In praise of tastings
How he loves them, Protzman counts the ways
By Tim Protzman firstname.lastname@example.org
My father’s one of the luckiest people I know.
He bought IBM for $28 a share. He won $7,800 on a scratch-off ticket. And he read his own obituary.
In 1946 he was in the military and stationed aboard a Seventh Fleet ship. It was USS Kearsarge and it was at its home port in Newport News, Virginia. He was supposed to go ashore. He signed up to go ashore, but at the last minute he stayed onboard. The launch boat that took them ashore sank and he was presumed lost with everyone else. Being a gigantic bureaucracy, the Navy checked their list and declared him dead. When he found out he called his parents and began the process of joining the living again. Apparently the Navy didn’t accept his word that he was still alive, they needed proof. It took two weeks. And before it was all cleared up, the government put his obituary in the paper. His parents sent him a clipping. It’s a different world today and as I write this my heart aches for all the military families who receive the same news and it’s not a mistake.
The reason I’m so father-fixated is that he turned 80 last week and we strolled down memory lane. And that got me thinking about a memory lane paved with crushed grapes.
Lately, I’ve been drinking less and tasting more. Less sitting around the table and socializing over a bottle or two, and more little sips and furious note-taking.
Wine tastings are fun. Not just for oenophiles, but for beginners too. Don’t be intimidated; try things. And remember there’s a whole Emperor’s-new-clothes thing about wine. It’s a product. And sometimes it needs to be sold. So what’s a better sales pitch than “If you have to ask about the price you can’t afford it?” Or the ultimate wine snob saying, “Maybe this wine is too nuanced for you to appreciate.” Which means “We know the wine’s bad, but we have to sell it because some dumb ass bought 50 cases and who are you to question me because you never stayed in a hayloft in France and helped bring in the harvest only to have the vineyard master steal your master card and use it to order stuff from Ikea!”
So if you like wine, get as many different free samples as possible. There are wine tastings every week, and if you can’t find any e-mail me or ask your wine merchant. Remember: “Oh, our clientele knows what they want, so we don’t need to hold tastings” means “We’re cheap.”
Soon you’ll have your own grape-strewn memory lane to slip and slide down. Here are some crushed memories from my scrapbook:
• Coming in from skiing and having a cool, crisp glass of jug chardonnay. Buying a pricey Burgundy that was so bad we mixed it with a syrah and called it cabernet.
• Buying a 1994 Dominus, which the clerk rang up wrong and charged only $16 (for a $90 bottle).
• Getting a call from the wine shop to come in and pay the full amount for the 1994 Dominus, ’cause I foolishly paid by check.
• Clos de Vougeot with duck.
• Watching the newest wine rookies consistently pick the best wines at a tasting, even though they never slept in a French hayloft.
• Waiting three years for my ex-girlfriend’s dad to open a 1974 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon, only to have it be mediocre.
• Domaine du Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape.
• 1990 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage “La Chapelle.”
• That Spanish wine from the Priorat that wowed everyone at that wine tasting full of snooty people.
• Getting thrown out of a wine tasting for over-pouring 1990 Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill (like, who won’t?) and being handed a tray of scallops and bacon hors d’oeuvres by the caterer who thought I worked for the wine shop and eating them in the car on the way home.
• Thoroughly tasting almost every vodka on the market and finding that Dad’s old favorite brand, Smirnoff, was really good.
• Going out with a noted food critic to a fabulous Indian restaurant and ordering the second-cheapest wine on the list only to have a great $70 St. Joseph substituted for free.
• Simonsig Red Hill Pinotage and Lorraine, whose charms I enjoyed all at the same time.
• Chile, Margaret River, South Africa and Argentina.
• Sending back a bottle of 1995 Pichon Longueville Comtesse De Lalande, but paying for it and negotiating a free bottle of Lynch Bages.
• Watching the kitchen staff taste the rejected 1995 Pichon Longueville Comtesse De Lalande.
And this week’s memories:
• Balinoff Vodka ($18.79). French distilled vodka, great finish and low alcohol afterburn.
• Rouge Chocolate Stout ($5.49). A bitter sweet symphony of hops, wonderfully crafted beer and a dusting of fine powdered cocoa. Could totally replace your evening cup of coffee.
And who says wine’s not topical? Just as the flap over that cranky, mean DJ seems to be dying down my Turkish wine merchants offer me Imus, pronounced “E muss,” a deliciously cheap $4.49 blend of grenache, tempranillo, carignan grapes from the high-altitude Montsant region of Spain. Fruity with low structure that works well because of the well-rounded tannins.