July 26, 2007

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You do know your wine
Even a novice knows good bottle from a weak one
By Tim Protzman tprotzman@sbcglobal.net

I knew I was right, and now I had validation.

According to the Associated Press, last week in Washington, D.C., there was a dinner party on a secluded backyard patio. Suddenly, a robber wearing a hoodie and sunglasses burst in brandishing a pistol. He pointed it at a 14-year-old girl’s head and said, “Give me the money or I’ll start shooting!”

The hostess had the presence of mind to offer the thief a glass of wine.

“Damn, that’s good wine!” he replied.

They offered him more wine and before long he said, “I think I got the wrong house…can I get a hug before I go?”

Four guests hugged him and he left with the crystal wine goblet.

First, robbers are very bad. Second, I’m thankful no one was hurt. But third, I told you so. I told you so. I told you so.

Anyone knows good wine when they drink it.

The wine was Chateau Malescot St-Exupery, a third-growth Bordeaux from the Margaux region — 50 percent cabernet sauvignon, 35 percent merlot, 10 percent cabernet franc and 5 percent petite verdot. At $36.99, it has a band-aid smell, lead pencil aromas and dry fruit notes like cranberry, cassis and elderberry. Malescot’s an under-rated, under-valued chateau with a long history. It’s been under the same owners since 1955.

But the point is that anyone knows good wine. But the more knowledge you have about wine the more forgiving you are. You’ll overlook watery wine because the smell is pleasant. You’ll forgive mild oxidization — which imparts a sherry-like nutty flavor. And if the wine is inexpensive, we’ll forgive the fact that it chewed the arm off our grandmother’s Peter Scott chair. Because finding drinkable wine under $10 is one of our holy grails.

But most wine is yucky. It’s tannic or fruitless or astringent and sharp. Oh, they try to sell you on it, using nice adjectives to describe the flavor and depth and finish. All to fool you into thinking you’re missing something or your palate’s not quite sharp enough. But it’s so simple. People know good wine when they drink it. Even if they’ve never tasted wine before, they’ll know a good one. But to find good wine you’ll drink a lot of swill. Don’t be silent about it. When my wine clerk asks, “So how’d you like that bottle?” I tell him: it wasn’t good. I don’t whine about it, I just make sure they know their suggestion tanked. It keeps them on their toes.

This week I drank some really good wine. That’s an anomaly in itself. Usually I have to claw through a few dogs, but this week was blessed.

2001 Elvio Pertinace Barolo ($36.99). This wine was amazing. Brooding raisin flavors. Deep, rich unsweetened chocolate smells. A faint tickle of alcohol. Dried cherry fruit notes and a non-tannic finish that went great alone or with food. Italy.

2004 Bleasdale Langhorne Creek Frank Potts ($22.99) A cab, malbec and petite verdot blend that was interesting but had a sharp alcohol stinger to it. The tannins were good but the wine was unruly and would benefit from a little aging. Heavy fruit with a faint strawberry aroma. This wine’s red velvet and Wagnerian opera big. Australia.

2003 Donati Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($25.49). From a small family-owned vineyard on the central coast of California. Watery. That’s my impression. Very subdued like a beach raft that’s losing air.