November 16, 2006


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Got milk?

Welcome to wine
21-year-old joins the wine rookies (legally)
By Tim Protzman

My son turned 21 last week.

And contrary to popular belief, he’s still a major dependent. The only good thing about his milestone is now he and I can have a cocktail in a bar and he can accompany me to a casino where he can bug me for quarters for the slot machine, instead of the video games in the arcade.

Of course, we had a small celebration and it was a good excuse to convene a meeting of the Wine Rookies. We hadn’t met in a while. You know how it is. People get busy. Haley’s in school. Mary got a new boyfriend who doesn’t drink. Dave took a weekend job. Beans moved. And Squiggy’s saving up for his next ultra-hedonistic trip to Amsterdam.

But we joined together to celebrate Bill’s birthday. Bill’s girlfriend generously offered to host the party at her mother’s house. She’s from Sweden and works for a catering and food emporium. Mom has a lovely lakefront home, and while it was too cold to use the deck, we did enjoy the view, especially as the nearly full Beaver Moon (I didn’t name it; the Algonquins did) rose in the east.

As we got caught up on each other’s lives we sipped several wines and tasted a Scotch which Bill had requested as a birthday present. Haley was there and so was Dave. Me and Nori, Bill and Christina and Squiggy, who brought a new Wine Rookie named Adam. And Adam brought a karaoke machine.

I did a roast and Christina did the hors d’oeuvres. Squiggy went over his whole itinerary for his trip to Amsterdam, which included a laundry list of coffee shops that serve cannabis. Squiggy, who has many independent sources of income that provide sustenance rather than luxury, suggested I accompany him and write the whole thing off by doing a column on the trip. Even better, he mused: get your publisher to pay for the entire trip.

I demurred, pointing out someone had already done a wonderful (yeah, right) article pairing white Burgundy and a potent strain of marijuana called AK 47, for High Times Magazine. Being a wine snob, I naturally look down on so called cannabis connoisseurs, mostly because it’s illegal and they’re just such slackers. But writing this now I really wonder if I’m being too judgmental. Then I remember the last time I ripped a good bong hit. It was 12 years ago and it cost me $32 in cab fare because I was too paranoid to drive, and I ate not one but two microwave trays of Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese and an entire bag of Peanut Butter Cups. I’ll stick to wine, thank you.

The celebratory champagne I chose was Dom Ruinart Rose, a pink champagne that’s a mix of chardonnay and pinot noir to give it the pink color. It was a little too cold and therefore a bit flavorless upon opening, but as it reached the optimum 50 degrees it opened up and let its secrets out. Strawberry and lemon. No malt or yeast. Light orange and pear. But at $65 a bottle, it’s not champagne that I’d buy again. I was really looking for a vintage champagne, which means all the grapes used to make the wine were grown and harvested in the same year. It’s usually declared by the individual producers when they’ve had perfect climate conditions and it has the year on the bottle. Non-vintage champagnes, which by law must have been aged at least 15 months, don’t have the year on the bottle. And vintage champagnes are more expensive. Instead I got a single-malt Scotch.

The Glenmorangie 10-year-old single-malt Scotch was wonderful. It’s a Highland whiskey from the northern part of Scotland. I loved the slightly sweet finish that tastes of leather, spring water and caramel. It was a great aperitif and it retails for $34.99, a bargain next to vintage champagne.

All in all it was a fun night of sipping wine and singing “Wild Thing” on the karaoke. Adam wrote a song about Dave called “Dave is really queer, seriously, who puts ice in their beer?” to the tune “Black” by Pearl Jam.

Lately, I’ve enjoyed beer or cerveza from our southern neighbors; especially Pacifico from Mexico and Presidente from the Dominican Republic. But we tasted a German dunkel or dark beer from Germany, called Warsteiner.

It quickly became of new favorite. A touch of hops, some light malt and lots of deep chocolate, coffee and burnt sugar flavors greeted us.

We sampled many wines. A nice 2004 Australian Shiraz called Archetype from the Barossa Valley that for $13.99 instantly made up for all the bad shiraz I’ve drunk.

2003 Seven Hills Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($17.99); jammy with nice fruit but supple and structured.

2003 Franciscan Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.99); well-rounded with hints of elderberry, cassis and espresso.

The favorite wine of the evening was the 2003 Avignonesi Vino Nobile de Montepulciano. This wine is from Tuscany and is often confused with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, which come from Abruzzo. The Avignonesi was super. The sangiovese grapes produce a dry, layered wine that was rich and sinewy all at once. There was chocolate, tobacco, sour grape notes and cherry taffy flavors.

We played cards, and listened to Adam sing, which like a bad Riesling became more sugary and cloying as the evening progressed. But you only turn 21 once, and what better way than with a great sangiovese, a superb sipping whiskey, tales of the assassin’s delight in Amsterdam, and a straight dude singing “Dancing Queen."

Tell Tim your wine stories. You can reach him at

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