Several intrepid New York/New Jersey WLDGers converged on the spacious Queens digs of Mike and Kim Bassman (and their three touchy felines) on Saturday, braving the collapsing New York subway system and battling crosstown and bridge traffic in order to fight their way into the wilds of this mythic outer borough and avail themselves of some extraordinary hospitality.

The theme, fittingly, was Mike's favorite: a free-for-all.

When Lisa and I arrived, cursing the nonoperational 7 train, we found Mike and Kim had installed the irrepressible Bradley Kane as wine traffic cop, so we dropped our vino off with him and went to mingle. Present eventually were Jonathan Herman and [REDACTED DEPT. OF HOMELAND SECURITY], Susan Foote, Peter and Mary Hirdt, Andrew Scott and Jennifer Munro Clark, and Bart Hopkins.

We were warned that the cats, which might in fact appear friendly and react positively to being petted, might suddenly and for no clear reason decide they wanted to take a piece of your arm off. Being used to semi-lethal pets, I took this in stride and held as still as a statue as I was sniffed-up and given the general once-over. But that was just Kane's way of being friendly, and I didn't begrudge it him.

The cry soon went up for a cool white to get things rolling, and, thinking of the novelty factor, Mike poured us a Château de Pibarnon Bandol (White) 1997: I swirl a bit, and it's a very quiet wine, not giving much away. Light plumeria-floral notes over kind of a cementy-stony backdrop. Curious. Sipped slowly, it tastes much the same as it smells--reserved, slightly buttery-feeling, fairly round in the mouth with decent but slightly low acidity. Nevertheless, I had a feeling of expectation--a very quiet wine that seems to be hiding something. Maybe it's just young.

As I was trying to puzzle out the white Bandol, a wine that I thought fairly obscure, Peter took a look at the bottle and said 'Hey! I almost brought that!" Is everyone but me on the white Bandol bandwagon? Grab some while you can, ladies and gents...

Next was a Château de Maligny Chablis Fourchaume 1996: lovely classic Chablis spritzy limestony-lemon nose, nice and bright and rich. Tasty and tangy as well, but I find it a bit limp in the mouth, a bit challenged in the zing department. I'm surprised, because I've had this before and not thought that. Am I going through a dumb phase?

We cease the mingling/mixing (unfortunately curtailed when Andrew and Jennifer shamefully admit to leaving their Loire-trip slideshow at home) and begin the musical chairs game of 'where shall I sit at table?', finally settling in somehow for the long, arduous tasting duties that await us.

Andrew pops a white--Kane takes a sniff and declares accusingly "It's seen some oak!" Andrew hangs his head, but rallies: "Yes, but the fruit can hold it." It comes round to me--Domaine des Deux Roches St. Véran Vielles Vignes 1997: pale gold-tan; yup, slightly toasty-oaky on the nose, but there is indeed some nice pear and melon aromas as well, maybe some honey-figgy-earthiness. A pleasant enough medium-bodied wine with some good fruit. I'm a bit off chardonnay in general, but this is pretty decent, very drinkable.

Enough with the whites. We're on to darker and redder things now.

Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino 1986: Slightly browning in the glass; there is a mushroomy quality that has a couple of folks wondering about corkiness. I turn to Lisa, my TCA-canary, and she shakes her head, saying it's just a quality of the wine. Here we have to catch Peter and Mary up on her use of 'the finger' and the repercussions on all those who engender its wrath. So it is written. At any rate, it's a very interesting wine to smell--that mushroominess hovers over a by-the-numbers cherry/leather body, and there is also a dark, almost burnt note that has Mike and I coming up with "soy sauce" in unison. The flavors of the wine are very brown, very earthy-tart cherry, nicely faded and muted, but still fairly vivid. I like this--it has some character.

Brad gets up on his hind legs and declares a mini-merlot-horizontal, and at this point the March of the Californians begins.

First the two merlots:

Lewis Cellars Merlot Sonoma 1997: Very dark purply-red. I take a sniff. Goodness. All moths instantly flee the room as the odor of cedar permeates the air. Cedar, toast, smoke, cedar and toast, and chocolate on the nose. And cedar. There seems to be some nice dark fruit under there, but it's going down for the third time. Thick and dense in the mouth, more of same, with some gritty strong tannins emerging on the finish. Not my style of merlot. Kane opines that the oak will integrate with time. Perhaps, but by then the sun will have burnt out and it simply won't matter so much.

B.R. Cohn Merlot Sonoma Olive Hill 1996 (well, so much for the horizontal): Medium-dark garnet; cherry-tar notes on the nose provide a bit of a relief from the nasal splinters inflicted by the Lewis--this is a crisper and thinner merlot, dark cherry and hints of vanilla drift around the midpalate, a smaller wine, but more my speed. There's vanilla oak, but not so much as to smother the fruit, and I find this more balanced and bright.

Cabs on Parade!

Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 1994: My notes begin "see TNs for '95, '96, '97..." In fact, this wine is more like the '95 than the ever-so-slightly larger-scaled '96 and '97, but really the flavor profile is almost identical, even now at different ages. I do like these wines, though--this is dark and rich, with some vanilla oakiness and some dense, concentrated red & black fruit, some nice crisp acidity and big tannins. My mother's favorite cab, so who am I to knock it?

