So we're at this little dinner that's being thrown in honor of people who have broken the dangerous addiction to internet wine boards, and I start to notice that the late Andrew Scott, after tasting a wine, begins every sentence with the words "It's a little volatile, but..." I don't know the significance of this but, as I often point out, I merely observe and record, and do not judge.

Sorry, I digress. Where was I?

Oh, right.

Anyway, here we are at the annual nonofficial confab of those who have, for philosophical or social or practical reasons sworn off the life-destroying habit that still ensnares many of our less fortunate brethren. So many old familiar names and faces having such a gay old time that it brings a metaphoric tear to my nonliteral eye. Where are the snows of yesteryear, anyway?

Ah, here's something to start things off, a Pierre Morey Meursault Genevrieres 1977. Medium tan-gold color. Quite funky smelling, a base of flinty marzipan nuttiness laced with a briny oystershell note and hints of mouse. In the piehole there's a sharp start, minerally tart yellow nutty fruit, rather faded. The middle turns stonier and the yellowness seems to be struggling to overcome a baked-out flatness that is rising from within. Bordering on over the hill, there's still enough complexity and life here to give pleasure, but I'd drink up soon. No, make that really soon. Or yesterday.

I think I spot Mark Levesque in the far corner, but it turns out to be either Tom Gandey or Jonathan Herman, depending on who you ask. They're passing a bottle of Domaine Aux Moines Savennières Roche Aux Moines 1990, which I promptly horn in on. Hey, this is nice stuff, medium gold color, smells very beeswaxy, along with tart yellow apple and honey hints. A sip, and it's got some smooth lemon-pollen fruit right up front which recedes into the background quickly, leaving the middle dominated by chalky minerality and finishing with a yellowstony hum. A seamless package that moves through several phases effortlessly, charming mineral-driven young Savenni¸res.

Wasting no time moving on to reds, here's a Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin Lavaux St. Jacques 1977. Light ruby color, almost rosé-looking, slight browning throughout. "It's a little volatile," says Andrew, but there's also a lot of interesting decayed smellies happening here: nutmeg and baked carrot, preserved cherry and earth laced with crushed brick. A sip, and it's not as interesting in the piehole as it is up the nose--faded and thin, tart and leafy and crisp. After about an hour it has rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible, the complex aromatics reduced to smelling like flat root beer and last autumn's leaf pile.

The late Oleg O. is holding forth at great and colorful length about his tribulations at the hands of the law. Apparently he was arrested for using his sprinklers at an illegal hour, then refused endless opportunities to plead guilty and pay a fine, allowing himself to be sucked into the Byzantine morass that is the New Jersey justice system rather than lose his good name. Ultimately our boy triumphs over the forces of governmental red tape, prevailing on a technicality that is revealed in a dramatic courtroom admission by the arresting officer. Just like on Perry Mason!

After a rousing hand of applause for Oleg's close shave, we open a Pierre Bourée Fils Gevrey-Chambertin 1978. "It's a little volatile..." A little volatile, yes, but that is easily forgiven as it is also quite badly corked.

There's polenta! (What the hell is polenta, anyway?)

I wave to the late Sue Ng, who is pouring a Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 1999. Medium purply-garnet color. Smells lightly cherried, with hints of red plum, with a minerally plaster-of-Paris streak. A sip, and it's got a fresh vein of bright red fruit right up front that narrows in the middle at the same time as it turns earthy-truffley, which is the last impression on the finish before some rather stern tannins close in. The acidity is right down the center, neither sharp nor loose, just firm and present, but the wine is very primary and young, hard to assess. Still, it's a balanced, cohesive and restrained infant pinot that is straightforward and charming. Plus, it gets the Jeff Connell seal of approval, which is good enough for me. Kane moans "WHOhhAgggghhhh, smell all that oak!" which really rather mystifies everyone.

Mas des Chimères Vin de Pays des Coteaux du Salagou Cuvée Buster 2000: Medium garnet color, turning towards purple at the rim. Quiet cherried nose, chirpy and slightly candied with hints of Band-Aid brand bandage strip. Young, primary berry-cherry fruit is tart upon first sippage, turns juicier and rounder in the middle with a saddle-leather streak running parallel to the fruit. Medium-bodied and a little disjointed straight out of the bottle, it smooths out considerably with a few hours of air but remains rather monolithic. Nice balance, good stuff, although a little inscrutible at the moment.

