Author's Note: As I shamble into my fifth decade, I find that I've acquired a tiresome case of Kaneitis; i.e., displaying a propensity to write off whole genres of wine with glib dismissals. Normally I do my utmost to fight this trend; today the wolves are at the door and I'm just too damn tired to bother, so let the chips fall where they may...

So everyone shows up with bubbly.

Jay Miller has put together a jeebus on the theme of Champagne and Burgundy, but, in one of those odd confluences of moon and stars, most everyone decides to bring bubbly and only bubbly.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you. Connell and .sasha have always claimed that Champagne is the staff of life. On the other hand, Kane always says something along the lines of "Oh wonderful, an underripe carbonated mix of my two least favorite grapes--what's not to like?"

God help me, I find myself leaning Kanewards these days. Does that make me a bad person?

Don't answer that. Please. I don't want to know, I feel enough of a clod as it is.

So the fun begins with a Bollinger Champagne La Grande Année 1995. Smells toasty and biscuit-yeasty with hints of cream soda, rich and boisterously aromatic. Rich and expansive and slightly hamfisted, there's lots of almondish and bakery flavors, a light lemony-minerality underneath. Robust bubbly, it doesn't seem to go over terribly well with the finesse crowd. I've always been rather partial to this wine when in the company of other Champagne, mostly because it actually tastes like something. Camblor calls it "A sloppy kiss of a wine," and that's about right. Still, I enjoy it more than I am willing to say aloud and keep sneaking back to it when no one's looking.

Okay, that was pretty tasty. Let's keep the ball rolling, shall we?

Egly-Ouriet Champagne 1997. Big bubbles. Airy, rainwatery aromas, bit of lemon cream. Tastes light and lacy, a little watery in the middle. Not much here, but not in any way disagreeable.

Gatinois Champagne Brut N.V.. Smells of almonds, lightly toasted almonds. Easy and smooth, touch of sweetness, decent enough, I suppose. Shrug.

I hear Dressner telling Camblor how he used to represent this producer, but that the guy thought Denyse wasn't glamorous enough for a Frenchwoman, and by the way there was some arrangement whereby the German distributor got free hookers whenever he was in town, or something? I don't even know which wine he's talking about, I'm only hearing snatches of conversation out of the corner of my ear, and I'm feeling apprehensive for not fully appreciating the glory that is fizzy pinot noir/chardonnay. Will I still be allowed to hang out with the cool kids? Will I be thrown off my precarious perch on the B-list? The ramifications are ugly, and I decide the best bet is to shut up and not think about them.

Puzelat Petillant Naturel 2001. Potato-field-after-a-rain funk at first, then a flinty minerality under some lightly earthy-limey fruit. Taut and nervy, only lightly fizzy (phew), finishes with a slow rumble of lemon-lime rockiness. Curiously more imposing at the end than the beginning, I like this one despite the initial swampiness because it actually has some distinctive character. Plus, it's not as fizzy as the others.

Larmandier-Bernier Champagne Cramant Blanc de Blanc. Smells like biscuits. Big and tart, a little bitter in the middle, a little bitter on the finish. I can't parse the label on this one. Is it non-vintage? I don't know, I can't tell, it might as well be German. Is there an A.P. number?

We've been worried about Manuel's recent hiatus; there's a great deal of concern that he'll go the way of the late lamented Andrew Scott, Steve Plotnicki and Tom Troiano, but he assures us that he's merely reconnoitering his powers, dreaming up a revolutionary new wine scoring system that will utterly displace "stars," "points," "puffs," "glasses," "clouds" and "poodles" in the minds of the internet winegeek community. More on that later.

David Laclapart Champagne l'Amateur N.V.. Effusively effervescent. Light, lemony, touch of cream soda, bit of breadiness. Tastes almost ethereal, creamy and crisp, a charmingly simple Tinkerbell of a fizz.

David Laclapart Champagne l'Artiste N.V.. Take the above and add a nervy minerality; it retains the boisterous fizziness and lightly lemoncreamy flavors but adds a crystalline purity at the core. Long yeasty-stony finish, a smoothly focused and balanced wine. Pretty nice I guess, although it puts me in mind of a conversation I had ages ago with the late lamented Andrew Scott: "That Pinon '96 Petillant is good stuff, you should pick some up," I said at the time. "Oh yeah, that stuff's good," he responded, "but it's much better after three days in the fridge, when the bubbles are all gone. Then you can actually taste it."

