July 20, 2006


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Got milk?

The pain of adolescent wines
Maybe itís OK if they stay out of sight for a while
By Tim Protzman†tprotzman@sbcglobal.net

Moving is a family affair, at least in my family. Iíve moved my ex-sister-in-law four times, my ex-brother-in-law three times, my ex-wife three times, and my other ex-sister-in-law once. The one thing these moves have in common is the carnival atmosphere. You can do anything you want as long as youíre working. Stop by and make sandwiches for the crew. Youíll get their deep appreciation and be asked back the next time someoneís in transit.

Last weekend it was my ex-brother-in-lawís stepdaughter. Well, ex-stepdaughter, but thatís another story. Like when my ex-wife fell off the ramp that pulls out of the back of a U-Haul truck at 9:32 a.m. on the day of her big move and twisted her ankle. We just propped her up outside on the sofa and let her bark orders, which we mostly ignored, although we did give her a blanket and made her a sandwich. Thankfully it was an unusually warm January day. Which was like last weekend, except it wasnít unusually warm, it was just hot.

I was working with my ex-nephew (every relative in my family is an ex) and my son whoís often tempted me to move him to ex status.

My nephew is now 14 years old. Heís 6 feet tall. Heís thin, with a deep voice. Heís never shaved so heís got a peach fuzz upper lip. He can do some pretty good heavy lifting. And he smells bad sometimes. Not that little kid puppy smell, but a full-blown adolescent dog smell. In short heís in his awkward phase.

While his awkward phase is apparent from the unkempt hair, zits and perennial frown, my latest wineís awkward phase wasnít so visible.

Iím not sure it really was in an awkward phase, or if awkward phases in wine exist. Iíd read about awkward phases from other more knowledgeable wine writers. John Brecher & Dorothy Gaiter of the Wall Street Journal and Jancis Robinson of the Financial Times have written of beautiful young wines that turn into tannic monsters as they enter the vineyard form of adolescence. These wines will taste great for 3 to 5 years and then spend a couple of years sullen, moody, bitter and ugly. And itís not every wine that ends up in grape juvenile hall, but the ones that do deserve to be there.

Perhaps Iím using my awkward phase analogy to soften my disappointment at getting a nasty bottle of what I considered a great wine from a great vintage. The alternative is the wine was just plain bad. And it could be it wasnít the wineís fault. It could have been stored improperly. Heated and cooled, heated and cooled or subjected to lots of vibration and movement. But as a wine critic and writer I have to look at every angle. The angles are: The wine could have been at an awkward stage. The wine could be badly made and the awkward stage is a myth the wine capitalists feed us so we wonít demand our money back. The wine was damaged by heat or light or too much movement. Or my taste buds were off that night.

The easiest fix for bad taste buds is a second pair and Tubbs, the newest wine rookie, thought it sucked too, and so did the Goose Faced Slizzer.

What really got me thinking about the awkward phase was that the wine was a 2001 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. Iíd found it in a little wine shop and the price was less than in the bigger stores. It still wasnít cheap at $62.99, but I wouldnít have paid the usual $85 in any shop. It was the price that attracted me, not cheap, but priced to move. Now, many wine trade types would say you get what you pay for, but if I paid $24,700 for a Mercedes C240, used, Iíd still expect it to be 85% as good as the new one, Right? Of course.

So why does the wine trade make us think weíre at fault whenever we donít find a wine up to our standards? Are our palates too gauche to perceive greatness? Or is winemaking a bit of a crapshoot and the wine trade has to play the role of the tailors in the Emperorís New Clothes?

What ever it is Iím tired of marginal wine. Iím even tired of marginal beer. Give me some consistency in my product. Let me drink a nice Beaujolais and a pleasant cabernet.

Iím not asking every wine be a 1989 Bruno Giacosa Barolo, just interesting and pleasant.

But since Iíve tasted Caymus before, Iím putting it down as in the awkward stage. But think of the ordinary guy who hasnít: Heíd never drink it again.

Much better was the William Hill 2002 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. It was big, with hints of fruit; apricot, grape, a touch of red beet, pepper and cassis. It was a bit heavy with alcohol (a new trend in Californian wines, alas) but was easy to sip with nice flavors. $43 a bottle.

If the wine world be one of exploration then one would find oneself sometimes becalmed in the Horse Latitudes or the never-ending reed swamp that sucked up Kate and Bogey in the African Queen. If a person wants consistency let him try Van Gogh Vodka, $22.99 and every bottle tastes the same. Itís especially good in a cucumber daiquiri:
1 pureed & peeled cucumber
1 dash of Tabasco
two tablespoons of sake or rice vinegar
black pepper
serve in a chilled glass.

Iíll end this whiney rant about mediocre wine with a warning ó if you want to keep increasing market share, then give us our moneyís worth. Give us interesting wines.

Help us develop our palates. Weíll always pay a little more for quality. But when you charge us top dollar for fake tasting, bad or cheaply made wines Ė youíll lose us.

Weíre fickle and unpredictable; just like your wine!.

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

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

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