There are rumors swirling around this wine that have it being produced in significantly larger quantities than the regulation 60-case limit on Busters. The usual expressions of shock and disbelief are expressed, and finally sullen resignation reigns, as realization dawns that the forces of the modern wine marketing machine cannot be slowed, much less stopped. I probably won't be picking up much of this because it's cheaper than the regular Chim¸res, and if the internet has taught us anything it's that a cheaper wine isn't better than a more expensive one (otherwise why would it be cheaper?).

The Buster being pure grenache, Andrew mentions an inside rumor that the upcoming release of the Scott-Clark flagship wine (El Niño) will also be 100% grenache for the first time. Is this the year of grenache? We urge him to call cousin Tony (Scott-Clark grand poobah) to confirm, but he sadly reports that Tony hasn't been speaking to him since the vandergrift incident. This makes me rather uncomfortable, as I had a hand in that whole mess, being the one to pour the chenin blanc 'Acorn' for poor overenthusiastic nathan in the first place and setting the whole unfortunate chain of events in motion. I can only hope that Tony understands and doesn't cut my allocation this spring. Or sue me. Or have me killed.

André Brunel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Cailloux 1995: Medium muddy ruby color. "It's a little volatile..." says Andrew. Yes, hints of nail polish remover over dark berry, red meat, black olive and smoky hints. Tastes leatherfruity and slightly frantic, the berryness falling away from the toasty-oak streak, the volatility kicking and squirming and somehow managing to meld in my mouth with the astringent finish. Disjointed and rather unpleasant; something bad has happened to this bottle and it's turned malevolent.

Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Martha's Vineyard 1988: Corked, alas. Oddly, this has an importer's sticker that says "Re-Imported by Wine Cellars Ltd." As the kids are fond of saying: whatever, dude.

What's this about 'Times Square Barbie'? I have no time to find out, but the mental images I conjure up are intriguing.

Château Le Gay Pomerol 1982: Medium garnet color, bricking at the edges. Sweet and velvety aromatics, warm blackberry-cassis, pipe tobacco and old leather, all mixing smoothly. Tastes equally warm and welcoming, a plush wine with a dark ripe core that feathers out in earthy layers of red and black fruit. Ripe, yes, but there's structure and complexity that isn't overwhelmed by plushness. Pleasantly developed but with a youthful heart, this is in a very good place right now, an expressive and friendly Pomerol. Simply heavenly with tiny cut-up baby sheep parts.

More dire rumors: Jeff Connell is supposedly experimenting with genetic engineering in his vineyards, inserting Arctic flounder genes into his vines to prevent them from freezing in the harsh Canadian winter. These rumors, started by Mr. Connell himself, were neither confirmed nor denied by Mr. Connell.

Château Cayrou Cahors 1982: Served blind, there is an immediate series of guesses that this is an older Scott-Clark El Ni–o, perhaps from the late 80s or early 90s (I think it's the marked volatility). "It's a little volatile..." says Andrew happily. It is indeed a little volatile, but there's muted raspberry and kind of a beef-blood-peppery-baked-yam orange streak that puts me in mind of a Northern Rh™ne with a little age on it. Youngish at the core but with a hint of age around the edges. Black pepper, something like old cedar chest in there too. Velvety, still somewhat primary but layering at the edges. Subtle, interesting and smooth going down. Some very fine tannins are present, but the wine is easy and balanced. Very nice, goes south with air and a few hours, turns shoyued, baked-bricky.

There is a great deal of discussion about the upcoming McNetta Winterfest, the main topic being the Oversight Committee's controversial choice of the Northwest New Jersey Skylands' "Land of Make Believe" Convention Center as the venue. The general thought is that there isn't enough room there, but Sue insists that the newly renovated and renamed Hall of Middle-Earth has more than enough space for this year's winter bash, which is always somewhat smaller than its summertime cousin. On the plus side, at least it's pretty close.

