Various denizens of the soft white underbelly of the New York/New Jersey WLDG community assembled this past Sunday at the country estate of leading regional philanthropist and oenophile Oleg O., with the stated purpose of getting to the bottom of a few bottles of some red and white Burgundy and finally settling for good the pressing question that has plagued us all: Just what exactly is "good pinot fruit"?

For purposes of this determination, Mr. Bradley Kane, known pinot-hater, was locked in the closet for the duration, with Oleg's pair of semiferal dingo-dogs guarding the door. There was no appeal permitted--wino justice is swift and merciless.

Our host and his charming wife Inna had assembled a spread reminiscent of Babette's Feast, ably assisted by the lovely Jayson Cohen, who provided many wonderful goodies, not the least of which was his own legendary strudel, only slightly forehead-dented.

While Oleg was forced to hit the road on a search and rescue mission for Jeff Connell and Cap'n Joe Dressner (who were lost in the wilds of Jersey), the rest of us (Bob Ross, who arrived toting a Callahanian case of wine, Lisa, Inna, Jayson and I) passed the time sampling some starter whites.

Darting Ungsteiner Herrenberg Riesling Spatlese 1996: Pale straw color. Bright, light nose, chalky lemon hints, yellow apple, fresh and spry-smelling. Tastes like it smells, bright, light and nimble in the mouth, lightly sweet with plenty of acidity, closing with a soft lemon-apple finish. Not a deep or profound wine by any means, but very happy and smooth and another QPR success for this house, which has begun to take up more and more room in my cellar recently.

Just in the nick of time, in comes Oleg with the lost lambs in tow--Mr. Connell and the Cap'n, resplendent in tricorn hat and eyepatch. This calls for some bubbly, and Jayson obliges with a hand-import from the land of small flightless birds.

Cloudy Bay 'Pelorus' Sparkling Wine Marlborough 1995: Medium tan color, looks a bit odd. There is a strange cheesiness to the nose, in the mix with yeasty-almond notes. Very little overt fruit, tan-tasting and lightly creamy. Connell takes a sip and says "Do you have a bucket?", Dressner can only mutter a puzzled "Arrr?" and Jayson quickly points out that his last bottle was showing much better. I've always liked Cloudy Bay wines (authentic, inoculated and enzymed or not), but this is weird and fruitless and could certainly be damaged a damaged specimen.

Now that we are a quorum the Cap'n proclaims the ritual cry of "Hoist high the Jolly Roger--no quarter asked or given, arrrr!" and we proceed with a few white burgs.

Latour Corton-Charlemagne 1991: Medium straw-gold. Flinty creamy-lemon nose, velvety & rich, with some vanilla oakiness. On first taste you get a nice flush of slightly limpid creamy fruit, but it fades a bit on the midpalate and turns a bit woody-rough on the coarse finish. A big, fairly fat wine, but shorter on structure than I like, a bit heavy in the mouth. The last time I had this one blind I guessed it was Californian, and my impression of the wine hasn't changed much.

Louis Carillon Puligny-Montrachet 1997: Pale straw-lemon color. Hints of yellow apple on the nose. Leaner and tarter than the Latour, tangy and crisp and steely, but not much else going on now. Closed, tight, lean. Time?

Latour Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot 1996: Pale straw. Apple Jolly Rancher candy and yellow apple on the nose, candied-smelling. Some oxidation here, hints of caramel, fruit is a bit flat and neutral. Drinkable, but only just.

Clearly my own impatience with the chardonnay grape is showing, but I'd take the Darting over any of these wines any day of the week. Of course, I'm grumpy. I briefly consider letting Kane out of the closet to find an ally, but the dingo-dogs eye me warningly and I decide against it.

Now the red stuff begins to flow.

Maréchal Pommard La Chanière 1996: Medium-dark purply garnet. Spicy-lush clove-plum-cherry nose, just a touch medicinal smelling, but rich and velvety in the nostrils. In the mouth it's another story, as this wine is sharp, tight and tart, with some fine firm tannins swarming in on my tongue. There's a lot of potential here, but this needs some serious time to rest and loosen up.

Derain Saint-Aubin Le Ban 1998: Medium to medium-light garnet. Cherry, earth & underbrushy notes, spicy-smelling and light in the nasal passages. Light too in the mouth, soft and feathery, medium-low acidity, seems charmingly open and a bit round, a wine with a small amplitude, good mellow fruit and a supple style that goes down smoothly. Here's some good pinot fruit. Will it have the backbone to go for a lot of years? Dunno, but it's tasty now.

