I've been drinking too much coffee lately, having odd dreams of running into Steve Plotnicki in the riesling aisle of Crossroads and not being able to think of anything to disagree about on the spur of the moment. The staff looks on in horror.

One guy makes the universal cuckoo-head sign, but I don't know if it's me or Steve he's referring to. This is a strange dream.

Then Lisa comes in and tells us both to leave, that it's time to go have dinner at the new offline hot spot, Café Loup, in historic Greenwich Village, the little village that could. Robin is waiting.

Chastened, we follow like baby ducks.

I really have to cut down on the coffee.

Wait, it's no dream. We're here already, in the back, in the geek section, and there are many familiar and semifamiliar faces. There's Robin with his trusty Palm Pilot, and Greg dal Piaz, tonight's organizer, there's Paul North, and the ever-irrepressible Bradley Kane. Oleg O. arrives in full O. regalia, and Joe Cz and Jay Miller find some room at the L-shaped table along with Eden and Jody Blum, Rob Adler and Bruce Frank.

People come and go; Inna arrives later and so does Ilene Adler, with a friend whose name I miss, it's all very busy and my head starts to swim, and I'm out on the end of a table-promontory. Hi Robin! Hi Steve! Robin and Steve look like they're having fun over there. Where's my inhaler?

Are they talking about me? I bet they are.

I've got a sore throat.

I need to lay off the cigarettes.

There are very few antics. This was not an antic night. We had some wine. Here's the first wine we had. They're laughing at me over there, aren't they?

Louis Roederer Brut Vintage 1990: Pale gold-tan color. Yeasty, smoky-nutty-marzipan nose, toasted almondy hints. Tastes crisp, lightly creamy mouthfeel, not much overt fruitiness, but a lot of interesting nutty-cream-toast flavors. Very decent, with a finish that echoes around a bit before dissipating.* (**)

What's next? Oh, here's a Domaine Bourillon-D'Orleans Vouvray Moëlleux 1990. It's a pale gold color, with light aromatics, a quiet, faint nose of rainwater, lemon & odd hints of cheese curds. A taste, and it's not faint of heart in the piehole, robust and richer than the nose would suggest, quite sweet, although not at dessert-wine levels, with nice crisp acidity. The lemon-mineral chenin fruit has a velvety edge that, along with the sweetness, gives one a smooth ride all the way down the gullet. Very tasty, a fine apertif, if you don't mind a bit of cheese.* (**)

Let's try a Lagar de Cervera Albariño 1999, shall we? It's a pale, pale straw color, fresh and brightly grassy-lime smelling, almost an austere kind of sauvignon nose. Crisp, lean and racy, a bright, simple wine that hasn't an ounce of fat on it.* (**)

The pace is starting to accelerate. I'm trying my feeble best to be social, but the wines are piling up in front of me and Kane is bitching. My palate seems slower than usual tonight. Gotta cut down on the Percodan, that stuff's just slowing me down. The waiter is making faces at me behind my back, I'm sure of it. He hates me. What have I ever done to him? Bastard. He'll pay.

Huet Vouvray Moëlleux Le Mont 1985: Pale medium gold color. Weighty-smelling, with a lush, layered nose with a boodle of things going on--honey, wet stones, Earl Grey tea, as well as a trace of sherrylike nuttiness which makes me think this bottle has been slightly stressed. Still, it's a beaut, glyceriney mouthfeel, dense and packed full of goodies with some medium sweetness bringing out the lemon-floral elements on the finish. Even not in top form, this is a beautiful wine.* (**)

Thunder Mountain Chardonnay Ciardella Vineyard 1997: Medium lemon-tan color, heading towards ginger ale tan. Whoa, this smells of oak. Smoky pear and fig hints are in there somewhere, there's some decent fruit, but it's been smothered into submission under a torrent of wood. Some people at my end of the table won't even taste it after smelling it, but I do, and it's got more oak on the palate. Butterscotch, caramel, vanilla, what have you. Not my style of chardonnay, now #2 on my All-Time Overoaked White Hall of Fame, second only to the now-legendary SQN 'Twisted and Bent,' which at least did have the decency of honesty in naming.* (**)

Qupé Chardonnay Bien Nacido Reserve 1996: Clear lemon-yellow color. This is a wine I would normally flinch at these days, but after the previous chardonnay it seems almost a modicum of restraint. Pear, apple and vanilla on the nose in about equal balance, creamy and weighty in the mouth, more vanilla and some lemon-leesiness peeks through as the slightly candied midpalate swirls past, then it's finished rather abruptly. Not great, but drinkable.* (**)

Here endeth the whites.

