So the ûr-doc and I toddle over to Châteauneuf-du-Joe on a school night for some carnivorous festivization. It turns out that Josh Raynolds has fallen off the meat wagon again and ruefully strapped on the bloody wings of his Meat Fairy persona; his loss is our gain.

First a fizz, a Tissot Crémant de Jura Brut NV something or other. Fresh as a mountain spring, pure and lovely, all rocks and rainwater and crystalline purity. Very refreshing, with a demure fizziness that washes the road dust right out of my mouth.

Okay, here's some corned beef with mustard on tiny slices of brown bread. Mmmm... corny.... Ah, just like me dear Irish mither used to make. Except, maybe, not boiled quite so long. And lighter on the cabbage.

Next up is a La Doucette Pouilly-Fumé 'Baron de L' 2000. Smells creamy-spicy, vanilla-ginger notes mingling with pear-apple yellowfruit, light minerality and a bright high note of lime rind. Tastes very silky, cream-edged and mouthcoating. It's decently focused but also rather loosely wrapped, Pouilly-Fumé as White Burgundy, nice offbeat stuff.

Much buzz surrounds the opening of a Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste. Hune 2001. Beanbag chair, tart yellow apple and rainwater aromatics. Tastes big and taut and closed, a cut-crystal edifice that's not giving much right now except a good whiff of vinyl. Needs much time, I guess, kind of pleasureless for me tonight. Others possessed of more refinement like it more than I do.

Maryland crab soup, mmm...crabby. I poke Lisa, proffer my obligatory warning against cannibalism, then dive in.

F.X. Pichler Riesling Diersteiner Kellerburg 1995. Corked. SFJoe takes a whiff, wrinkles his nose, disappears back into his cellar.

Returns with a F.X. Pichler Riesling Diersteiner Kellerburg 1994. Not corked. Smells layered and keroseney--lamp oil, rainwater, pineapple, stones, and a hint of peachiness. Tart and languid, spreads oleaginously across my tongue. Very nice, in a good place. Nice match with some kind of duck fajita-thingie.

A curiosity now, a Hirtzberger Riesling Hochrain SpŠtlese 1971. Odd aromatics, a good whiff of creamed corn at first, melding towards a kind of wheaty-beeriness, with just a hint of lemon citricity mixed in. Tastes a bit watery, a bit diffuse, with just a hint of sugar. Seems to be fading, not much finish, past prime. In a sense it's kind of an interesting relic, but I don't find myself wanting to drink much of it.

Speaking of interesting relics, here's a Jaboulet Cornas 1962. It's a medium-translucent ruby color, browning out to a touch of amber at the rim. Smells rather dusty, lots going on, cinnamon and dirt, smoke and rocks, bay leaf and a bright cherryness. Tastes both youthful and quite resolved, medium acidity, delicate earthy flavors lingering charmingly on the finish. A delicate, gentle wine with a lot going on.

"Ooh, this is a good time--I've got something I want you all to try!" pipes Kane, and he whips out a masked mystery bottle for our appraisal.

Kane's Masked Mystery Wine: WAAAAAAAUGH! A huge wave of candied jellyfruit surges up my nostrils, obliterating the lingering traces of the delicate, faded Cornas. I'm momentarily poleaxed, my sinuses suddenly awash in cherry-plum jam. I fumble for the reset button on my palate, but the damn thing's stuck, even when I desperately jab at it with the tip of a pen. Okay, concentrate, just go for the baseline measurements... okay, very ripe, fairly low acidity, slight candy-oaky gloss... um, very ripe... low acidity... kind of oaky-candied.... All right, this just isn't going anywhere. (Valcanto Monastrell Almansa 2005)

Silence blankets the room. Puzzled expressions, fidgeting, tablecloth-watching.

"Well, that was a lovely complement to the Cornas," I opine. "This masterful pairing demonstrates the importance of a carefully regimented tasting order."

"Okay," sighs dal Piaz, "I've got a couple of Mystery Wines too, might as well get them out of the way now so we can move on to the good stuff."

