March 8, 2007

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Got milk?

Finding new beauties
How to explore a world of wine
By Tim Protzman tprotzman@sbcglobal.net

Watching the Oscars last week, I found myself strangely out of the loop.

I had only seen one movie on the list of nominees — Little Miss Sunshine.

This was a far cry from my normal movie consumption. I usually see at least every nominee for Best Picture. For me, movies are like wine; I try to see as wide a variety possible and not watch the same thing twice.

But there are movies (and wines) I’ve enjoyed on multiple occasions. The top one belongs to E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. I’ve seen this movie more than 20 times. My kids loved it, except the cornfield scene, which was too scary. The next movie I’ve seen the most is the animated Beauty and the Beast. I’ve been thinking about this one a lot lately because the last great wine I had was from Gascony, the province of France where Beauty and the Beast is set.

Gascony is the Maine of France, wild, wooly and rustic with deep forests and craggy peaks, haunted castles and chateaus. The people are also less pretentious than what one would encounter in Paris or Lyon. They’re farmers, craftswomen, cheese makers and goose fatteners for the prized foie gras. They also make Armagnac, an earthy brandy that’s the gentleman landowner counterpart to the sophisticated city lady Cognac. In Gascony and especially the sub region of Bas Armagnac many of the old, aging cellars are covered with a fine black mold that lives on the vapors of the evaporating spirits. Here food is an art, a relaxation and a tradition. Pigs on leashes hunt truffles. Wild boars are fattened on acorns. It is the land of prehistoric cave drawings, Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Three Musketeers and the Hundred Years War. And of Domaine Lalande Chardonnay.

It’s great to find a gem like Domaine Lalande. Near Bordeaux, but further east in the traditional realm of the Armagnac makers, Lalande relies on tradition to produce a structured wine that balances the fruit, oak, acid and sugar into a world-class bottle. It also relies on ancient harvest methods like picking the grapes early in the morning when they’ve rested and full of sugar. Wine-making here is an ancient art that’s been enhanced by modern science. It involves stainless steel tanks, regular fermentation instead of malolactic fermentation and the ancient art of letting the pulp stay in the juice to impart character.

Now you probably assume that my superior wine knowledge, my need to be current on all things new and my ability to sniff out bargains and obscure wine gems led me to Domaine Lalande. Wrong. Maybe you’ll remember that Star Trek episode (the original with the guy who gained weight and now plays that lawyer Denny Crane, not Voyager or Enterprise) where the star ship reached the edge of the known universe. What did they do? They turned around and went back. Well, I’ve reached the edge of the wine universe. But instead of turning back, I asked for directions. And I was pointed to Domaine Lalande Chardonnay. One of the most important things in learning about wine is to ask questions.

“What are you drinking these days?”

“I like Australian Shiraz; what French Syrahs will I appreciate?”

Questions like these posed to a semi-knowledgeable wine shop clerk will bring great results. Some of the greatest wines I’ve ever had were so foreign to me that I wouldn’t dare to pick them on my own. Think of the old-fashioned vintner from Gascony who travels to Paris to sell his wares; a Letter of Introduction is de rigueur. Get to know the staff where you shop and get them to write you letters of introduction.

Sometimes you don’t even have to ask. Some shops feature Staff Picks or Recommendations. I rarely find anything unpleasant on these racks.

Finally, don’t be afraid of weird locations. Two decades ago nobody in their right wine mind would think New York State, Missouri, North Carolina or Romania would bring us some good grape. The picky purist misses out on these quirky but delicious locations. Until I tried Domaine Lalande a wine from Cote de Gascogne seemed a waste of time and money. I just hope Sardinia will treat me as gently the first time. This week’s wines:

Domaine Lalande Chardonnay ($9.99). Like a fine white Burgundy with a touch of gunflint, gravel and metallic tastes imparted from the soil. Crisp and acidic at first with a sweet fruit note like eating a table grape at the finish. This wine makes me wonder why I drink reds at all.

2005 Wild Horse Pinot Noir ($15.99). From California’s Central Coast. Nice but not a top shelf or even traditional pinot. Fruity and tannic all at once.

2005 Wild Horse Chardonnay ($13.49). From California’s Central Coast. This wine was typical Californian Chardonnay, but better. No fake oak or lemon or butter.

Vieux Donjon 2003 Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($37.500. This Rhone wine was less intense and very domesticated. I was under-whelmed, although it did go better with the meal instead of the glass I had as an aperitif.

Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon ($9.99) from South Africa. I had a choice between the 2005 and the 2004. I chose the ’05 but the money was in the ’04 briefcase. Very tight and tannic on opening and it took a good 3 hours to open up. And the ’04 had a cork, albeit a plastic cork, and the ’05 had a screw top.

