The extraordinary ordinary
Cheap can be good, pricey can be bad
By Tim Protzman email@example.com
There comes a time in your life when you realize that the most you can be is average, or even ordinary.
And it’s not a bad thing. No more delusions of grandeur about winning American Idol or being made Duke of Normandy for saving the Queen from pirates. When you look around you see harmony and you’re happy living just as you are. Even if the footprints you leave are smaller than Brad’s or Clooney’s or those of the drummer from Fall Out Boy.
This realization is never driven home harder than at the Wine Shop. Just as the average person can’t afford Hermes or Derek Lam designs, there are many wines that are just out of my league. So there’s my niche. I write about wines that are available and reasonably priced for the average wine drinker. I don’t have a cellar. I rarely tour vineyards. Me and my pack of Wine Rookies taste and judge the same wine that you do. Only we taste more and we write about them. We love when we find a beauty. We tell you when we find a dog, a wine so bad it should have a warning label.
And like all us average guys and gals, there’s a lot of average wine out there. My main gripe is that the only way to get a refund on wine is if it’s corked or bad. Corked wine has contaminants in it. It smells musty and sulfuric. What you can’t do — and this is unlike almost any other consumer good — is get a refund or credit on wine that’s just not fun to drink. I wish I had all the money I’ve spent on tannic, mean, watery, vapid, over-oaked, unnatural-tasting, sicky sweet wines that don’t sing to me. In a restaurant they give you some remuneration if the food or service is not good. Why does wine get a pass? If your cable goes out for days on end, you get a credit. Why don’t you get that with wine? I’ve had knowledgeable merchants suggest wines that cost 40 bucks and they still were disappointing.
Todd, my restaurant critic friend who likes but doesn’t love wine, sympathizes. She’s asked for and received numerous check adjustments and free dessert courses to make up for poor food and service. But she never got a dime back on the wine. She once bought a pricey 1988 Château du Tertre Arsac, an underrated fifth-growth Margaux. It was a magnum (1.5 liters) that cost $233. Not a kingly ransom but not exactly a Whopper Combo either. It was horrid, she said. Tannic, inky with sour flavors and lots of sediment.
She had served it at a dinner party and everyone had about two sips before that gave up. So she took it back, or tried to.
“Why is half gone if it was so bad?” the wine shop owner asked.
“I had 10 people over and I poured the first glass and nobody could finish it, so I dumped the glasses down the drain,” my friend said.
The most the owner would offer was a $20 credit on her next purchase. She turned to leave, and she swears it was an accident, but the half-empty bottle slipped to the floor and shattered, spraying wine and glass all over a white cardboard display of cheap rum, her pants and the floor. She just turned, mouthed a quick sorry and walked out. This is the most satisfaction I’ve ever heard anyone get from a wine shop owner. Of course it cost her $10.50 to dry clean her pants, but she got a great story out of it.
I used to feel deceived by the merchant when I tasted bad wine, but so many gallons later I’ve evolved to blaming the wine itself. Here’s this week’s list of suspects with a few angels.
Kyle is a tall, handsome IT salesman who’s our newest wine rookie. Problem is he only drinks whites. He’s got a huge house and he threw a barn-burner of a Super Bowl party. (Why does it have to be on Sunday? Maybe they should give us that Monday off as a national holiday?) One room held a Beer Pong table. In the workout room over-testosteroned guys were sparring with boxing gloves. Three TVs pumped out the game on various sized screens. The grill was going. The pizza boy came twice. And we tasted wine.
• 2005 Edna Valley Chardonnay, San Luis Obispo Valley ($13.49) A touch of oak and vanilla wrapped in a semi-sweet mantle of slightly dense wine. A “B” grade chard for the ordinary Jolene.
• 2004 Canyaka Kavaklidere Emir de Nevsehir ($11.99) Another fun wine from Turkey. Light like a Sauvignon Blanc with a floral bouquet like a Chenin Blanc. C-
• Domaine Moreau & Fils 2004 Chablis Kyle hated it. I like the honesty and mineral flavors it presented. It’s all chardonnay grapes, but Chablis does it with a different twist like Kansas City and North Carolina do on barbecue Sauce. Wouldn’t purchase again unless by the glass. Very drinkable.
• Domaine Mangiat-Poncet Saint-Veran 2004 Saint Veran’s are a rustic but satisfying village wine from Burgundy. Sweet and young drinking, this one had apple, sour grass, pear and light lemon vinegar taste. C grade.
And the winner of the Vince Lombardi Trophy is:
• 2005 Benziger Los Carneros Chardonnay ($13.89) Buttery yet crisp. Lemon zest hints. Floral grace notes. Honeysuckle bouquet. Very Good. Sure to drink again.
And The Bears?
• Fossati 1997 Barolo from Azienda Agricola ($45.49) Here’s one you hope to drop on the way to the checkout counter. Flat and one-dimensional. Tannic with chocolate and pepper flavor notes. Just plain underwhelming.
• 2005 Cloudline Willamette Valley Pinot Noir More like a Zinot Noir (or is it Pinot Zoir), 100 percent pinot that tastes like a cross between Zinfandel and Pinot. Pleasant but a bit preternatural.