In between these wines there is a presentation by Jayson featuring a live reading from Coates' Côte d'Or about the prevalence of whites over reds in St. Aubin. We listen, and learn, and the Cap'n chimes in piratically with black pearls of wisdom gleaned from a lifetime in the wine and typography fields. I am too rapt to write it all down, but there was some good stuff, let me assure you. When he is done, we all give a reverent "Yo-ho!" and move on to some more wine.

Derain Saint-Aubin Le Ban 1995: Medium to medium-light garnet. More open and lush-smelling than the 98, darker, earthier notes on the nose, more acidity here. I like this one even better than its younger sister--the profile is similar, but it seems to have better balance, more spinal crispness and some nice layers of flavor that the younger version only hinted at.

There is an alarming noise from the kitchen, and we are ruefully informed that Pumpkin and Monty, tired of their Kane-guarding duties, have made a meal of most of the mushroom pastries that were to be our next course. We squabble over the few survivors; the dogs are fortunate, they are delicious. In the ensuing chaos it becomes clear that Kane has made his escape and is at large in the Jersey countryside. The police are duly informed, and the doors and windows barred and shuttered while we continue drinking pinot by the light of a lone hurricane lamp.

Charlopin-Parizot Chambolle-Musigny 1993: Medium garnet. Hey, here's a lush nose... dark cherry-earthy-clovey notes limned with smokiness... rich-smelling and beguiling. A sip, and the taste is equally rich and smooth, medium-crisp, rich, layered & balanced, a great package o'pinot that lingers leatherily in the mouth with a smoky spicy red hum. Plenty of rich flavors hanging on a strong flexible spine. Excellent, really excellent.

There is a banging on the bolted door, and we are alarmed at first, thinking it might be the fugitive, returned with bottles of California cabs to hurl at us, but it turns out to be Andrew and Jennifer, trendily tardy. Andrew's been working in the vineyard again, and is clad very fashionably in farmer-John overalls with tastevin on a chain around his neck. The dogs choose this moment to create yet another ruckus by chasing after Mugsy, the Cap'n's parrot, who retreats to the top shelf of the bookcase, periodically crying "Pieces of eight, pieces of eight!" to protest this indignity. We settle down and soldier on bravely.

Burguet Gevrey-Chambertin 1993: Medium garnet. Another clove-scented nose, with hints of nutmeg & menthol as well in the light plum-cherry base. Plummier, purpler and meatier in the mouth than the others, rich and meaty, if a bit chunky in texture, with hints of caramel in the midpalate and a truffley-dark finish that fades into unbalanced acidity a bit too quickly. With air the tiniest hint of mustiness begins to emerge. Uh, oh. Lisa throws the flag. Minutely corked, but only bothersome to her's and Jennifer's hypernatural high-frequency probosci. Must be a girl thing. Once again, I find myself thanking the wine gods for my natural resistance to TCA.

Rousseau Chambertin 1992: Medium garnet. Rich, fun-smelling slightly stinky red fruity nose, cranberry-cherry-earth edged with manure, sweet red-velvet manure. Rich in the mouth as well, leathery red forest-floor notes dusted with spicy cooked-carrot hints and mushrooms. Very flavorful, very well balanced, earthy and silky. Superb Burgundy, drinking beautifully tonight. I wish I could drink this every night. My favorite so far, edging out the Charlopin-Parizot on the basis of complexity and a truly superior level of what the scientific types would call fun-smellingness.

Suffused with the joy of the Rousseau, Cap'n Joe attempts to persuade Bob to let him take his car (although he insist on calling it a "gig") out for a test drive, but is firmly and politely rebuffed. The Cap'n loves leather seats, you see.

Drouhin Musigny 1993: Medium to medium-dark garnet. Spicy-dark notes on the nose, hints of herbiness. Yow, this is closed tight as a fist, coiled up on itself and fiercely tannic. I'd give it five years before popping another. Jennifer is so nonplussed that she tosses her glassful onto the tablecloth in order to make some kind of statement. Not really sure what kind, though. Maybe Andrew knows.

Ponsot Griotte-Chambertin 1992: Matte, slightly cloudy medium ruby. Sweet-smelling soft brown-red fruit tinged with a beguiling earthy-mustardy note. Tastes very crisp, tart and a bit thin through the midpalate. Smells more open and rich than it tastes. Again, perhaps time is called for, but the fruit in this one seems a tad anemic.

Chevillon Nuits Saint-George Les Vaucrains 1991: Medium to medium-dark garnet. Fairly light on the nose. Tangy tasting, still seems quite young, tart & brightly tannic. Semi-closed, but there are glimpses of medium-rich fruit that come and go. Another wine that has more structure than fruit, but it gives me whispered hints that it may come around.

What's this? Some California pinots have infiltrated the Burgundian ranks. Let's drink them too, mateys, arrrrr!

