About two weeks ago, I participated in a wine event, the results of which left me absolutely speechless. It was the annual "Retrospective of Northwest Wines" at Ray's Boathouse, and I was invited to join 10 other mavens for the purpose of evaluating 155 wines from Washington and Oregon. Yes, that's a lot of wines, and I was excited to have the opportunity to taste them side by side. You're saying, "Dennis, didn't you get totally shit-faced?" The answer: No, but I wish I had. The surprising thing about this event is that so many of the wines were just awful, a number I estimate to be about 80 percent—a shocking outcome. Two things you should know: The first is that Ray's had nothing to do with the wines; they only organized the tasting, and did a superb job. The second is that some of the better wineries weren't represented. My conclusion is that you have to be very, very careful about the wines you buy. If you trust my palate, buy the wines I recommend. At the very least, chat with someone knowledgeable in a wine shop to get an informed opinion. You certainly won't get one from a winery's Web site. He made me a wine I couldn't refuse Say what you want about movies like American Graffiti and the Godfather trilogy, but Francis Ford Coppola knows wine. His Napa winery produces some of the best values in America. For example, his '98 NIEBAUM-COPPOLA DIAMOND SERIES SYRAH ($15) offers tantalizing aromas of clove and raspberry, then finishes with black currant and dark cherry. The second piece of evidence is the '98 NIEBAUM-COPPOLA DIAMOND SERIES CLARET ($18), a luscious blend of Bordeaux grapes that delivers a snout full of blueberry and blackberry as well as meaty, gamy dark plum flavors. DENNIS, I'm one of those weird people who gets a headache from wine. Why does that happen, and what can I do about it? CRAIG CRAIG, The fact that you get a headache from wine doesn't make you weird, but I'm sure plenty of other things do. No, lots of people get the Thud of Death from wine—specifically red wine. Why red and not white? Because red wine has a component called histamines whose sole purpose in life is to punish people for having fun. Since I'm not a doctor (although I once played doctor with Suzi Contreras next door), I can't prescribe medicine. But several people I know take an antihistamine before drinking the red stuff. DENNIS E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.