From the line outside of the Puck Bldg on Wednesday you'd think it was the Tre Bicchieri tasting instead of Michael Skurnik. The tasting was just as jammed as it used to be in the old days, when Skurnik was the only game in town. Back in the early 90's, Skurnik was the BMOC and I was selling for Victor Schwartz (VOS). My seven clients loved me but they would not give me a pour because they had to pour Skurnik! So of course I hated the firm. What the hell were they doing that I didn't? Why couldn't I twist elbows like they could? In the end, they stood between me and health insurance. Now, the world is a happier place because I'm out of the selling game, Skurnik (and Victor, for that matter) are still around. And there is plenty of competition but Skurnik still has some good people on their roster. As part of my self-improvement program, I made a pact with myself to taste wines outside of my radar. BIBI GRAETZ (Tuscany) I used to dance Morris with someone named Shag Graetz during my Boston years. He was an ageless, mustachioed, walking, dancing Flemish painting. His galleys and double -steps were close to the ground but he was a very smooth dancer and had no trouble getting into the pants of girls twenty-thirty years younger. Smooth, there you go. That's what I think of mostly after tasting these wines and smooth is not one of my favorite wine terms. ( More on that later.) This Graetz (no relation), is a fanatic about teensy yields, so the notes say. I'm reporting that at his table he exhibited photos of grapes fermenting inside of barrique with small plungers for punch down. OK. Fanatic. Misguided but fanatic. I suppose some people think anything worth doing is over doing. Technique aside, this $780 case (wholesale!) of sangiovese grosso and canaiolo called Testamatta, was terribly typical. Yes, very concentrated, concentrated out of personality. It was vanilla coated ink. I would doubt it could age but would love someone to call me up in ten years to give it a sip or two. There was a $96 case of vermentino called Bianco di Casamatta. Very pineapple. Not what I think of with vermentino which in the perfect world, reminds me of the sea. TERRE NERE "This is not your typical Sicilian estate, mass-producing jammy reds that could be mistaken for Shiraz." (From the official Skurnik booklet.) That was true. They were something in middle between mass and authentic. In other words, the wines had a little work done, not a complete face-lift. I had the chance to try Marco deGrazia's own Nerello Mascaleses from Sicily. First up was the Etna Rosso. Not bad. Cherry. But enough earth to make the cherry sensible. It was a pleasant wine. Sure, I would drink this but for a retail price at over $24? Probably not. On a wine list for $40? No. I admit I had hopes for the wines. The two others, so barriqued up ( about $36 retail) made me sad. Why? Why? But let's talk about the wines I liked for a change. The wines I would put on a list or seek out in wine stores? Here we go: WHITE: Chablis: Domaine Boudin 05 Lovely, stony, lean, classic. At around $28 a bottle on the shelf, not pas mal at all. Vin de Savoie Apremont: Tete de Cuvee, Marc Portaz '06 Gentle, stony, chalky, it brushes your teeth for you. RED: Chinon: 'Bonnaventure' Chateau de Coulaine '05 I don't understand why Joe Dressner doesn't have them. It makes no sense for Joe not to have them. Why are they in Skurnik's portfolio? Just awesome cabernet franc. ($22 retail) Cotes-du-Ventoux La Martinelle '05 Prune nose with oats? I don't think I ever perceived oats before. This could go down to $12 at the shop. Other producers I liked? In Burgundy, Domaine Olivier Guyot for Marsannay and Gevrey-Chambertin. Domaine St. Gayan in the Rhone (Rasteau, Gigondas and Chateauneuf) even though they definitely have a mercaptan (garlic) thing going on reminiscent of Chteau Rayas of old. Next up: My Californian experience at Skurnik and a rant on the word handcraft. Night. Night. Speaking of which, all of those dream watchers? Here's one for the Jungian's amongst us: I'm over at my friend's house in Fes, but it is actually a trendy loft in Soho. I'm looking over the wines we can drink and there's hardly anything in the rack. I am drawn to one wine in a paper bag. I'm thinking great, an older Krug before they went to hell. Champagne. Perfect. But the brown bag is mushy. In fact it's a cat that has melted. This cat is jellified. The poor thing slips out in a pudding like a ...substance. The form is crawling with maggots, no perceptible smell, not even a little mercaptan, but the creature is alive! Maybe it has to do with everything I've been reading about LVMH?