A good cheap wine takes a little invention
By Tim Protzman†email@example.com
The code word for the week is ingenuity.
The wines were ingenious and one guy was ingenious too.
Richard likes wine but doesnít drink it a lot. Heís tasted some with me but he works part time and goes to college, so he canít really splurge. He drives an old car. A Neon or Taurus. Itís a good ride and itís 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! Heís 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 thatís 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 doesnít 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. Iíd 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, ďI have the perfect chemical formula for wine.Ē
Here are this weekís wines:
ē 1996 Domaine Bachelet Ramonet Pere & fils Chassagne Montrachet ($55.99). This reminded me of all the film versions of all the acid trips Iíve 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.
ē 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 wasnít 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 donít feel like youíre missing the layers. This was a hit with most of the wine rookies.
ē 2000 Massolino Barolo ($37.59). Heavy and wooden like being trapped in a high school production of Strindberg. Spooky and moldy like Aunt Violaís basement. Havenít been this disappointed by a wine in a very long time.
ē 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 didnít have the structure and layers of a Cote Rotie it was a veritable bargain.
ē 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. Itís 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.