February 2, 2006

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The winos’ mecca

Protzman hits New England Wine Festival

By Tim Protzman  tprotzman@hotmail.com 

About 30 years ago, the curtain came down on an American institution, the Department Store.

In case you’re too young to remember: these were big multi-storied buildings that had everything under one roof. I used to dream of being locked inside one of these behemoths overnight.

There was food, beds, shoes, TVs and, most of all, toys — an entire half floor of toys. Pretty heady stuff for an eight-year-old.

Even today, older Manchester residents get a little misty when you mention Leavitt’s, a five-story consumer wonderland that was torn down in 1973 to build a bank. There’s nothing like it left in the Northeast (the closest comparison is probably Harrod’s in London). And in those days, a trip to Leavitt’s was an all-day affair, full of excitement and exploration.

As I slide through the miasma of middle age, I’ve started believing the feelings of suspense and anticipation I used to get before a trip to the store were something from a past era, never to be repeated. That was until I got a press pass to a major New England Wine Festival. There’s nothing like 1,000 wines under one roof to bring a tingle of excitement and childlike wonder to the soul of this old wino.

I often get free samples of wine to try. It’s an occupational perk. Most of it is ordinary, even if it’s expensive. The wines that are good values or really delicious I write about. The other stuff I don’t. I go to press dinners and tastings, which present great but often hard-to-get wines. When they’re really good I’ll mention them, sort of like an All Points Bulletin, just in case they turn up near you. But I never really get comped for an entire day of wine sampling. And while it seemed to me like the grown-up equivalent of being locked in a Department Store overnight, it was actually hard work.

The title of my autobiography will probably be “Fame without Wealth.” This point was driven home at the check-in desk of the Wine Festival when I was informed, “Yes, we have you on the list, but you need to go to group check-in to pick up your credentials.”

My friend Nori laughed as we walked down a long corridor, past the ice machine to a little window flanked by a soda machine and laundry chute. Here we picked up our press passes and headed toward the event.

The reason I brought Nori with me was that she only drinks white wine. And with 1,000 wines to sip at 11 o’clock in the morning, you gotta have a game plan. We’d get in quick, before the public, and try the sparkling wine, the dessert wines and the sweeter whites. Then as the doors open to the general paying public we’d exit quickly, on a predetermined path, and hit the pricey reds on the way out.

For the most part it worked out well. We walked and sipped and talked and sipped and spit and rinsed and listened to comments like;

“It’s an ephemeral wine, you drink it…and then it’s gone!” said the reporter from Motor Parts Monthly.

And my own “Who’s on First?” moment-

Me- “Where’s this wine from?”

Him- “I don’t know”

Me- “Where?”

Him- “I don’t know”

Me- (a bit perplexed) “Can I see the bottle?”

Him- “Sure” (as he hands it to me)

It all became amusingly clear at first glance when I saw that the bitey little dessert wine was from the state of Idaho.

Here’s our favorite wines from the Festival of Tasting:

Sparkling wines

Niebaum-Coppola Sophia Blanc De Blancs ($18.99, California) — Fresh and zesty with lemon and malt.

Gruet Non-vintage Demi-Sec ($22.99, Mexico) — Creamy with a ginger ale and persimmon finish.

Heidsieck Monopole Non-vintage Blue Top ($37.99, France) — Rich and layered with a sweet beginning and bitter dry finish.

Zonin Castello del Poggio Brachetto ($17.99, Italy) — Our favorite. Deep pink with hints of raspberry and a touch of acidity reminiscent of a good sauvignon blanc. So different it blew us away.

Dessert wines

Tomasello Winery Red Raspberry Wine ($11.99, New Jersey). A sweet fruit wine draped over a rugged frame that lends itself to cooking and after-dinner sipping like a Port.

Saint Chapelle Riesling Ice Wine 2004 ($24.99) – The one from Idaho. Had a hard finish but a delicious butterscotch start.

S. A. Prum Wehlener Sonnemuhr Auslese 2002 ($23.49) — Auslese is the ripest and sweetest of German wines. They let the grapes stay on the vine until the sugar content is sky high. The wine would be great with dessert, but it’s not only a dessert wine – it goes with cheese and cream sauces and nuts.

Newport Vineyards Vidal Ice Wine 2004 ($34.99 for 375 ml bottle, Rhode Island) — Our favorite, in fact we chose this as best of show! A sweet, luscious candy of a wine that rolls on the tongue and goes from caramel to butterscotch to orange maple cream in flavor.

Honorable mention

1999 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino ($42.39) — A deep and brooding red Italian maestro.

2000 Prunotto Barolo ($39.99) — Like a Brokeback Mountain cowboy, this wine was rustic but gentle, with great flavor and longevity.

Duckhorn Merlot 2003 – I drank this one because I can’t afford to buy it and wasn’t disappointed. Wish it was cheaper than $48.49. Napa Valley.

Henriques Garcia Portela da Cota Reserve ($24.99) — A phenomenal Portuguese wine from the Douro River Valley. The best Portuguese wine I ever had!

We left just as the crowds and noise and pushing and jostling started, but not before one lady noticed the press pass dangling from my neck.

“You look familiar…who are you?” she asked.

“I’m Tim Protzman,” I answered.

“Oh sorry, you’re not him,” she replied.

Comments? Thoughts? Discuss this article and more at hippoflea.com





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