Here beginneth the transition to reds, in the form of Mas de Gourgonnier Rosé Les Baux de Provence 1999: Pale dusty-rose color; light nose of watermelon & strawberry, with some mineral and light bready notes to give it depth. Tastes crisp, a medium-weight wine, slightly round, light cherry and berry tastes, bit of a citric zing, as well as some rainwatery minerals to flesh out the fruit flavors. A decent little grenache/syrah/cinsau(l)t blend that isn't terribly complex but manages to please.* (**)

In march the reds, two by two, in formation. My right eye begins to twitch uncontrollably. I've gotta give up the benzedrine, it's just playing havoc with my nerves. Kane seems to be turning an odd shade of pink. Am I going to have to perform the Heimlich Maneuver? No, turns out it's just alcohol-induced flushing. Me, I'm too busy cold-sweating to flush perceptibly.

First, there's a Domaine de la Mordorée Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée de la Reine des Bois 1998. Medium-dark garnet in color, there's plenty of smoky, tarry oak on the nose, but also plenty of dark ripe raspberry-blackberry fruit to go with it. Very young and primal at the moment, the oak and the fruit are running parallel to each other and not acknowledging the other's presence. It's rough and tannic in the mouth but the core of the wine is there, tight and balanced with some snappy acidity, dark and strong. It's a baby and it's a bit jarring now, but give it time to come together and I bet it will be something nice.* (**)

Steve is rushing about gleefully with what looks like a large cream pitcher, offering pours to whoever is game. I'm game, damnit. Why can't he see that I'm game? Oh, he sees now.

What did he pour me? Seems to be a Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle 1972: Medium-dark ruby color, still looks surprisingly young, hardly bricking at all. The leathery-muted redfruit smells of coffee with hints of baked yam. Silky in the mouth, the fruit is feathered and open and brownish-tasting at the edges, still tight and dark and red in the center, earthy and beef-jerkyish. Great balance, a supple wine with a lot of character that flows prettily into a coffee-berry-smoky finish. I could drink this all night. Delicious.* (**)

Whoo, I'm getting dizzy now. It's the usual early-evening psilocybin flashbacks. I gotta cut down on the mushroom smoothies, the stuff's wearing me out and making me freaky. Better have something to take the edge off, so I try an Edmunds St. John Syrah Durell Vineyard Sonoma Valley 1996: Inky dark garnet, purple at the rim. Ripe smoky-plum nose, hints of smoked meat and menthol. Rich and ripe tasting, but quite well balanced and racy, with a tarry tang emerging on the finish along with some slightly astringent tannins. Were I tasting this blind, I suspect I'd guess it a Rhône wine. Fine Cal syrah with a lot of expressiveness and balance, still needs time.* (**)

Here's a Kunin Zinfandel Paso Robles Dante Dusi Vineyard 1998: Medium ruby, strangely full of sediment. Quite ripe nose, slightly Amarone-raisiny over the raspberry-cassis base, with a hint of ketchup. Crisp and tart in the mouth, a big wine with big tannins and dark black cherry flavors. A bit of heat manifests itself on the finish. Another boisterous, slightly wacky zin, quite a decent one if you don't mind the style.* (**)

Compagnoni Rosso di Luna Valcalepio Rosso 1997: Medium garnet. Funky-barny hints over some dark berry-tomato fruit. Ripe, round and soft, a bit low-acid, but mellow and smooth and rich, easy-drinking, full of easy ripe red fruit. Very decent.* (**)

Oleg uses the funkiness on this one to attempt once more to teach us the Russian vs. Ukrainian words for 'ass.'

Zhopa. Sraka. Zhopa. Sraka.

I always think I'll remember them, but I never do. Damn this short-term memory loss! I've really gotta cut way back on the hash brownies after this next holiday season. Or the one after that.

After what, now? What was I saying? I'm not sure, so I go back to kill some of the brain cells that I'm sure are blocking the required information by tasting a Turley Zinfandel Napa Valley Moore 'Earthquake' Vineyard 1997: Medium-dark garnet. Ooh, it smells rum-raisiny, quite ripe and full of dark black cherry aromas, but choco-raisiny as well with some dark rum-like alcohol hints. What's more, it's somewhat fizzy. What's going on here? Strange and somewhat clumsy, smelling a bit portlike and hot, with some astringent tannins emerging out of the dark tarry finish. A freaky caricature of the glorious 97 Hayne we enjoyed the last time Garr-sama was in town.* (**)

That was weird. I have to hold my skull on with both hands.

