This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Aug. 28, 2006.

Does tasting environment matter?

Wine snobs will tell you that the proper environment for tasting great wines must be formal, quiet and classy, with proper crystal set upon white damask tablecloths, in a purified setting with no distracting aromas or sounds.

The annual Internet wine-enthusiast gathering called "MoCool," in contrast, is held outdoors, under a small circus tent on a lakeside in a rural area in Southern Michigan, with mosquitoes, humidity and a distant whiff of poorly maintained pig farm to tease the taste buds, and wines poured into suitable if undersize glasses in a frenzied, noisy setting.

Yet MoCool, this year like every year, turns out to be one of the most memorable wine events on my calendar, and I invariably come home with memories - and tasting notes - on dozens of wonderful wines that didn't seem to lose a thing from the "inappropriate" setting.

I'm thinking the snobs are wrong, as they so often are. If wine is really about social enjoyment with friends, then all the rest is secondary. And once you get your mind focused and your nose well into the glass, it's surprisingly easy to ignore distractions and concentrate on the wine.

"MoCool" is short for "MoTown Cooperative Offline," a non-profit, non-commercial gathering of Internet-connected wine lovers that's been going on for 16 years now. Participants converge on the Detroit and Ann Arbor area for a weekend of wine-related events that center on the aforementioned picnic scene, where 100 wine lovers or more bring wines with some connection to the annual theme. The 2006 event was this past weekend, with the theme "Sweet, Sixteen and Bubbly" inviting dessert wines, sparkling wines and, best of all, 16-year-old wines from the vintage of 1990 around the world.

My complete report, with my own notes on nearly 100 wines sampled over the weekend, is now online at the MoCool Home Page,
where you can also join an E-mail list to be notified about next year's gathering.

Just to whet your appetite, here are a few short reports on random wines of the weekend that I found particularly interesting:

Laurel Glen 1987 Sonoma Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon - Sweet red fruit, a lot of barnyard. Mature or maybe a bit more than mature, but still going strong.

Edmunds St. John 1997 Story Vineyard Amador County Zinfandel - Showing a little oxidation, but mostly dark chocolate and lovely old-red claret-like sweet red fruit. Remarkably good mature red, although I don't know that I'd have picked it as Zin in a blind tasting.

Schweiger Vineyards 2000 Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - Big and bold, cassis and eucalyptus and dark chocolate, classic Napa Cabernet. Promising, but needs cellar time.

Moulin Touchais 1979 Anjou - Pale straw. Luscious and rich, strawberries and cream, incredibly youthful. A Loire classic.

Ch. Leoville Las Cases 1967 St.-Julien - Cassis and leather, fully mature but very much alive. Amazing.

Chateau Musar 1966 - Clear, medium-dark ruby, youthful color belies its age. A bit of old-wine funk, but Musar sweet-cherry aromas ride over it, and it's a delight on the palate, crisp and balanced and remarkably youthful.

Chateau Musar 1998 Blanc - Light golden-bronze, a look of age. Lovely aromatics, beeswax and roasted almonds. Rich white fruit, full-bodied, balanced acidity.

Pol Roger 1990 Brut Rosé - Pretty, pale salmon. Truffly, tart and dry. Holding up well, perhaps the best bubbly on the table for me.

Pol Roger 1990 Brut - Gold. Truffles, mushrooms, apples and honey. Creamy, rich, full-bodied. Fine.

Albert Morot 1990 Beaune-Marconetts 1er Cru - Pale ruby. Ethereal, delicate mineral iron-rust scent; sweet red-fruit flavor. Wonderful, intriguing older Burg.

Santa Rita - Casa Real 1990 Maipo Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - Rich Cabernet from Chile, big and balanced. Cassis and chocolate, acid and substantial tannins.

1990 Cos d'Estournel - Mature red fruit, a hint of barnyard, excellent mature Bordeaux.

Shafer 1990 Hillside Select Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon - Beautiful balance and structure, a great Napa Cabernet.

Ridge 1990 Lytton Springs Zinfandel - Red fruit and leather, claret-like, holding up very well.

Chateau LaGrange 1990 Saint-Julien - Cassis, herbal notes, hints of anise and white pepper.

Ch. Lafite-Rothschild 1990 Pauillac - Amazing. A burst of cassis right out of the glass, beautiful structure and balance. Oh, yeah!

Graham's Malvedos Centenary 1990 Vintage Port - Deep fruit, searing tannins; great potential, still very young.