Scott-Clark Cellars Pinot Noir Central Coast 1999: Light garnet, very pale. Slight carroty hints on the light, light earthy red nose. Light in the mouth, tangy and ethereal and almost not there at all. Where's the beef? These guys need to work their vines or something. A rare miss for Scott-Clark, who has been on a roll lately with most everything across their lineup. Four and a half prongs.

Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Moon Select 1995: Medium-dark garnet. Ooooh, weird. Candy-plastic smells emanate from this wine--Dressner yelps "Burnt plastic!" and he's not far off. Plastic cherry-plum and a lot of toasted oak. The wine is pretty well balanced, crisp spine with rich fruit, but it tastes, well, like monolithic plastic syrah-pinot on steroids, with a finish that won't stop no matter how much you want it too, lingering like heartburn. I'm actually not as horrified as most, as I've had a bunch of this house's pinots before and am more inured to the weird style, but there are shrieks of dismay and horror from the uninitiated that had to be heard to be believed, and the dump bucket is full in seconds. Me, I can actually sip it a bit and admire the back label, where the proprietors boast of their 'innovative modern technology.' Yes, a wine for our technological age.

Testarossa Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Pisoni Vineyard 1997: Medium garnet. Medium-rich nose, more upfront and cherry-candied than any of the burgs, but with a good dose of earthiness to give the nose some depth and balance. Somewhat simple, but nicely crisp and balanced, light and flavorful in the mouth. Pretty good, and head and shoulders above the other two Californians.

Pernot Volnay Carelles 1995: A lost little burgundian lamb. Medium to medium-light garnet. My nose isn't working very well after the assault by the Flowers, but there's some clovey red fruit here, muted smoky cherry, tangy & racy-tasting, a lean flavorful wine that cuts through some dead nerve cells and finishes medium-long and cherry-smoky.

For some perverse reason there are people who are intent on recreating for those of our number who missed it the chardonnay cult-off between two supposedly up-and-coming producers, Scott-Clark and Flowers, that we did last November, so here we go again...

Flowers Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 1997: Brutally, overpoweringly oaky, caramel, vanilla, a hint of fig, some sad pear & apple fruit weeping for mercy and praying for death. Lisa can only stammer "This fell out of an oak tree and hit every branch on the way down." A touch of sweetness, aack this is even worse than I remember. A twisted caricature of California chardonnay. Andrew defends it as being merely "typical wretched California chardonnay" but I think he's being kind--the Flowers pinot was simply kind of weird, this stuff is foul.

Scott-Clark Cellars Chardonnay Central Coast 1999: Tropical on the nose, bright pear, banana, pineapple. Fairly light after the viscous Flowers, this is still good, honest chardonnay with a trace of sweetness that accentuates the fresh-fruity friendliness. It lacks some spine and probably won't make old bones, but is fresh and unoaked and bright. The winner (again) by a landslide (again).

Well, now that that's out of the way, we can have a few sweeties, all the while tearing into Jayson's legendary strudel with the fervor of rutting weasels.

Klingenfus Tokay-Pinot Gris Bruderthal SGN 1994: Pale straw-tan. Lots of botrytis, hay, lemon cream on the nose. Not dessert-wine sweet really, almost moelleux-style. Soft, smooth, a bit dilute through the midpalate, but a small, whispery wine with a decent botrytisy medium-length finish. Nice, but small and quiet.

Château Bellerive Quarts de Chaume 1996: Pale gold. Lean nose, vivid and racy but not giving up too much. Tastes bigger than it smells, richly sweet and with good crisp acidity, this has the good balance I've found in a lot of 96 QdCs--plenty of tangy apricot-pineapple fruit in a lean base, crisp acidity and a mess o'botrytis. Good stuff, if not quite the lush over-the-top style that tickles me in places that I like to be tickled.

Château La Tour Blanche Sauternes 1990: Medium gold. Very rich smelling; honey, botrytis, butterscotch, vanilla, apricot all rolled up into a creamy package. A sip, and it's big and fat, viscous and thick with creamy orange rind-apricot-vanilla-tinged fruit. The mouthfeel is very close to being flabby, but it skates jauntily away from the edge. Big & blowsy and loosely-knit, I don't think this has the structure to go the long haul, but it's fun and rich for drinking now.

Good heavens, we're out of wine!

Just like that, people begin to scatter to the four winds, with no thought to the all-important vote on the nature of 'good pinot fruit.' Jennifer drags Andrew off by the ear, with some inane notion of "a good night's sleep" in her head. The Cap'n and Connell grab a hunk of strudel and, failing to hotwire Bob's car, head back to the big city, while Bob heads north to adventure. We thank our more than generous hosts and, following a hand-scrawled map of the Jersey backstreets, ramble off into the darkness, leaving Oleg and Inna & young Rachael behind, alone with the dogs in the Kane-haunted night.

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