I need something to take the edge off, so I go for a Domaine de la Renjarde Côtes-du-Rhône Villages 1998: Medium garnet. Smoky, herby ripe brick-red fruit. Tastes very smooth, a bit soft and rounded at the edges, but creamy-ripe and pleasant, another mellow easy drinker with a lot of flavor and nice balance. Finishes with a nice raspberry-cream flourish, and the question begins to follow the bottle around the table: "Hey, how much does this one cost?"* (**)

Domaine de Chevalier 1988: Medium garnet. Gravelly cassis fruit, hints of smoke, bit watery in the midpalate, rallies on the finish with a nice mineral-blackfruit wave. Seems nice, doesn't make much of an impression.* (**)

Castello di Ama Vigneto La Casuccia 1993: This wine passes by once when I have a six-wine backlog, and I never see it again. I snost, I lost.* (**)

Bodegas Alion Ribera Del Duero 1994: Dark garnet. Very ripe, lush nose--slightly candied black and red fruit limned with cedar and black olive. A dense, rich wine, mouthfilling and well structured, with good high and low notes, a meaty middle and a baking-chocolate finish. A great package, seamless and balanced and complex, a rich and flavorful young wine, probably my favorite red so far. I'd rate this one a veritable forest of 196 show-cut standard poodles, each beribboned about the ears with vibrant, multicolored silk, some dancing on their hind legs, some sitting quietly. Your score may vary, of course, depending on your chosen system (see FN).* (**)

Château Lascombes Margaux 1978: Medium-dark ruby color. Perfumed nose, violets and a bit of earthy funk. Tastes soft, rich and slightly faded, a mellow wine until some surprising glassy-fine tannins swoop in and drymouth me. An odd combination of elegance and wrath, the midpalate seems a bit deserted by fruit, but it's likeable nonetheless, in an offbeat, slightly decayed way.* (**)

Les Forts de Latour Pauillac 1983: Medium-dark garnet color. Quite funky on the nose--barny, mushroomy hints tinged with cedar hover over a base of quiet, muted red and black fruit. Crisp, on the lean side, although richer than the Lascombes and still fairly vivid and not over the hill. Nice, middleweight claret, turning coffeed on the finish.* (**)

Azelia Barolo Bricco Punta 1982: Medium ruby color, slightly ambered with a bit of bricking at the rim. Light-smelling, earthy muted redfruit and earth with baked-carrot hints. Lean and tart, leathery and with an incursion of tannins on the finish. Perhaps a bit past its prime.* (**)

I hear another Barolo went by while I was trying to take notes on that last one. Oh well. Can't taste 'em all.

Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1998: Medium-dark garnet color. Red raspberry and blackberry-based fruit smells, herbs and baked yam hints. Tastes a bit soft, a bit low-acid, a Kane kind of wine. Rich and lushly fruity, a party in my mouth, with some fine and slightly aggressive tannins swooping in for a raid and shutting the doors a bit early.* (**)

Rubino della Palazzola Umbria 1994: Dark garnet. Yet another fairly rich, ripe nose--smells leathery-raspberry-smoky, meaty and rich-smelling, with a beguiling hint of coppery blood. Plenty of ripe fruit, plenty of acidity, a smooth, exceptionally well-balanced wine that I keep going back to. Very nice, very interesting, lots going on.* (**)

Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1988: Medium-dark garnet color, slight browning at the rim. Hints of alcohol amidst the cedar and somewhat generic cassis, a lightly aromatic wine. Tastes bigger, rich and crisp and a bit lean and earthy, more slightly faded cassis, more cedar, racy and well-honed with some stern tannins remaining. A bit hard, a bit pooped, but decent. I'd drink any more up soon. Oleg loves it, but I can only give it sixteen whittled scrimshaw prongs nestled in the dufflebag of an old salt down by the pier. Your scoring may vary, of course (see FN).* (**)

On to dessert! We are given dessert menus, and wait patiently for someone to take our dessert order.

In the meantime, there's a Weingut Forstheister Geltz Erben Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Auslese 1983. We thought this was a riesling at first, but the bottle says nothing of the kind, and we all pass it around, trying to figure out what the grape is. No one can (although someone suggests it might be räuschling), and after fifteen minutes we stop worrying about it. Damn confusing German labels. Anyway, it's a medium gold color, well-developed nose, light gasoline-ripe mango hints, a dark greenness, honey. Interesting, if not really desserty, light- to medium-sweet and nicely crisp, with a marmaladey kind of thing emerging on the finish.* (**)

A bunch of folks are off to Veritas for more fun after this light warmup, but several of us are determined to wait out the dessert, so we finally corral the surly waiter and force him to take our order. Finally, with the pressure of the incessant flow of bottles at an end, we sit and taste through the leftovers. Many winners tonight, not too much dreck, apparently a big change from the last dreck-filled offline for Manuel (which I missed). The food was delish, and the desserts only benefitted from the long delay, being full-bodied, toasty and having a long cookies-and-cream finish.

I'm tired now. I'm off to have some coffee and get these bugs off my skin.


* In the interest of fairness, no one present at the tasting agreed with me in any way about this wine, which I am stridently biased either for or against, depending on my capricious whims; some people hated it, some people loved it, others were indifferent, all correctly said I was wrong to let my obvious biases interfere with my objective taste-objectivity.

** Interactive Section: Please enjoy filling in for yourself whatever number of stars, clouds, glasses, points, poodles, prongs or puffs seems appropriate for your investment or other purposes. It's fun for the whole family!

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