Drinks with History Channel
TV explains why Sweden doesn’t have vineyards
By Tim Protzman email@example.com
It used to be you got history at school in books — names, dates, places and their significance.
Historical novels and biographies rounded out what happened before we were born. Back then it seemed important. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
But today history seems less important. I blame the History Channel. Somewhere along the line history went from revered subject to a fractured media outlet, just above the Cooking Channel and the Brittany Divorce Update Channel on most cable systems.
I was watching the History Channel the other day (I said it cheapened the past, I didn’t say it wasn’t entertaining) and they had this show on about the Little Ice Age in medieval Europe. They said, well, Ed Hermann the actor who played FDR and the dad on Gilmore Girls and is now an intern on Grey’s Anatomy said, that if it weren’t for the Little Ice Age — a period of climate cooling in Europe — we’d all be wine drinkers.
Seems that 16th-century England, Germany, Poland and even Sweden and Denmark were once warm enough for wine production. But with the Little Ice Age, grapes couldn’t grow in northern Europe and bartenders turned to grain-based whiskeys and beers to compile their potent potables (from Jeopardy! — seen on the Game Show Channel, number 54 on most cable systems).
Today Americans drink 29 gallons of beer and 6 gallons of distilled spirits per capita every year. But only 2.8 gallons of wine. And 82 percent of all wine sold in this country goes to just 31 million wine consumers, a little over 10 percent of the population. Look around. Who’s the wine consumer? Walk down the street. Count each soul you pass. Every tenth person will be clutching a flagon of mead or tureen of wine. And in my experience most of it will be mediocre.
This week I tasted a new vodka. Sobieski Vodka from Poland is ultra smooth, flavorful and cheap. The best part is it’s consistent. It never varies from harvest to harvest. There’s never any anxiety over whether the grain (dark rye) was at its optimum ripeness or had the right amount of sugar. But that’s the spirit of wine. When it’s good, it’s very, very good, but when it’s bad that’s more common.
But even the bad wine speaks to me, tells me its story. Is it a snooty Bordelaise with a great address and nice clothes but horrible breath and an aggressive manner? A stoned-out jammy bomb from Mendocino? A rollicking Aussie with charm and culture, but reeking of wet wombat fur? All these wines, no matter how bad, still have history, a winemaker who took pride in the juice and a distribution company that thinks it’s good enough to foist off on you. And what about you? You’re ultimately responsible, because you bought it. At least that’s the story line you get from the vendors. If you don’t like it, why’d you buy it?
Next time you buy wine push limits. Ask for a taste first. Ask about their refund policy. And if all else fails, do what I did to the North American head of a Swedish appliance company that sold our company 25 faulty refrigerators, tell them: “Up your gee gee with a meat hook!”
They won’t know the exact vernacular because they’re foreign, gee gee is a funny, non-threatening word and they’re trained to respond to any situation with, “I’m sorry for your inconvenience.”
If only my wine were as politely insincere as those brand ravaging Swedes.
Here’s what I tasted this week:
• 2005 Casillero del Diablo Chilean Carmenere ($9.99) A bit tangy and not my favorite of the recent run of carmenre — based wines I’ve tasted. Chris noticed it had a weird texture. I don’t hold it in my mouth long enough to have texture come through, but it’s an important component. Would not seek out this wine again.
• 2003 Stolpman Vineyards Estate Syrah ($32.55) Nice, but not a Rhone ranger. From Santa Barbara and tasting like a pinot noir on steroids. Chris again thought the "texture" thing was off, but it was a good wine in my eyes. Would buy it again if the price was half of what it is now.
• Carmen Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignon Blend ($9.99) 70 percent carmenere, 30 percent cabernet from Chile.This wine had the most amazing transformation. It evolved right in the glass. First sip, tannic train wreck. 10 minutes later it had anise and starfruit spice tones. It was yummy and I put on my cheerleading outfit and to spur it on. What a waste. It soon stopped dead in its tracks, like the mule who’d go no further. Moral: open early, serve with hors d’śuvre and dump down the drain before the main course.