Warm up with wine
Chase the chill with sake or plums
By Tim Protzman firstname.lastname@example.org
Why does champagne taste better in the winter than in the summer?
I think it’s because we’re generally colder. Our bodies and our homes and the outdoors. Champagne in the summer swelter seems heavy, leaden and cloying. Yes, if it’s chilled thoroughly it can be acceptable, but let’s set it in an emotional framework. You’re at the beach. Slathered in suntan oil. You go into the surf. You’re refreshed. You come out and grab a flute of Domaine Julius Lassalle Brut 1er Cru, chilled ($34.99). The lotion gets on the glass. Sand cakes on the rim. In the searing sun and ocean spray the wine tastes flat and limp.
But now it’s a bright February day. You ski, snowboard, tube or roll down a snow-covered hill. The snow and ice crystals leave a frosty plume behind you. Even at 27 degrees, you work up a little sweat. On the deck of the base lodge you get handed a glass of Piper Heidsieck Brut ($32.99). The chill, the sky and the blush of your cheeks make the drink heavenly, crisp and refreshing. Lemon and citrus notes, flecks of malt. Much better than a mouthful of hot sand. It’s the same reason that a cold beer after mowing the lawn always loses its appeal once it gets the tiniest bit warm.
But, champagne aside, sometimes it’s too cold for wine. You want something that warms the bones. This weekend the Wine Rookies and I turned Japanese. I had never tried plum wine. Christy was raving about it because she had it in a Japanese restaurant on a recent trip to Birmingham, Ala., which she thought was a little like the Granite State but without adequate zoning enforcement. We tried Gekkeikan Plum Wine ($9.99). It was similar to Dubonnet, but I found it very port-like. It was strong enough to leave a pleasantly warm finish all the way down into my tummy and it was sweet but not sticky sweet. I tasted plum, like the kind in Hoisin sauce, and a touch of caramel and clove.
We also tried the Choya Plum Wine ($19.99), which had more structure and a creamier sherry-like (but without the nutty flavor) finish. Then, looking for the ultimate warm adult beverage, we turned to sake — Yaegaki Nigori Sake ($16.99) and Mu Sake Jun Mai Daiginjyo ($28.99). We served it warm, but then we heard that warm sake is a way of making bad sake palatable, so we drank the second cup at room temperature. It had flavors of barley and mushrooms. It was acidic with a high alcohol content and we found it strange and possibly like Scotch, an acquired taste.
It was wonderful to try something new and warm and not cabernet, pinot or chard on a cold winter night with friends. I went online to study up on sake, but it was too daunting. There are more than 50 different kinds and the Japanese Prefectures where sake comes from were as confusing as the Clos of Burgundy. Perhaps this is the next great challenge for me, to become Tim Protzman, Sake Master. It seems to have the detail, the depth, the insouciance of wine, but will it taste good once I’m smeared in Hawaiian Tropic SPF70 and covered in sand?
Of course even if I did become Master of Sake my father wouldn’t be impressed. I sent him a recommendation for new my favorite wine, champagne actually, Moet & Chandon Rose Imperial.
Monday he called me.
“How’s the weather up there?” he asked in his best Florida voice.
“Everyone’s got a cold and it snows every day and the temperatures plunged this weekend,” I said
“We played tennis today and drove over to Englewood and walked on the beach, until it got too hot.”
“That sounds rough,” I deadpanned.
Then he told me that he did go look for the champagne I recommended, but it was too expensive and he would have to wait until Valentine’s Day, but at least he knew where to find it.
“Where?” I asked.
Costco, he answered.
I went online and remembered, they did indeed have decent wine in the Floridian BJ’s & Costcos. I remembered seeing pallets of Belle Vallee Cellars Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir in the grocery section. There were cases of Justin Paso Robles Cabernet and Setti Ponti Oreno Super Tuscans and Chateau Mont Redon Chateaunuef-du-Papes. I thought it odd. Most of the people there looked more into corndogs than Shiraz. And the wine aisle seemed empty compared to the frozen food section, where a woman in a jalapeńo pepper hat was giving out hot, previously frozen, jalapeńo poppers from a little toaster oven. She had a crowd. The Babich Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand, didn’t.
But would they really sell wine if it weren’t profitable? Apparently wine is not a huge profit center, but a steady, dependable source of profit, according to store management. And get this, pricey wine boutiques: they’re able to buy in bulk at lower prices and offer a varied selection. And the typical consumer? Not the older couple from Peterborough with the brand new Chrysler Town and Country — although they do account for a steady percentage of sales — but the middle-class Gen Xers! Wine, like soccer, has made inroads in America and as each generation comes of age more and more of them are choosing wine. Which to me is good news. And any company that takes the mystery out of wine and offers delicious selections to the busy multi-tasking shopper who usually only gets the choice of “red or white” has my support. Unless they offer a chardonnay slurpie. That’s where I draw the line.