Truly, we must be entering our declining years.

Once upon a time the tripartite celebration of Lisa's, Kane's and SFJoe's collective birthday called for scores of bottles to wash down the grease from the fatted calf, thirty-year Muscadet verticals, endless toasting and speechifying, circumcision talk, fists flying over whether a wine had 'boysenberry' or 'loganberry' fruit, Dressner complaining about the food, internet feuds beginning and ending, tears, laughter, the whole works.

This year we just hung around Kane's place and ate quiche.

Well, there was also some intrigue surrounding Kane's grill, but more on that later.

To start the festivities there's a corked Muscadet of some kind. Yayyyyy, corked Muscadet!

Right, let's find something else. Hey, here's a Clos de Tue-Boeuf Touraine 'Le Brin de Chèvre' 2002. Is this still around? Sigh. Menu pineau is sooooo aught-three. Isn't there a new heirloom grape yet for this season? Same cloudy-pale color, same chalk/hay/lemon aromatics, same light limey-peach flavors, same lovely wine, move on, nothing more to see here.

Kane is explaining his naturist tendencies to anyone who'll listen, but I notice that there's this quiche just sitting on the table. It looks very inviting, but no one's touching it. "What's with the quiche?" I ask warily, "Can we eat it, or is there a plan of some kind, you know, courses in alphabetical order or something...?"

No, I am told, the quiche is a handcrafted masterwork from the kitchen of Vanessa Trevi–o Boyd, Star Chick Sommelier and Number Two Kate Bush Fan, but it is intended to be eaten, so go ahead and dig in.

I look at it dubiously. Something is fishy here. I decide to wait, and bide my time.

While I'm waiting and biding, I'll have another go at the Francois Chidaine Montlouis les Tuffeaux 2002. Rather shy aromatics, white peach, lemon and minerals. Not shy at all on the tongue, a crystalline wave of round, stony-fruity flavor with a sheath of cantaloupe softness, lightly sweet and crisply structured. There's a chameleonlike quality to the fruit flavors, they won't sit still. Shimmery, opalescent stuff, almost on a level with his lustrous '02 Clos Habert, lacking perhaps only that wine's sense of refinement and precision--this is a slightly broader, more sprawling critter. Nummy.

This reminds me: I must go out and pick up some more '02 Haut-Lieu demisec first thing in the morning.

Clos de la Coulée de Serrant (Joly) 2002. Sadly, just a bit corked. Ah, that ol' romance of the cork.

Good heavens, it's old Loire mavens Don and Melissa Rice. They've momentarily escaped their parental responsibilities for a night out on the town (or at least a night sitting around Kane's apartment). We're all here now, right? Brad looks around, "Connell isn't here yet..." he says, "and Greg and Michelle say they're coming, too--" here he is interrupted by raucous laughter. "Noooo," he protests, "they're really coming this time, really really!" Giggles all around. He funny.

Francois Chidaine Vouvray les Argiles 2002. Bright and minerally-smelling; chalk and more chalk, hint of lemon zest, touch of almond. Taut, nervy wine, impressively focused and lean.

This reminds me: I should pick up some more Haut-Lieu demisec first thing in the morning.

Belle Pente Winery Cuvée Contraire Rosé Willamette Valley 2002. Very matchsticky, that's all I can smell at first. At second and at third, too. An hour later it's a bit better, strawberry and burnt firecracker paper; still very odd, not at all like the fruit-juicy specimen at the winery. Dressner, in straightfaced wine-pro mode, posits that the wine is probably the same, but that I was swayed by all the warm fuzzy feelings at the winery and must not have noticed the overwhelming sulfurousness. I cackle uncertainly, but he's steadfastly keeping a poker face, so I'm a little unsure if he's putting me on or not. Damn, he's good.

I can wait no longer: I pick up a knife and make that first fatal incision into the quiche, mangling a slice while trying to get it onto my plate. No matter, it still tastes good. With my slice the levee breaks--geeks rush the table and within seconds the quiche is disassembled and only crumbs remain, the quiche having passed into legend. Fascinating.

Maurice Ecard Savigny-les-Beaune les Serpentières 1978. Medium-light ruby color, ambering well in from the rim. Pleasantly low-key aromatics: horehound, tree bark and mushroom, all dusted with a beguiling patina of decay. Smooth in the piehole, rounded and light and warmly loose. Fully resolved--no tannin remains, tart fruit provides the little support this airy wine requires. Charming little old pinot, very easy to like (unless your name is 'Brad').

Kane is cursing his lot as a Manhattan grillmeister--apparently the grill police have received a number of complaints about his work, so he's a hunted man these days, grilling only between two and four in the morning when everyone else is asleep. He suspects a grillsnitch is ratting him out, he mumbles dark threats under his breath all night long. No one is quite sure what to make of this.

There are two competing pork dishes that are supposedly the same recipe: one that Kane made, one the work of SFJoe. As we're sampling them, Connell arrives with more corked Muscadet, makes his obeisance and joins the porkfest.

Alain Graillot Crôzes-Hermitage la Guiraude 1990. Darkly complex aromatics, blackberry-raspberry laced with violets and iodine, hints of smoked meat, touch of bandaid. Smooth and round, quite ripe and velvety, surprisingly fleshy and loosey-goosey for a Graillot Crôzes: there's a touch of jamminess here, maybe even a gob or two. The medium-low acidity supports the plush fruit to a certain degree but can't keep it all in hand; it tends to bulge and billow around the edges. Very atypical, but once I've rebooted my palate I find the silky-smooth ripeness to be very pleasant. It's a rich, friendly wine that has a puppyish appeal, but there's complexity and depth here as well.

