October 12, 2006

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Got milk?

Making new friends
With people and wines
By Tim Protzman tprotzman@sbcglobal.net

They were the most unlikely couple.

He was big, like a linebacker.

She was a tiny little size 3. Petite and short.

They’d been together 25 years, but they were still on the youngish side, in middle middle age. He had a ponytail and 30 extra pounds. He was dressed in a blue blazer and Hawaiian shirt. She was more stylish. Designer outfit with matching purse, either a Bottega Veneta or Zac Posen. Very expensive. They were nice too. The perfect couple to meet at a wine tasting.

Meeting new people can be fun. I don’t do it too often because I’m not a big people person but once in a while you just click with someone. And usually it’s a stranger. One time I went to Atlantic City to perform in a murder mystery. These were popular a few years ago. The actors (usually bad) play out the events leading up to the discovery of a (gasp!) body. Then the audience gets to solve the crime. If you’ve ever seen one, you know it can turn into an overacting fest with hammy death scenes and over-the-top confrontations. The bad actor playing the detective shouts “Ah, the game’s afoot!” and the audience drifts into the bar to fortify themselves for the finale.

I played Tug, the ambulance attendant. I got extra money because the actress who got murdered was extra ticklish. I had very gentle hands and was the only one able to pick her up without making her laugh. As bad an actress as she was, she knew that most dead people don’t laugh.

After the show I had $257.55 in cash and was in the Las Vegas of the East! I found a $2 blackjack table. Harrah’s had more than 300 gaming tables, but only three $2 tables. People were three and four deep. I never actually sat down. I played off someone else’s hand. The minute I placed my bet the woman whose hand I was playing off started winning. Her friends, who were ardent 21 players, gave me advice. Soon she was up $30 and I had $278.34 and several new friends.

Most people I meet at tastings aren’t as friendly. It’s less of a Harrah’s atmosphere and more like a Filene’s Basement sale. These people are serious. They want bargains and new discoveries. They’re looking for tomorrow’s hot wine. They tend to be serious. That’s why I like the newbies, they’re more fun. They make faces. They get tipsy. But they always follow the golden rule: no matter how bad the wine is you never say it’s bad. It’s always good. Just different degrees of good. Once you’ve been to a few tastings and watched a few people, you learn to interpret the “goods.”

One kind of good is the non-committal good, kind of a cheery “We’ll see.” This is when the wine is bad. And the rule is the worse the wine is the less you say about it. The worst wines are the ones where the pourer (who’s usually a sales rep for the distributor) says “So, what ya think?” These are invariably the tannic, harsh wines that have no crafting. At the tables where the pourer’s serving the good stuff they don’t bother to ask. It’s just assumed. And the good is more enthusiastic, said in almost a whisper — because the taster doesn’t want to share the secret knowledge with the masses. He wants to taste by himself. He wants the last case, all of it.

Susan and Richard were just the right mix of reserve and enthusiasm. They didn’t pronounce everything “good.” They weren’t afraid to be honest. Richard was a photographer, which I should have known because of the ponytail. Susan ran a stable. They had written a book on the vineyards of America and had visited every state in search of vineyards and great photo subjects. They loved the chenin blancs of Texas. They found it outside of Lubbock one afternoon. It was hot and dusty and they turned down this road and instead of wheat there were 40 acres of trellised grapes tended by a Croatian named Zjenka. He was the wine maker and cellar master. Except there was no cellar, just a climate-controlled storage building. The owner had been making wine for seven years. Well, eight really if you count the year the tornado sucked all the grapes off the vines. They didn’t make any wine that year.

Richard took the shots and Susan set up the appointments and used her charm to do the public relations. The preferred the Finger Lakes to Long Island, loved Santa Barbara and thought Napa had hit its peak 10 years ago. They were friendly, opinionated and knowledgeable in a way that wasn’t snobbish but actually helpful. They taught me much in the two hours we tasted together. Here are the wines we tried. The ratings and notes are Richard’s and Susan’s.
• 2002 Lynmar Quail Hill Vineyard Chardonnay, $27.99. Good to serve to co-workers at that obligatory holiday party. Susan liked it and gave it an 87.
• 2005 DeLille Cellars Chaleur Estate Blanc, $44.49. A blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon. Like an adult lemonade. 87.9.
• Andrew Will Merlot Sheridan Vineyard, $43.50. From Washington, the new place for good merlot. Susan gave it an 88.5, but Richard said it drank too much like a Pomerol.
• Kunde Zinfandel, $17.99. Nice and American. Richard and Susan didn’t rate this wine because they were too busy trying to remember the details of their photo shoot at the vineyard.
• Clos de los Siete, $15.99. A bit big for Susan. Richard saw its promise but wanted a little more maturity on the Argentine powerhouse. 89.

To find wines listed here, go to www.nh.gov/liquor.

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


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