it has some pleasant aromatic intensity. If it weren't so absurdly overpriced I might actually buy some more.

Domaine de Marcoux Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes 1993: Medium ruby color. Smells decent enough, lightly aromatic leathery brick-berry fruit. Tastes puckery-sour at first, then turns astringent, then the tannins claw at my tongue, then an ugly bitterness settles in by way of a finish, leaving a persistent bad taste in my mouth. Note to self: DO NOT EVER DRINK THIS WINE AGAIN.

What looks to be another lost ex-bagged bottle drifts down the table, a Van Volxem Riesling Wiltinger Gottesfus Alte Reben Qualitatswein 2001. Smells like good riesling fruit, lemon-peachy, laced with vinyl and yellow apple hints. In the piehole it's robust, lightly sweet and boisterous up front, with a happy burst of lemon-stony fruit that grows rather hefty, spreading itself thin in the middle, but rallying for a sweet finish. Big and easy to like, the lack of focus at the core is a quibble, it's a St. Bernard puppy of a riesling that slides down the gullet with the greatest of ease.

Er, not that I'd necessarily want a St. Bernard puppy sliding down my gullet.

Mm. Kids, sometimes when you run with a metaphor, you get thrown for a loss.

I have no idea what this next bottle is, but I'll try and transcribe the label... Villa Raiano Aedòn Irpinea Bianco 2001? Close enough. Smells interesting, spearmint and apricot in equal doses, hints of caramel and vanilla. Tastes ethereally creamy, quite light, both lightly sweet and lightly acidic. Interesting but odd, it just sort of evanesces on the tongue, I don't quite know what to make of it.

The night is winding down, the remaining bottles are being drained vigorously. This has the usual result that of several silly drunken wrangles emerging, mine with Kane about the whole Newlywed Game 'In the butt, Bob' story, which I've always been told was an urban legend. Turns out new footage has been found sometime during the last few years, and, after a quick check at Snopes, Kane's assertion that it's the real McCoy is proved to be absolutely correct. I am shamed, and lose face with my mate and my peers.

On last red straggler, a Quinta do Vale Meão Douro 1999. Very dark purple color, almost black. A mouthful of dark plum-blackberry fruit suffused with toastiness, big, rough and chewy. The Portuguese must have better eyesight than ordinary mortals, as tiny, tiny label print announces the appointment of Professor Francesco de Olazabal y Nicolas de Alieida as overseeing oenologist. "More wine professors!" crows Dressner, "There, that's GOT to be the hook!"

It's just not ringing my bell: "Maybe the hook is that there is no hook?"

"That's pretty feeble."


And so it was.

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