Arns Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 1995: Rich red; very definitive calcab nose--blackcurrants up the wazoo & some dark smoky notes underneath. Meaty mouthfeel, velvety and fairly rich. Simple, dark fruit, tart cherry/cassis, nicely balanced, with some aggressive tannins that swoop in on the finish. A very nice cab, but a bit generic, and a bit young.

Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 1990: Change of pace after two bruisers--this wine is more aromatically open, with some smooth red cassis-cherry and oakchippy notes . A lighter style of cab, with some nice tartness and less weight in the mouth. Refreshingly crisp, brightly acidic and almost cranberry-juice tart.

After this group of wines has passed we are allowed to engage in conversation. Among the topics:

A) Pete Rose (oy) B) Has Jayson Cohen been abducted by aliens? Is there probing going on as we speak?
C) Will Dave Winfield go into the Hall of Fame? On the first ballot?
D) Why is it a common popular delusion among those that haven't met him that Callahan is a sixtyish crank who probably wears thin black ties, horn-rim glasses and slightly yellowing button-down shirts?
E) Are these Yankees the best team ever (Kane only)?
F) What's up with my shirts?

This last from Andrew, a man who is wearing an olive drab T-shirt and red Italian bowling/space boots. I explain that my predilection for alohawear is an expression of my cultural somethingorother, and that they're considered formalwear where I come from, worn to weddings, funerals, etc., but I don't think anybody believes me. Mainlanders. Can't live with 'em, can't...

Well, actually I guess I do live with one, so scratch that.

Speaking of scratches, at this point Bart runs afoul of one of the kitties and loses some flesh for it. He shakes it off, and we all take a deep breath and hope that this sates their bloodlust.

Having demolished the cabs with the prime rib, we continue with more Californians for the cheese course. Interesting how a free-for-all turned of its own accord into a celebration of the Golden State.

Geyser Peak Zinfandel Cucamonga Valley De Ambrogio Ranch Winemaker's Selection 1997: A typical Andrew Scott favorite, this is too overripe a style of zin for me: Dark saturated color; red raspberry syrup and raisins on the nose; thick, simple and vividly fruity. Actually, it does okay as a substitute port. Some surprising gritty tannins make an appearance after the creamy fruit has gone by. We chide Andrew for being a sucker for a pretty fruitbomb.

Turley Cellars Petite Syrah[sic] Napa Valley Rattlesnake Acres 1997: Dark inky purple. Odd nose, reticent at first, then yielding some bready/yeasty purplefruity aromas. A taste, and it's a rich, earthy purplefruity wine, dark and monolithically fruity, with a good crisp mouthfeel but some bracing tannins. Decent, I guess, but I don't find its wall of dark fruit very interesting, and I get annoyed with it because I almost choke to death trying the revolutionary new tasting-by-direct-inhalation-technique. Andrew and Lisa later say it eventually opens up nicely in the glass, but mine's long been ditched by then.

Just for counterpoint to all the Cal wines, Mike grabs a Château Haut-Bages Averous Pauillac 1988: Slightest hint of browning, but still a good rich color; brown earth and muted redfruit on the nose, with hints of black olives and some green herbs. Stony and crisp in the mouth, a medium-weight wine with good balance and some nice layers of flavor that I find refreshing after all the simpler Cal wines. Bit herbaceous, but still seems surprisingly young, still grittily tannic. Hold 'em if you've got 'em.

Now we segue into sweetie mode, beginning slowly with Hirsch? Kammerner Heiligenstein Gruner Veltliner Alte Reben 1998: Pale tan-yellow; apple-bready nose, applejuicy hints; slightly sweet, yellowfruity, tangy and crisp and bright. More of a good brisk palate waker-upper than an actual dessert wine. I have my usual trouble reading Austrian labels. Somebody needs to explain this wine to me.

Domaine des Petits Quarts Bonnezeaux La Malabé 1997: Light gold color; bright pineapple-honey-hay-botrytis nose; Fat, viscous and rich on the tongue, sweet and dense and very flavorful. A big, round Bonnezeaux with a lot of sugar and just barely enough acidity to get by. I do like it, but it skates along the edge of goopiness.

Château Lafaurie-Peyraugey Sauternes 1990: Medium gold; apricot, vanilla and honey on the nose. Bit of woodiness is more pronounced after having the Bonnezeaux, but this is a nice, round, slightly fat style of Sauternes that is friendly when young, and I slurp it down happily with my fruity-crumbly dessert.

Our revels being ended, we express our gratitude to our more-than-generous hosts for such a lovely evening and tumble with Kane, Andrew and Jennifer into a hired car back to the lights of Manhattan (and points west), stuffed to the gills and giddy with wine wisdom. Unfortunately, our driver isn't too keen on taking all of us at once, so we are eventually forced to toss Kane out into the Queens air and wave bye-bye through the rear window as we glide off into the night.

Somebody's gotta make these tough choices...

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