Ferraton Hermitage Cuvée Meow 1985: "More volatility!" squeals Andrew. Yup, there's that acetone smell again, under which lies sweetly faded leatherberry fruit, more pondwatery-smelling than I'd remembered. Tastes quite faded, the fruit fallen away to an earthen wash, the midpalate dominated by naked acidity. Not a good showing for this one tonight--Thomasina the eponymous kitty must be coughing up a leafy hairball somewhere. I've had decent bottles of this in the past year or two, but this one is solidly over the hill.

Joël Taluau St. Nicolas-de-Bourgeuil Vieilles Vignes 1999: Smells quite piney, pine needles over an earthy cran-cherry base. Tastes underfruited, taut and nervy. It's Loire cab franc all right, but it's a rather stern version, a wine with a lean and hungry look about it but with Taluau's usual purity and honesty. The hardcore Loireheads enjoy it far more than I. Connell, wide-eyed, admits to being "shocked and amazed" by the quality of the Taluau. "Yeah, fuck Joe Dressner!" shouts Andrew, "What does he know, anyway?!" As if to add injury to insult, the cry goes up "Open some oaky Beaujolais!"

Domaine du Granit Moulin-a-Vent Cuvée Vieilles Vignes et Nouveaux Fûts du Chûne 2000: Wow! The fabled Big-Woody Beaujolais. Medium-dark garnet laced with purple, it smells strawberry-plummy and toasty, with a hint of black shoe polish. The fruit is full and self-possessed, but it has a sense of exhaustion about it, a lack of vibrancy. Nice fleshy middle, not much of a finish. Still, not as much of a freak as the venomous wine press would have you believe.

Some palate cleansing is required, and here's something that will do the trick, a Clos de Tue-Boeuf Pinot Gris Vin de Pays du Loir et Cher Demisec 1998. The infamous 'rancid butter/puke in the gutter' wine returns for yet another appraisal. I've noticed that there are two clear strains of this wine: one that comes out of the bottle a coppery-gold color and seems weighty and one that is pale yellow-tan and seems bright and nimble. This is the latter. Smells lightly lactic, with a strong streak of plumeria mingled with flecks of mandarin orange. Soft and a little vague, it's got a chalky streak that's shy at first, emerging mainly on the finish and lingering lightly. Only the faintest perceptible hint of sweetness, which serves merely to add juiciness to the fruit. Hard to pin down, a blurry wine with shifting contours that resists analysis.

Were you aware that the Skipper on Gilligan's Island had a name? And that his name was 'Jonas Grumby'? With that in mind, we move on to the sweeties.

Domaine des Aubuissieres Vouvray Moëlleux Le Marigny 1996: Quiet stony-honey aromatics, botrytis, apricot, pineapple, rich and fun to smell. A sip, and it's pineapple-apricot sugar syrup, Vouvray candy. Moëlleux my ass. There's acidity, but the wine is just too syrupy-sweet to enjoy more than a sip or two. Kane loves it, of course. Connell too, but, as he takes pains to explain, "just for the nose."

Trimbach Pinot Gris Alsace Vendage Tardive 1997: Medium-light gold color. Smells lightly milky--gardenia, tangerine, hay and a light whiff of botrytis. Low-acid but nevertheless quick on its feet, only lightly sweet. Very flavorful but rather demure, a soft, feathery small-scaled wine.

Finally, here's a late treat straight from the winery, a Scott-Clark Cellars Riesling Finger Lakes "Unnamed" 2002 (barrel sample). The first foray into the Finger Lakes by this iconoclastic producer. I believe this is wine made from purchased grapes while the winery waits for their first usable crop, although the details were a little fuzzy due to the hour and the evening's consumption. Cloudy white color. Smells intensely grapefruity, almost like fresh grapefruit juice. Tastes lemony, like fresh lemon juice in water. Tart, bright and very tangy. Still a little fizzed, almost wine. Andrew complains that it's volatile. Kane complains that it's too oaky. I would've bet the farm that this was sauvignon, but I would've been wrong. One of the strangest young almost-rieslings that I've ever tasted.

I'm tired now, and waxing overly nostalgic. The snows of yesteryear have gotten into our socks and made our feet all squishy. We make our farewells and head out the door for the train home. I take one last look back and see Jeff Connell watching from the doorway, a solitary figure silhouetted against the light from inside.

He waves. I wave back. I say, perhaps not quite loud enough for him to hear, "It's a little volatile..."

And that simple phrase speaks volumes.

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