March 22, 2007


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Got milk?

Chateau de blech
Even bad wine offers lessons
By Tim Protzman†

Writing is like wine-making.

Itís much easier to write overblown, trite lines than it is to do something nuanced, with ascending structure and little gems of discovery along the way.

See, I just proved it.

Iím thinking about this because of a wine I tried. Now our mothers always told us, ďIf you canít say anything nice, donít say anything at all.Ē

To hell with that. This wineís gonna be eviscerated. This wine and all who had the slightest hand in bringing it to me are going to feel my scorn. And be victims of my prosey torrent of gusty words.

But first the back story.

It was in the í70s, but before disco. American cuisine hadnít changed yet so we ate meatloaf and iceberg lettuce and JellO and seven-layer salad and fake bacon bits and cheese that came in a can. My parents were making good money, like $25,000 a year and in 1971 it was huge. So we were eating out at better restaurants. Once I got pissy because Ma wouldnít let me order frog legs. She relented on the vichyssoise, the cold potato and leek soup thatís hard to pronounce. Itís vee-she-swaz, not vee-she-swa. But that was the last time I ever had it, at the Log Cabin in Holyoke, Mass., on Easter Sunday. Back then families didnít eat soup much unless it was out of a can.

The reason I never ate it again was about a year after the frog-leg-less Easter Sunday, a man in New York died of botulism after eating Bon Vivant brand canned vichyssoise. It kinda took my appetite away for cold soups, except for gazpacho. The New York Post headlines screamed: ďIn Elegant Westchester, Death Lurked in a Can!!Ē

And even though I had to refresh my memory of the event (on a Web site called Caskets on Parade of all things) Iíll never forget that headline. And it all came back to haunt me when I picked up the bottle of Chateau Tour de Gillet.

You know me and drinking the same wine twice. Thatís why the display was so attractive. Four wines from the same producer and importer, side by side, slightly different prices and all 2005 Bordeaux, a vintage thatís heralded as the Vintage of the Millennium. But in Bordeaux every vintage is heralded. Thatís why the growers say, ďItís the vintage of a lifetime!!!...until you try next yearís wine.Ē

Three of the wines ó a Cote de Blaye, a Bordeaux Superiore and a Cote de Castillon ó were delicious. The Chateau Tour de Gillet was not. It has the distinctive honor of being the single worst bottle of wine Iíve ever drunk. Even the old, oxidized cheap bottle of chianti that I reluctantly drank when I had to spend the night at my ex-wifeís house because of a snowstorm had more charm.

The Chateau Tour de Gillet tasted like three-day-old cold coffee. It had searing tannins and a harsh throat-clearing burn. The alcohol was oily and denatured in flavor. And it was from Montagne Saint-Emilion, a region I was unfamiliar with, which provided the only redeeming aspect of this sheep dip brew. It inspired a little research. Saint-Emilion is known for its wonderful merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon blends. They taste drier and usually have less fruit than cabs or pinots. They have exquisite structure and the good ones reveal layers of different flavors as you sip. The mouth is left cottony, like after a good cup of unsweetened tea, but there are lingering fruit tastes, not juicy sweet fruit but subtle dried fruit that speaks in a whisper. There are four other regions with the Saint-Emilion name ó Lussac-Saint-Emilion, Montagne-Saint-Emilion, St. George-St-Emilion and Puisseguin- Saint-Emilion. Each has its charms and gems, but Saint-Emilion proper has always held sway. Think Cheval Blanc, a premier cru wine that goes for $243 a bottle.

I would not drink Chateau Tour de Gillet again, but I have no regrets. To taste a wine this awful is a learning experience.

The other wine I tasted this week was simple, domestic and a bit of mysterious.

Carlos Rossi Chardonnay, $9.99 for a gallon jug. Itís funny that I tried this wine the day before I found out Ernest Gallo had died. He bought Carlos Rossi in the 1970s. Less successful was my search for info on Mr. Rossi. He was a second-generation Italian wine maker whose jug wines were then and now a best seller. With names like Sangria, Chablis and Paisano. The chardonnay was much better than expected. Crisp and a bit heavy, but with natural flavors and tastes that let you know this wine was once a growing, living organism. The finish was metallic. Not gunflint metallic or putting your tongue on a 9 volt battery metallic, but leaden and heavy. I would drink this wine again because any time a wine comes out better than I expected itís something to celebrate. This wine also goes with Vichyssoise as would a tempranillo, a riesling, sake and a cava or prosecco.

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Looking back at the heyday of cheap wine
My Big Fat Greek Wine Tasting
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The Long, Strange Journey Of Wine
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What it means to miss N.O.
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