Greg's Silver Foil-Wrapped Mystery Wine Number One: Dark garnet color. Smells big and primary, grapey-blackfruit laced with coconut husk and vanilla candle. Tastes robustly fruited and generously oaked, soft and creamy enough that I begin to have the impression of drinking grape-flavored suntan lotion. Cries of pain and shock echo down the table, glasses vigorously dumped and aggressively rinsed, the mood turns ugly; some call for torches and pitchforks, but frankly I find it more broad and clumsily generic than actually assaultive. (Bucklin Syrah Bald Mountain Ranch Sonoma Valley 2004)

Greg's Silver Foil-Wrapped Mystery Wine Number Two: Purple, it's actually dark purple. Smells jammily ripe, gently smoky blackberry/raspberry plushness without the wood-slathering of the first silver bottle. A sip, and there's a bit more structure here hidden amidst the ripeness, but a smoky-bitterness wells up in the middle that turns aggressively astringent by the time the finish rolls around, unpleasantly sour. I find myself inexplicably channelling Kane, complete with face-squinching, eye-rolling and inappropriate vocalizing. "A new low! A new low!" I screech, to no perceptible agreement. I guess that shouting-out-first-to-influence-others technique never really works for Kane, either, but I'm still momentarily resentful. Everyone else seems to think this one is merely average-nasty, while the first is truly horrible. Philistines. (Saxon Brown Syrah Flora Ranch Chalk Hill 2005)

Lesson learned: avoid Califonia syrahs that sport the word "Ranch" on the label. A rule to live by, methinks. Who the hell ever heard of a grape ranch, anyway?

Please, can't anyone here find something decent to drink? A Luis Pato Vinha Pan Vinho Regional Beiras 2001 is quickly proffered. Ahhh, smells like real wine after the faux horrors. Ripe, smoky-rich, hints of seared coconut and dark red berry. Medium-high acidity, seems to be on the modern side of the spectrum, but not offensively so. Real nice, actually. Goes well with a plate of okra, pulled pork and brisket. Love the meat, not a fan of okra, even though for okra it's pretty good, not slimy at all (the way okra should be).

Next is a Guy Breton Morgon 1990. Medium muddy ruby-red color, browning lightly at the rim. Smells like Christmas spices on the stove--clove and cinnamon and underbrush, bay leaf. Seems faded, maybe just a bit over the hill, but still interesting. There's a certain hollowness to the middle, a diffusion that I associate with a lot of wines from 1990, but it's a decent package, although more interesting to the mind than sensually delightful.

Speaking of sensual delights, we've got a Robert Mondavi Petite Sirah Napa Valley 1977. Looks like mud, muddy brown color laced with dark flecks. Smells like red river mud laced with wet cigar and a touch of menthol. It's a freaky glassful, but I'm kind of digging it, it's just so weird. The flavors are faded but have a sense of the living dead about them--you just can't kill this stuff. Thanks Bob, wherever you are.

The Kane horrors continue with a Domaine de la Chevalerie Bourgueil 1989. Distinct pine-needle herbal streak mingles with dark cherry-berry and a gravelly stoniness. Medium acidity, not a lot of flesh but a fine compact nerviness manages to carry you along. It falls short of sublime--there's a certain coarseness, a rusticity to the wine that's not entirely displeasing, but there's a lot of character here.

Lisa is toting her usual bagful of doctor toys, and once we're all well lubricated we manage to persuade her to break them out, have fun trying to pronounce 'sphygmomanometer,' check our blood pressures, peer into one another's orifices. What fun toys these are!

Another crack at the old Beaujolais, with a Jacky Janodet Morgon 1989. Light funky cheesy-sweatsock hints hover over cinnamon-dusted earthy-strawberry redfruit. Medium-lightbodied, there's a bit of severity to this one, brittle acidity and some uncompromising tannins. But there's also a firm core of slightly faded cherry-strawberry fruit that turns very earthy in the middle, then finishes with a cinnamon-stick buzz. I go back and forth on this one, sometimes it seems a bit odd and funky, sometimes it seems to pull its act together.

Podere Salicutti Brunello di Montalcino 2000. Sweet-smelling black cherry laced with tar and a good whiff of Band-Aid brand adhesive bandage strips. A sip, and some initial broadbeamed ripeness quickly gives way to abrasive sandpapery tannins that buzzsaw up and down my tongue, then clamp down hard on what ought to have been the finish. Unpleasant, indeed close to undrinkable, which if you know me is saying something. Hobbesian wine: nasty, brutish, short.

