November 1, 2007

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Drinks with History Channel
TV explains why Sweden doesn’t have vineyards
By Tim Protzman tprotzman@sbcglobal.net

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.


10/25/2007 Schooled in Shiraz

10/18/2007 Spooky wines
10/11/2007 Location, location, location
10/04/2007 Shiraz history
9/27/2007 Ingenious appellation
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
Gin
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
Mondovino
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