September 14, 2006

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Got milk?

Wine for life
A glass (or bottle) is more than just its varietal
By Tim Protzman tprotzman@sbcglobal.net

Who invented writing? Who scratched the first symbol in the cave floor dirt?

I’m asking this question because my winedrinking career has this watershed place in it, where I actually stopped just drinking wine and started to write about it. First it was just the producer name, varietal grape, region where the wine was grown, price and finally, what I thought about the wine. But it was a big leap forward, just like that ancient one where mankind moved from writing in pictures to writing in symbols and letters.

Today, I’m no longer content with the name, price, vineyard and critique formula. I want the back story. Maybe if I traveled to the farthest wine regions of the world and met the winemakers in their natural habitat I’d have a more extensive back story on the wines themselves, but I, like most wine drinkers, will probably never travel to the world’s most exotic vineyards. The steep, rocky slopes of the Rhone Valley, the lush sunny fields of the McLaren Vale and the majestic terraced riverside vineyards of the Rhinegau constantly beckon, but never seem to get any closer from year to year.

So the back story you get is not about the life of the wine, but about life itself, which happens to include wine. Wine as a beverage — what’s it taste like? Wine as social lubricant – what do you think of it? Sit and have a glass with us! And wine as a part of life, not wine as the source of life.

Life can be sublime or dull or challenging or sad or mean or fulfilling. Sometimes a glass of wine will enhance the joy or take the sting out of the sorrows. Sometimes a glass of wine sipped on the front porch on a fall evening will help put everything in perspective. It explains your place in the world and just how small you really are.

This week has been full of little triumphs and failures, most of which won’t matter three or four years from now, but each represents an archetypal passage the fits into the human experience and lends itself to that glass of wine.

Last Tuesday, I heard a funny story over a glass of Belmondo Pinot Grigio ($7.99 per bottle, retail). It was a light wine with a tart edge to it that was perfect for the bitchy little story Toddie, a famed restaurant critic, told me about a very rich and very eccentric family, whose thrice married daughter bought a candy shop on Cape Cod, renamed it The Chatham Nougat Chew Chew and couldn’t keep any staff for very long because she insisted they wear yellow gingham jumpers with bows and puffy sleeves. The wine and conversation were light and the faint lemon verbena tartness accompanied the foibles of the born rich and their somewhat skewed view of life.

On Wednesday, one of my cars broke down. This is nothing new for me because I had a nice, clean used Camry which I turned over to my daughter, when she got her license. I took over the old family wreck, a 1992 Ford Taurus. Originally owned by my ex-wife’s boyfriend, it had passed from him to her to my son (briefly) and almost to my daughter. Out of safety concerns I switched off with her and the thing finally broke down. I’m used to having a car just break down and not run. Stop dead in its tracks. But this car went postal. The motor mount came loose and banged up through the hood. The engine revved hard and took off at an ever increasing speed until I was able to ram it to a stop against the curb in a supermarket parking lot, which slowed it down enough so I could slam it into neutral. Finally it stopped moving but until I could get the ignition shut off it ran faster and faster like a small jet ready to take off. I abandoned it temporarily and took the bus to work. The only good thing about that day was the three bottles of wine waiting for me at home.

They had shown up while I was at work. Two whites and a red from Wattle Creek Vineyards in Sonoma. The red was a mostly syrah blend with tiny, tiny amounts of viognier and petit sirah. That night the Wattle Creek Sauvignon Blanc held sway as I related the “insane car posse” story. We liked the touch of honeydew in the finish and strong grass and sour endive tones on the first sip. The winery, which is now embarking on a major marketing campaign, sent me these wine to taste. The suggested retail cost is $25.99

The next day I read an article by a famous wine writer, Frank Prial, who writes for the New York Times, about Australian wine promoter Len Evans, who died recently. Mr. Prial was reminiscing about Len’s theory of “drinking the best possible wine every day.” He figured someone who was 60 years old had maybe 15 years left, and that equated to about 3,000 bottles of wine between now and eternity. I tried the Wattle Creek Syrah blend, but it wasn’t as full and rich as I’d like, so I opened the Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz ($28.99). The dudes are just some old vines in the Barossa Valley where the wine is grown. This was a richer, more intense wine to toast the dead dude I just read about. Heavy berry flavors with smoke and cinnamon hints. A fitting wine for a man who drank “only the best.”

Over the weekend I dropped my youngest off at University of Massachusetts for her freshman year. We anticipated a long line at the financial aid office but were pleasantly surprised when we walked into a nearly empty office. Slam bam and she’s processed. Apparently, the epic tragedy my daughter anticipated was resolved when her mother signed a piece of paper. My daughter, ever the pessimist, had planned a backup career as a fashion model, just in case. At a small restaurant on the way home me and the ex shared a bottle of Jade Mountain La Provencale, a red blend of Syrah, Grenache, mourvedre and viognier that had the right sensations of freedom, accomplishment, sadness and a touch of mourning one associates with empty nest syndrome. By the third glass we were well into the celebratory aspects of unshackled parenthood and really grooving on the brandied fruit tones and inky denseness of the concentrated fruit. This was a moment made for wine. Not made by wine because how could a mere bottle contain all the emotion? but rather enhanced and placed in perspective by the act of sitting, sipping and thinking.

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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