December 13, 2007


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The liquor store suite
A wine-lover’s dance through the aisles
By Tim Protzman

Ever take a wrong turn in a strange city and end up in a dicey neighborhood?

It happened to me this weekend. My nephew’s 14. A big 14, six feet two inches and 176 pounds. He and his girlfriend were working this holiday craft fair at their church and she was assigned to the nursery. They called me up and said, come by and get some cheap stuff for our relatives. I popped my head into the room where they were working and … it was just like that wrong turn in Boston, only no boarded-up cars or burned-out buildings. Just babies. Acres of toddlers, a newborn and his mom, crawlers, talkers, teethers and one six-year-old who wanted someone, anyone, to help him make the International Lego Space Station.

Babies are very wary of me. They kinda just stare and watch. The babies were getting restless and, honestly, a little smelly. Then Sydney, my nephew’s girlfriend, walked over and switched off the lights and plugged in the Christmas tree. All the little eyes widened in awe. The tree twinkled. The babies were mesmerized. It’s a look I know. I get it when I walk into the wine section of a liquor store.

I think we all have the dream of being locked in a toy or candy or video game store. Mine goes something like this:

I go shopping on Saturday. I walk into the store and head past the Parrot Bay Rum display. I go into the bathroom to wash my soiled hands before I touch any of the bottles. I see 12 back issues of Wine Enthusiast magazine in the stall. I slip in and start to read. I grow sleepy. When I wake up everything is dark. I feel my way out and turn on the lights. A magical sight awaits me. Nobody around and all the doors locked. The employee time clock says 11:37 p.m. The store won’t open ’til Monday morning. I look for a corkscrew, secretly hoping they won’t have any left and I’ll have to use the cavalry saber conveniently tucked in the utility closet.

It’s late, I’m hungry. I lay out a spread from the break room. Durkee potato sticks in a can. A half-eaten Domino’s Pizza. A five-pound wedge of Saint Andre cheese. Six wintergreen Lifesavers. An entire roast duckling, Szechuan style.

Choosing the smoked salmon on toast points and a truffle risotto left by the nice checkout lady, I place the food in a shopping cart and begin the pairing.

Since it’s a dream, I won’t feel guilty for only taking a few sips out of each bottle. One must pace oneself.

Soon I’m in the Californian section. I know it’s Californian because there are avocado trees growing in the jug wine area. I grab some sparkling wines to go with the salmon.

A dark bottle with a single letter on it catches my eye.

J Brut Rose ($31.99) — a blend of mostly pinot noir with a healthy portion of chardonnay and a touch of pinot meunier. I hit the bottle with the saber just below the cork. It explodes, but miraculously some wine lands in my flute-shaped champagne glass. I taste, and ahh!...Yummy! Then I get on the loudspeaker and announce, “Clean-up, aisle 12.”

On the way out I grab Gruet, from New Mexico. At $14.99 for the rose or the regular, it’s a real value.

Now I’m on to reds — the ’03 Dominus ($99.99), the Bacio Divino Napa Red ($69.99) a syrah cabernet blend, the Far Niente cabernet sauvignon ($119.99) and the St. Supery cabernet ($19.99).

Stopping at an end-cap display I taste, swirl and spit the Grayson Cellars Paso Robles Merlot ($8.99), non-tannic and rich. A good buy. I’m a sucker for any wine from Paso Robles.

I decide to taste as many whites as possible, but not anything I had before. The Hopler Trockenbeerenauslese ($39.99) for a half bottle is pricey, but this sweet dessert wine is made from the shriveled and dried grapes that have been botrytised, or half rotted. This concentrates the juice and sugar. The Hopler, from Austria, goes well with one of the Lifesavers.

I wash it down with 2004 St Aubin Pouilly Fuisse ($13.99) a mineral-ly little chardonnay from the Macon region of Burgundy. I follow it up with a Ladoucette Pouilly Fume from the Loire ($32.99), just to be confusing. A Pouilly Fume is made from the rougher sauvignon blanc grapes.

Following a trail of Spaghetti-O’s to the Italian section I begin pulling corks. Italian wines are for the most part undervalued so I concentrate on value and affordability.

A Mano Fiano-Greco ($11.99) from Puglia has hints of peach and lemon water. Made from Greco di Tufo and Fiano grapes by an Italian and a Californian wine maker on the heel of Italy.

Bollini Reserve Pinot Grigio (13.99), a reserve white at discount value prices.

Pietrafitta Chianti Colli Senesi ($9.99) — not a stunner, just a good everyday red. And Sassicaia ($119.99), the premium super Tuscan.

I was about to try the Kanu Chenin Blanc ($10.99) from South Africa’s Stellenbosch region when I was rudely brought back to reality by a fight over Legos. As my nephew intervened Sydney handed me a hungry seven-month-old who was guzzling a bottle. He reminded me of me. Soon we were playing and I was zooming him through the air! Until he spewed all over my gabardine slacks. (Boy this kid is just like me!) Apparently babies, unlike good martinis, should be stirred but never shaken.

Oh well, clean-up on aisle 12!

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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
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07/27/2006 Slow process of maturation
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06/29/2006 Beer, it's what's for dinner
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A Year Of Wine
An Around-The-World Holiday
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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
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Drinking for your health
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Drinking Whites After Labor Day
Finding A Great Medium-Weight Drink (I)
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Gifts for blood, love or money
Grill and sip, sip and sip. Finding the perfect wine for barbecue
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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
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Wine Works With Red Sauce