Château Latour Pauillac 1981. Blackcurrant and cedar, walnut and tobacco aromatics. Middleweight Pauillac, muscular and lean wine, silky and delightful, a charmer that isn't trying to beat you over the head. Doesn't have the amplitude, the swooping highs and rumbling lows, that I kind of expect from Latour, but it's really charming and oh so tasty, old school claret that pushes you gently but firmly back into your seat and suggests that you relax and savor it. And I do. And I'm happy.

Kane consults his omnipresent wallet vintage chart, frowns: "Not a great vintage."

The rest of us eye one another, uncertain as to who should field this one. I shrug. "Well, it's a good thing we're not drinking the vintage."

There's something blind going around, but I ignore it and it's revealed as a Domaine Tempier Bandol la Tourtine 1988 before I can get up on my hind legs and definitively declare it Arizona petite sirah, or something equally dumb. Smells like a heap of cherry pits in a quonset hut, dark and metallic. Tastes rather lean and mean, hard stony cherry-raspberry fruit, rocks and tannin. Not unpleasant if you don't mind taut leanness--not a wine for people looking for unctuous gobs of anything. Except maybe unctuous gobs of severity.

Here's a Bruno Giacosa Nebbiolo d'Alba 2005. Cherries, tannin. Cherries, tannin. Cherries, tannin, mineral undertones. "Don't trust drunk wops with mineral undertones!" shouts dal Piaz.

Brief palate scrubber with a Francois Pinon Touraine Brut Rosé NV. Pale pale pink, almost not rosé at all. Bright, cheerful fizz that leaves me a little cold. There's a pleasant neutrality to it that doesn't leave much for me to hang my hat on. It's correct and is bright and friendly, but not really inspiring in the manner of Pinon's Vouvray fizz. Minimally successful. Kudos to M. Pinon for trying, but it's not something I'd buy again.

Here's a puzzle, a Huet Vouvray le Mont 'Début Pressée' 1989. Victor has brought this along, and no one is sure what to make of the unopened bottle--there's no sweetness designation, is it a dry wine? Even SFJoe, the Shogun of Chenin, is puzzled. What awaits in my glass? Egads, mindblowing intensity: hugely sweet, hugely crisp, I can't believe what I'm smelling. It's like concentrated essence of Vouvray, yet it's nimble and lithe, oh so far from being ponderous, or even thick. I'm in love, and I take back everything I ever said about a lot of sugar in Vouvray sweeties serving only to mask complexity. Well, maybe I don't take it all back, but that's not the case here. Beautiful, astonishing stuff, and I stand and sing its praises.

"But you said the '89 Constance was too sweet when I poured it last month," whimpers Kane.

"That Constance WAS too sweet," snaps Greg before I can reply. "This is sweeter than that Constance, but it's not even close to being too sweet."

I place my glass a good two feet away from me across the table, and I can still smell it, spicy and fruity and thrilling.

Kane, not happy with his credibility level, pipes up again: "This Huet works well with the apricot tart."

SFJoe considers this, adds: "This Huet works well with hitting your thumb with a hammer."

Here's something Kane found on sale somewhere at a ridiculously cheap price, a Domaine des Baumards Quarts de Chaume 1971. Bergamot, tea, spicy orange rind and apricot aromatics, laced with a flinty funkiness. Medium sweet, with a slight pressed-flower quality to the middle. Pure and complex, layered and smooth. Unfortunately, it seems a bit pallid following the ridiculous Huet, but it's a lovely bottle of middle-aged Quarts de Chaume, and I'm tickled to have a few tucked away thanks to good ol' Bradley.

"Brad, stop taking pictures of my tits!" snaps Lisa, jarring me out of my chenin reverie.

"Brad, stop taking pictures of my wife's tits!" I echo reflexively, then think for a moment. "Although that was a really great tip on the '71 Baumard, so hey, knock yourself out!"

And so on and so forth, until we stumble drunkenly out and hail a cab to return us to America's Isle of Hospitality, where sleep comes hard, hastened by fitful dreams of the '89 Début Pressée.

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