April 27, 2006

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Got milk?

Make a wish
Columnist marks birthday with wine
By Tim Protzman tprotzman@sbcglobal.net

My birthday’s this week and I’ve been thinking about the time I turned 14 and my family took me out to dinner and let me have a crème de menthe parfait.

It was green crème de menthe poured over plain vanilla ice cream and topped with spray-can whipped cream (the real stuff is too heavy). I’d tasted spirits before, my first cocktail being a small glass of red Dubonnet at a family function when I was 10. My parents went through cocktail phases — Vodka, Scotch, Drambuie, Almaden jug wine. I liked the Dubonnet, which comes in red and white and is wine fortified with brandy and infused with herbs and botanicals. It’s French. Here in America we infuse our shampoos with herbs and botanicals but in France they put them in wine. Another cool cocktail is Lillet. It also comes in red and white and has the same spices and fruit flavors as those oranges stuffed with cloves and sprinkled with cinnamon that you made in third grade and hung on the Christmas tree or put in your sock drawer to make it smell good.

The crème de menthe parfait was a big sucker. I think I joked with the waitress to make it a double. Considering that I was such a cute teenager — braces, freckles, pimples and bad hair — she probably did. Either that or she slipped me a Mickey. The result was I was slightly buzzed. But not as buzzed as the one birthday at a Grateful Dead concert. I was 22 and I think someone really did slip me a Mickey. Getting slipped a Mickey is a reoccurring fear for me. It wasn’t until I was in my 40s and attending a writers’ workshop on the art of Mickey Spillane that I learned a Mickey was named after a turn-of-the-century (not the last one, two turns ago) Chicago saloon keeper named Mickey Finn who calmed rambunctious patrons with a knockout cocktail of grain alcohol, snuff (for flavor) and chloral hydrate, a barbiturate liquid, which by the way is green and would have been perfectly concealed in my crème de menthe parfait. Whatever happened that night, as we drove home in the Pontiac Safari station wagon, I knew crème de menthe parfaits were gonna be something I liked.

The last time I really liked my birthday was when a good friend bought me a bottle of Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere, an intense red wine from Pessac-Leognan. Deep aromas of what I call “the Band-Aid smell,” a garnet color for age, thin tastes of dried cherry and a structure that seems almost like three separate rivulets of flavor are descending your tongue, palate and throat. This year I got a card from my auto insurance company with a lizard on it. And I can’t remember the year of the Malartic-Lagraviere, either. While Pessac-Leognan is south of the city of Bordeaux it was given special consideration in 1959 to distinguish its quality wines, which were neglected by the 1855 Classification.

But it was Pessac-Leognan that gave rise to the great clarets. Those are wines blended from many grapes, usually 50 percent cabernet, 25 percent merlot, 10 percent malbec, 10 percent petit verdot and 5 percent carignan. These wines were all the rage in English society and praised by Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson and Dr. Samuel Johnson. But because the climate was better farther down river the wines of Medoc were more consistent and longer-lived.

This year I’ll probably stay home, finish the book I’m reading — and have iced tea. Maybe I’ll put a bit of vodka in it — you wouldn’t think so, but vodka with sweet tea, especially the fruit kind (either the tea or the vodka), is delicious. It’s a trick I learned down South.

Here’s the wine I tried in the last week that’s worth repeating (and I wouldn’t mind having on my birthday).:

Trinchero Family Selection Merlot, $9.99 — The fussy wine rookie loved this one. I liked the price and the winery has huge history. It is a large corporation, family owned, but so is Ford. They make Sutter Home Wine (strike one), but the merlot is delicious (ball one). Maybe now that Pinot’s all the rage they’ll fuss with the merlot less and let nature take its course. And they were the first to bring White Zinfandel to market (long center field drive over the wall!).

Tell Tim your wine stories. You can reach him at tprotzman@sbcglobal.net.


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