Uneasy glass of spring
Seeking a wine for our not-yet-warm weather
By Tim Protzman email@example.com
There comes a time every winter when I long for spring.
For flowers and red-budded maples. For green grass and snowless sidewalks.
On that first spring day when the woods seem light beige with the bright yellow sun, you get out and rake your yard. Then at 5 p.m. you sit down on the patio and in the slowly chilling air, not cold enough to send you back inside but crisp enough to keep you from sweating, you sip your first spring white. Usually, it’s a pinot grigio or a chablis or a sauvignon blanc which mirrors the weather ever so slightly. Crisp, chilly with lots of understated green and common beige. And the next day winter comes back and all the flowers are drowned in snow and you drag that winter log back to the hearth.
Springtime in New England. Two steps forward, one step back. The timeless rhythm.
Since this time of year you can’t be sure whether you’ll be having a heavy winter stew or a delicate dandelion green salad, it’s best to stock both red and white wines. Then if a nor’easter howls or if you get a perfect spring day, you’ll be safe. And sometimes you throw caution to the wind and say, “It’s 28 degrees outside, but I’m sipping a refreshingly crisp summer-weight wine.”
Last Saturday I headed to New York for the annual spring rollout from my favorite importer. They’re from Miami and they have a springtime attitude year round. Yes, they get hurricanes, but not as often as we get drenched by the snowplow-driven slush on Bridge Street.
This year I made it to the end of my block. My plan was to catch the bus to the train station and head into Manhattan. But the gales of winter were blowing sleet into my face ,stinging it red and reminding me of the time we stole Ole Man Cases’ apples and got peppered with rock salt. It was a different time back then and one could fire a shotgun at teenagers with impunity, as long as it was loaded with rock salt. So I went home. No 10:57 a.m. Bloody Mary in the bar car. No elegant tapas served by surly wait people whose last wish is to smear that gallo pinto right in your face.
Instead I got into my car and drove to the wine shop. I was determined to find a great bottle. Something great, like I would have tasted at the expo. Something springy and seasonal like a pair of white sandals. I almost bought a cheap Bourgogne. An inexpensive pinot noir, from France.
“Will I like this?” I asked the clerk.
“I liked it,” he said. “It was light and fruity and flavorful.”
“Is it as good as this Volnay?”
“Of course not! The Bourgogne lacks the finesse and structure. It’s only eight dollars and the Volnay … well, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”
So like that naïve, hungry young trout on opening day or old hungry big mouth bass that’s gotten sloppy under that winter ice (this time of year I can’t decide on spring or winter analogies) I was hooked. I bought the Volnay out of spite. I snatched up a Pouilly- Fuisse with wanton abandon. I grabbed a Chateauneuf-du-Pape with greed. And I learned the answer. There’s as much bad wine that’s expensive as there is cheap wine that’s bad. Only the more expensive wines seem, well, less bad.
Louis Jadot 2004 Pouilly Fuisse ($19.99) Somewhat watery with faint asparagus flavors and a whisper of tart apple. This one I would drink again, but I wouldn’t buy it or cellar it. Nice for a spring hike halfway up Monadnock, because while this wine deserves to get out, it’s not worth lugging up the whole mountain.
Domaine Pierre Usseglio 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape ($42.99) A tough chateauneuf du pape, which, while it has the pedigree, chose the dark side much like John Wilkes Booth or the Menendez brothers. Old cedar, stale tobacco smoke and oxidized chocolate flavors make this approachable. Definitely not a Bedford Village Inn wine. More like something you’d take to a BYOB joint, but only when most of your friends were in Bermuda on spring break.
Louis Jadot Volnay 1996 1st Cru “Clos de la Barre” ($47.59) This wine reminds me of one of those old fading resorts in the mountains. Looks great from a distance but up close it’s musty, the paint’s peeling and the drapes are tattered. But it’s a true example of a bad, expensive wine that seems less bad. The fruit was faded and tannic. It had long ago given up any pretense of sweetness. The wine had layers, but like that fussy aunt, the layers are for the most part unpleasant.
2003 Stag’s Leap 2002 Merlot ($29.99) A fun wine with complexity and fruit, flavor and structure. The best of this week’s tasting but still only a “B” grade wine. Cinnamon, dry leather, grape and raisin fruit and a backbone that wears its gown loosely but attractively. Would buy this one again but only on sale and not in a restaurant because of the price.
Domaine Vincent Sangouard 2003 Saint-Veran “Les Trois Bouquet” ($11.99) And a child shall lead them. This was a kicky little white that had fruit, flavor, a small amount of structure with a crisp finish and a honeysuckle and caramel bouquet. Would buy again.
Chateau Saintongey 2005 Bordeaux ($7.99) Dry, dry, dry and tannic with structure and a bit of a fruit explosion after the first sip. It was nice and simplistic with plum and currant fruit and a healthy dose of grassy, tobacco overtones.