March 23, 2006


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A life of good wine
Can drinking the good stuff make you jaded?
By Tim Protzman

The next best thing to drinking wine is reading about it. It’s probably geeky, but I enjoy a good wine book or blog about a fun time with wine. Nothing racy, just a good dinner with friends and the wines they drank. I really enjoyed Michael Broadbent’s Vintage Wine, a studious look at older famous chateaus, producers and ancient bottles.

Sometimes I find wine reading in the most amazing places. At the dentist, having my teeth cleaned of the purple stains, I read People magazine. It was a really old issue. My dentist is cheap. It had Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, and his second wife discussing their vacation home on the Vineyard. They liked Chateau Haut-Brion, a red Bordeaux from Pessac-Leognan, which they bought by the case. The great 2000 vintage costs $329.99 a bottle at the state store but you can get the 2002 for only $129.99. The tasting notes from by Neal Martin give the 2000 24 points (out of 25) and the 2002 20 points. You can always go with the Chateau Bahans Haut-Brion, which is a more-commercial, lesser label for $34.99. But when you’re talking about wine from an historic first growth property, lesser really doesn’t mean a table wine. The chateau has a great history going back to 1525 and today it’s run by a company called Domaine Clarence Dillon. The next time you get an old dollar bill, look for the name Douglas Dillon, the son of Clarence Dillon. His family’s owned Haut-Brion since 1935. He was the Treasury Secretary for President Kennedy and Johnson, and his signature was on $100 billion worth of greenbacks. His daughter, the widow of the Prince of Luxembourg and now the Duchess of Mouchy, owns it now along with other Dillon family members. It is quite the fairy-tale life.

But my question, based on my Mayfly-like attention span, is, “If you drink exceptional wines every day, don’t you get bored?” It’s a problem I haven’t encountered yet. In the meantime I’ll be trying as many wines as I can afford, and passing on trends, tidbits and suggestions.

One of the tidbits is that wine tasting is subjective. Most people know a so-so wine from a great wine, but I’ve found our palates react differently to the same wine on different occasions. Sometimes it tastes different because the bottle’s been opened, sometimes our taste buds are fouled or distracted or enhanced or just plain lazy. A wine that seems glorious one night might not to live up to its legacy the next time you try it. So wine as a lifestyle for me comes down to two things: finding that rare and stratospheric bottle and finding a delicious wine at the cheapest price. We did the latter this week and while we weren’t inundated with delicious inexpensive wines we did find some.

2002 Gallo of Sonoma Pinot Noir, $9.99: a tight, shipshape wine with low tannins, subtle fruit and distinct layers of taste that stratify from first sip — ripe plum, brandied cherries — to mid swallow — a small tannin with some alcohol — ending with a bit of licorice and tobacco smoke. The family-owned Gallo Winery owns Turning Leaf and Anapamu, Mirassou, Rancho Zabaco, Gossamer Bay and Louis M. Martini. While the money still comes from peasant wine, the Gallo Family line of wines has been focused on premium, quality wines since the mid 1990s. Nice wine, wouldn’t stand up to a Chambertin Clos de Beze but, hey, it’s $9.99!

2003 Pepperwod Grove Pinot Noir, $7.99: This one tastes a little watery, which is a good thing because it bears quite a resemblance to a premier cru Burgundy from a subdued year. Raisin, cherry, grape and plum fruit with a touch of cilantro and a hint of spice. Very light and ethereal. I was quite surprised by the sophistication this wine showed, especially in comparison to the price. Wouldn’t blow away your oenophile Uncle Leo, but it would be the talk of the tennis party.

2002 Beringer Napa Valley Merlot, $17.99:While I’d still lump this one in with the first-tier, affordable merlots, it has structure, low tannins and a taste that is fresh, non-chemical and full of sun. I’m not a real big fan of Beringer, but this was heavenly everyday wine. The first sip was a bouquet of red fruit: raspberries, cherries and watermelon. It had mellow wood smoke tannins and finished with a soft, gentle chocolate cherry cola nuance.

Voice of the expert
Chuck Saunders of Wineberries, a wholesale wine vendor, recommends: “2003 Budini Malbec Mendoza Argentina. It was written up in Food and Wine and the Boston Globe as a best buy (party wine). It’s made by Susana Balbo and retails for $13. It’s available at private stores, like Wine Society, Nashua.  If you have a second log onto great Web site, lots of info and pictures.”

Tell Tim your wine stories. You can reach him at

Comments? Thoughts? Discuss this article and more at

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