Kane makes a squinchy face. "Ewwww," he moans, "the acidity is WAYYYYYYYY too high." Everyone stares at him for a moment, wondering if there's any response to this that's worth speaking out loud.


Speaking of plush, here's a Dominus Napa Valley Napanook Vineyard 1991. Hey, it's a California proprietary wine! Boy, this smells ripe: warm red cassis-berry fruit laced with dark prune and pipe tobacco hints. The midpalate just keeps the plushness coming, a wave of fleshy-rich, espresso-laced fruit, and the wine finishes with a flash of tar and licorice. Falls just short of being a bit much--it's very ripe and rather plump, but Jay Miller's truism "Ripeness isn't always a flaw" pertains well here: there's an amiable buxomness, a likability if (like me) you don't always demand a lot of structure in your big red wines. Pretty good. A little tiring, but pretty good.

What's up with the silly faux-latin name thing in California, anyway (Dominus, Invictus, Opus, Delectus, Biggus Pointus, etc.)?

Domaine du Clos Naudin (Foreau) Vouvray Moëlleux 2002. Pale straw-tan color. Mmmm, smells wonderful, chalk and quince, touch of paraffin, hint of botrytis, bright and fresh-smelling. A sip, and it's a large-bore wine, firm and crisp and pure. Very flavorful but equally restrained and just a bit coy; loose at the edges but with a tight core. Very minerally in the middle, finishing with a waxy-polleny hum. Wonderful stuff, momentarily belying the notion that '02 is a demisec-only vintage.

Which reminds me: I have to go out and pick up some more '02 Haut-Lieu demisec first thing in the morning.

Maison Ackerman-Laurence Vouvray Clos le Mont 1945. A negociant wine from immediately before Huet acquired the vineyard. It's brownish-amber colored, actually it looks very much like this. Smells very leathery, like my old bomber jacket, leather and honey, marzipan and pressed flowers, with just a touch of preserved quince remaining at the core by way of fruit. Spicy-brown and medium sweet, this is well past its best years but rises above the status of a mere curiosity. Complex, pretty and delicate, an interesting artifact. SFJoe conducts sensory experiments in an attempt to locate the vineyard in his glass. We wait breathlessly, but his results are inconclusive.

The phone rings. Kane answers it, listens briefly, then hangs up and races out to the balcony. We watch in bleary astonishment as he wrestles his propane tank from the balcony into the living room, stuffs it into a suitcase, shoves it deep into a closet and throws a blanket over the whole thing. He's been tipped off! The grill cops are on their way!

We arrange ourselves in the most nonchalant fashion we can muster, and open a Bruno Giacosa Nebbiolo d'Alba Valmaggiore di Vezza d'Alba 2001. Medium to medium-light garnet color. Smells young, bright red cherry, cedar and graphite. Tastes young too, taut and hard and thin, a coiled red spring in my mouth. Swarms of rough tannins sweep in on the finish. I suppose it's just in need of time, but tonight it's not far from being actively unpleasant.

The silence is oppressive. We wait, nerves straining, for the knock on the door.

The tannins from the Giacosa are melting my fillings.

Okay, that's it. There's too much at stake, and, much as we like Brad, we're not willing to go up the river for him. Those of us remaining flee the scene of the crime, mumbling our farewells as we bustle out the door and down the back stairs. As soon as we hit the sidewalk SFJoe thrusts a bottle into my hands. "Drink it! Enjoy! Goodnight!" he says, backpedaling rapidly all the while. I watch him turn and sprint off down the street, and peer down at the label. It's a Turley Cellars Zinfandel Howell Mountain Black-Sears Vineyard 1996. What a thoughtful guy!

We take our gift horse home and have it with a late-night snack of my trademark mango-glazed shortribs. It's deeply colored, the exuberant bright fruitiness of youth has passed, but the mellower and earthier wine that's here now is equally welcome, and probably a better match with the meat. Peppery aromatics, rich raspberry-black cherry fruit with dark undertones. There's a southern-Rhône character to some Turley zins once they've got six or seven years under their belts; they tend to swing towards big, overripe Châteauneufferishness, and that's what's going on here. Muted raspberry-plum flavors laced with licorice and a smoky undercurrent. It's big all right, but it's got a good sense of composure, in a good place to drink right now but could probably go for another year or two just fine.

The zin is drained quickly, so as long as we're checking on the progress of '96 Turleys, we pop a Turley Cellars Zinfandel Contra Costa County Duarte Vineyard 1996. Medium-dark dead red color. First sniffage brings sweet black cherry-raspberry aromatics with a high note of VA and bass notes of tar, earth and leather. The overweening fruitiosity of youth has ebbed, allowing some earthy midtone notes to begin to surface. A sip, and it's rather muted: fleshy mouthfeel, black cherry juice, medium acidity, some slightly rough toastiness on the finish. The calming-down of the huge fruitiness has allowed some cracks in the facade to show, but also some complexity that wasn't evident before. After a day in the fridge the wood has integrated and the whole wine has turned silkier and earthier. Interesting, not as smooth or cohesive as the Black-Sears, but interesting. One to drink sooner rather than later, methinks.

Ah well, there you have it, a subdued evening of quiet festivization. Is it too late to catch the midnight Matlock rerun?

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