I like the wine, would drink it again by the glass, but the screw top made me feel a little too Skid Row..



3/1/2007 Infatuation or addiction

2/15/2007 The extraordinary ordinary
2/8/2007 A glass of sweetness
2/1/2007 A glass of sweetness
1/25/2007 Ham it up
1/18/2007 Cheating on wine
1/11/2007 Burning down the tree
1/4/2007 New Year's hangover
12/28/2006 Sins of the vine
12/21/2006 Kissing frogs
12/14/2006 Wine for horrible friends
12/07/2006 Like dregs in the wine glass
11/30/2006 Gift of calmer shopping
11/23/2006 YouTube for YouWine
11/16/2006 Welcome to wine
11/9/2006 Fine art, supermarket wine
11/2/2006 The geography of grapes
10/26/2006 Please continue to hold
10/19/2006 The trouble with reds
10/12/2006 Making new friends
10/05/2006 TiVo-ing the wine
09/28/2006 From an unknown battle
09/21/2006 Toast to turkey
09/14/2006 Wine for life
09/07/2006 What are Malpeques, Alex?
08/31/2006 Hanging out wines
08/24/2006 Falling into new wine season
08/17/2006 Where has that wine been?
08/10/2006 Bringing out the dead
08/03/2006 The birth of a wine fop
07/27/2006 Slow process of maturation
07/20/2006 The pain of adolescent wines
07/13/2006 Nice day for a white wedding
07/06/2006 Scoring goals with booze
06/29/2006 Beer, it's what's for dinner
06/22/2006 A drink fit for a czar
06/15/2006 A summer of beer and fried clams
06/08/2006 Keep your cool, fool
06/01/2006 The social lubricant
05/25/2006 Water, water everywhere
05/18/2006 Big fat greek wine tasting
05/11/2006 Drinking to the end
05/04/2006 Schooled in the art of wine
04/27/2006 Make a wish
04/20/2006 Immigrant wines
04/13/2006 A pain in the glass
04/06/2006 Got milk?
03/30/2006 Throw a dart and there's wine
03/23/2006 A life of good wine
03/16/2006 Honoring the dead soldiers
03/09/2006 What once was old i new again
03/02/2006 The taste of sibling rivalry
02/23/2006 Wine travels, doesn’t sing
From grape, to barrel to red-tape jungle

02/16/2006 Love and vine
02/09/2006 A dog-drink-dog world
02/02/2006 The winos' mecca
01/26/2006 Date-nite drinks
01/19/2006 Touring eastern wine country
01/12/2006 Wine, Cheese and Granny Smith
01/05/2006 Resolve to try new wines
10 Wines To Get Lucky With

Adventures in and past the Euro-Cave
A Do-It-Yourself Wine Tasting
A Red For Everything
A Red Wth Your Leftovers?
A Tasty Way To Put Wine To The Test
A Year Of Wine
An Around-The-World Holiday
A wine for every holiday

Basking In The Mondavi Light
Behind One Door Is Great Wine
Beware The Hot Bottle
Brandy and the nude beach
Champagne, The Other White Wine
Cheers And Whines Of The Vine
Days of wine and jelly beans
Deep in the heart of Texas
Drinking for your health
Drinking like a newspaperman

Drinking Whites After Labor Day
Finding A Great Medium-Weight Drink (I)
Finding A Great Medium Weight Drink (II)
Gifts for blood, love or money
Gin
Grill and sip, sip and sip. Finding the perfect wine for barbecue
Hey baby, stay cool
How The Corleones Saved Wine

In Praise Of An American Wine
In search of the girl next door
Keeping it in the family
Keeping up appearances
Looking back at the heyday of cheap wine
Mondovino
My Big Fat Greek Wine Tasting
The Best Drinks On A Budget
The Highly Drinkable (Mostly) Merlot
The Long, Strange Journey Of Wine
Old French grape in the New World
Olé! to a week in wine
Opening the Parker book

Our French friends — really
Our Northern Neighbor
Poker faces and wine

Presenting A New England Vodka
Presenting The Wines Of Spring
Rewarding Your Support Staff
Schooled In The Art Of Wine
Shopping for Wine Bargains

Sitting By The Fire And Dreaming Of Wine
Slipping A Little Sideways
Spending the holidays in NYC
Spirit World Tales
Springtime calls for wine and ice cream
Sudden ugly mood swings
The new face of fine wines
The wines of fall
Thinking ahead to the holidays
Time To Stay Frosty
Tipples for turkey day
TV worth drinking
What it means to miss N.O.
What To Drink When You Eat Wild
What's Your Wine Sign
White’s OK after Labor Day
Wine Between The Season
Wine for the NASCAR set
Wine is in at the Inn
Wine’ll make you crazy
Wine Works With Red Sauce