September 27, 2007


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Ingenious appellation
A good cheap wine takes a little invention
By Tim Protzman

The code word for the week is ingenuity.

The wines were ingenious and one guy was ingenious too.

Richard likes wine but doesn’t drink it a lot. He’s tasted some with me but he works part time and goes to college, so he can’t really splurge. He drives an old car. A Neon or Taurus. It’s a good ride and it’s clean.

On Friday, he noticed his rear turn signal was out. He replaced it and then his parking light went out. This was OK for the front because he had headlights, but the whole rear of the car was dark. He took it to six places. The best quote he got was $230 to replace the headlight switch. The faulty switch turned the headlights on fine but the parking stayed dim. Richard solved the problem in a rather unusual way. He replaced the rear parking lights with two heavy-duty flashlights that cost $7 apiece.

Now he just opens the trunk at night. Turns on the flashlights that are duct-taped to the rear parking light lenses and voila! He’s legal. Probably.

There are ingenious wines too. These are the lesser-priced wines that have some extraordinary characteristic that makes them stand out above their peers. Of course most $200 bottles of wine will outshine a $17.99 bottle of wine, but ingenious little $17.99 bottles will give the big boys a run for their money.

By ingenious I mean wines that have character. They could be a blend that’s unusual, like a syrah and viognier. They could be grown in an out-of-the-way appellation, like Shanghai or Dallas.

Too many wines are created for focus groups. She doesn’t like the dryness of cabernet franc. He thinks it should have more fruit. When you listen to all the input, you end up with grape juice. I’d rather have a flawed wine that strove for greatness and got it on one or two counts than a wine that tries to be all things to all people. That one ingenious piece sets it apart. It shows vision and direction and it shows emotion.

No vintner ever stood up and said, “I have the perfect chemical formula for wine.”

It’s spiritual.

Here are this week’s wines:
• 1996 Domaine Bachelet Ramonet Pere & fils Chassagne Montrachet ($55.99). This reminded me of all the film versions of all the acid trips I’ve seen from Beavis and Butthead to Val Kilmer in The Doors. It evolved. First it was scary. Heavy lead flavors. A screechy tannic streak. But after five hours it had flowered and the lead became a gentle background note of nutmeg. Caramel, apple and pineapple fruit. A touch of corkiness on the nose. Lemon grass finish. This wine changed in the glass. It was alive! The second day it had butterscotch and burnt sugar flavors. And it was definitely better with any food, even a stick of bubble gum, than as a cocktail wine.
• Steltzner Vineyards 2005 Claret ($13.99). Claret is an English word for a dry Bordeaux that contains a mixture of varietals. Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon fill this one and while I wasn’t a fan of previous Steltzner products this one was good. Licorice and brandied plum. Grapey fruit tones and a hint of chocolate. Not layered, but pleasantly rustic so you don’t feel like you’re missing the layers. This was a hit with most of the wine rookies.
• 2000 Massolino Barolo ($37.59). Heavy and wooden like being trapped in a high school production of Strindberg. Spooky and moldy like Aunt Viola’s basement. Haven’t been this disappointed by a wine in a very long time.
• 2004 Chateau de Montfaucon Cote du Rhone ($12.79). This wine had the most amazing smokiness to it, reminding me of drinking lapsang souchong tea for the first time. The fruit was ripe and lush. The tannins balanced. It tasted of the stony Rhone soil and while it didn’t have the structure and layers of a Cote Rotie it was a veritable bargain.
• 2003 Cheval Noir Saint Emilion ($11.99). In 1994 I pulled this one out of a Christmas gift basket that was delivered to my roommates. I drank it while they were away and loved it. It’s very approachable for the nouveau wino. And because I had to replace it, I found it very available.

The 2003 was less intriguing. It seemed soft. And I had expected a profound, brooding wine because 2003 was the year of the great French heatwave. I will try this wine again from time to time, but not this vintage.

9/20/2007 Small world of wines

9/13/2007 How not to get screwed
9/6/2007 Wine lover's shopping trip
8/30/2007 Bottle surfing
8/23/2007 Lobster goes red
8/16/2007 Emotional tasting notes
8/9/2007 Stop, wine thief
8/2/2007 Be your own sommelier
7/26/2007 You do know your wine
7/19/2007 Booze free association
7/12/2007 Raiders of the sidewalk
7/5/2007 A sustainable buzz
6/28/2007 We are the merlot
6/21/2007 Forgot Dad? Bring booze.
6/14/2007 Jack & Jill and a pail of wine
6/7/2007 Our lady of the Rioja
5/24/2007 Breaking the fast
5/17/2007 What the best bears drink
5/10/2007It's OK to be pink
5/3/2007 In praise of tastings
4/26/2007 Invention-tini
4/19/2007 More 'Mas'
4/12/2007 Futures in a bottle
3/29/2007 Uneasy glass of spring
3/22/2007 Chateau de blech
3/8/2007 Finding new beauties
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
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
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