Words to live by, rest his WIWP soul.

There's some kind of a story to these next two, they're made from some oddball grape varieties that aren't legal anymore but were once, or something like that. I'd ask Camblor to repeat it, but frankly I'm pissed at bubbly in general right now and don't really care. Plus, he's busy expounding on the project that has been keeping him off the wine boards for the past several months. Apparently he's designing a new system of rating wines using only three words per bottle. More on that later.

L. Aubry Fils Champagne Le Nombre d'Or 1997. Smells a bit oxidized, flattened-out lemon and baked apple underlaid with toasty bakery aromas. There's a slight bitter streak in the middle and some jarring toasty notes running alongside a light lemoniness. Odd, disjointed. What to make of this?

L. Aubry Fils Champagne Le Nombre d'Or 1996. Fizzy, acidity, light minerals. Lean, crisp and ungiving. I just can't hear what this wine is saying, because it seems to me it's not saying anything. Jay is serving his trademark cheezy poofs, so I just put my glass down, walk away and don't look back.

Dressner has stopped paying any attention to the wines and is quizzing Lisa relentlessly about her cellphone. Who's her carrier? What's it cost per month? How good is the reception? What about text messaging? It seems he's contemplating a lifestyle change, and needs her support in his research.

Pannier Champagne Brut Rosé N.V.. It's pink, salmon-pink. Smells flinty, light cherry notes and river rocks. Tastes bitter, disjointed and jarring. Unpleasant.

Thank heaven, it's finally time for some reds.

Groffier Bonnes-Mares 1985. Spicy clove-horehound smellies hover over a base of bricky nonspecific redfruit. A sip, and it's thin and tart, as angry in the piehole as it is beguiling up the nose. Not much fun; past due. Okay, but at least we're back with wine that isn't fizzy now.

Mongeard-Mugneret Grands-Echezeaux 1983. Medium ruby color, ambering lightly out from the rim. Smells rather decayed, muted cherry and clove infused with brown sugar and tea hints. Tastes stern, with a touch of sourness in the middle and drying tannins on the finish. The fruit has faded into pleasing complexity but hangs tautly on the skeleton of acidity. Not bad, I suppose, but quite joyless.

Camblor is carrying on about the rapacious nature of importers of Spanish wine. Dressner plays the Voice of Reason role to the hilt: "These guys are just trying to make a living," he purrs, "why should they be saints?" Eyebrows fly upwards, waiting for the other shoe to drop, but nothing else is forthcoming. Manuel, momentarily distracted, turns to explicating his eagerly-awaited system for scoring wine with only three words per bottle. "None of which," he promises, "can be fuck or shit!" He pauses. "Well... maybe just one... two at most...." More on that later.

Bitouzet-Prieure Volnay Taillepieds 1993. Quiet, quiet aromatics, muted redfruit, minerals, a touch of cinnamon, all light and flickery in my nose. Tastes tight and hard, not giving up much at all. Where has this wine gone? Either to an early grave or to Barbados for the winter: hold, hold, hold and hope, hope, hope.

J. Drouhin Grands-Echezeaux 1987. Warm smelling, muted cherry-beet, truffle and a bit of leafiness. Tastes like it smells, a bit soft up front, rather vague in the middle, but decent and drinkable and in this company I'll take it.

There's some food, too. I forget what. I'm sure it's good.

Domaine de Petits Quarts (Godineau) Bonnezeaux la Malabé 1992. Medium lemon-gold color. Lightly tropical aromatics, baked pineapple, lemon and almond paste. In the piehole it's crisp and middleweight, medium-sweet and small in amplitude. Soothing, sweet and unremarkable. Wine of the night!

Fritz Haag Riesling Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Auslese 1989. Doesn't smell like much of anything, touch of mineral, hint of lemon. Tastes quite dry for an auslese, and almost fruitless. Very little character: vague, pallid and disappointing.

On that note maybe I'll go have a beer.

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