Everything must go!
Shopping the sales shelves
By Tim Protzman email@example.com
As shopkeepers go he was a bit of a hippie.
Pulled-back Steven Seagal ponytail, homespun shirt. He had a crib behind the counter that contained a baby, a new baby from the last time I was in. The prior baby was now a four-year-old. She played with a box of nip sized vodka bottles while the new baby slept. This was not my favorite place to buy wine, but I was miles away from anything else; this shabby store in a small western Massachusetts town was the only place around.
The shelves were haphazardly filled. Finding wine was a challenge because there really wasn’t any pattern. Not by region, not by type. I looked for gin but couldn’t find vermouth. I ended up getting ordinary vodka and a bottle of 2001 Arrowood Sonoma County Merlot for $17.99.
I was pleased that the new hippie owner hadn’t raised the price. He bought the store a few years ago from a wine lover who retired. I thought the store or maybe the store owner had been a sucker for a good sales pitch. I’d been visiting this store since 1997, when my friend bought a weekend house in the little town. I had selected many a bottle of nice wine. But now the store was neglected. No more purchasing cases of Chateau d’Issan (a third-growth Margaux of about 70 percent cabernet sauvignon and 30 percent merlot) from the traveling distributor. The trade was mainly beer, with nips, half pints and pints rounding out the rest. The proprietor didn’t seem to care. Maybe he wasn’t the owner. And we’ve all been there. We return to that special seaside motel to find it a bit shabby, not well kempt and surrounded by the disappointing hiss of broken spirit. It reminded me of the Gold Spike in Vegas, which was wonderful in my youth, but at 42 I was less enthralled with B-Girls asking me if I “wanted a nice date.”
While looking for vermouth I paused over the sparkling wine selection. They had the usually suspects, St. Hilaire, Tott’s and J Roget. But on the top shelf, lurking behind the Domaine Chandon, were two bottles of 1992 Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs.
The labels were dusty and worn. The bottles were upright. The price was $39.99. I was tempted.
Would they be delicious, having aged and acquired the toasty, malt-like flavor connoisseurs look for? Or had the light and heat of the top row wilted them? Feeling I was pushing the envelope and had found a nice merlot at about 40 percent less than I’d pay for it at another venue, I left. But not without that familiar feeling most fishermen (and women) feel, “Was that the one that got away?”
Here and now I vow to try one of them. But only if they’ll come down to $36.99. After all, I can get the Brut Rose, the Blanc de Blanc and the more recent Blanc de Noirs all for less than $35 at the state stores. Which got me thinking…what hidden gems might be waiting on the top shelf of their stores? Could one find treasures? Would it turn out to be like Antiques Roadshow?
The answer is maybe.
The state stores are like any well-run, high-volume retailer. The longer the inventory sits unsold, the less the profit. Hence the special savings or closeout sale.
These are the orphan wines. Maybe they didn’t sell well enough to warrant another order. Maybe the vineyard went out of business or they changed importers. Whatever the reason, it’s your gain, just like a blue-light special at K-mart. You can see the specials online or stop in and ask. You get good wine at discounted prices. The only drawback is that you might never get to drink another bottle of it again.
Here are this week’s wines, culled from the herd of savings at selected state stores:
• Rapitala Casalj Catarratto/Chardonnay Blend ($6.99) A blend of chardonnay and catarratto grapes from Sicily. The catarratto is used in making marsala cooking wine, but this one’s from Lucido and has an apricot and citrus flavor. Was $9.99, only available in Hooksett.
• Agusta Angel’s Tears Off Dry Rose ($9.99) A rose made from chenin blanc and pinotage from South Africa. Interesting! I haven’t sampled this one and may never because there’s one bottle left in Nashua. Was $13.99.
• Anastasi Estates They’re not a vineyard, but an importer of Greek wine. They make a red and a chardonnay that was grown in the Messinia district of the Peloponnesus region of Greece. This fills my General Wine Rule #6: Drink wine from different countries whenever possible.
• 1999 Chateau Haut-Carles ($29.99) from Fronsac. A nice price for a pretty good Bordeaux from an OK vintage. Was $39.99.
• 2003 Domaine Dujac Morey St Denis This Burgundy was $79.99 and is now $49.99. Is it Domaine de la Romanee Conti? No, but it’s not Night Train Express either. Pedigreed vintage year.
• The Colonial Estate Exile Barossa Valley Shiraz ($149.99) Extreme price, but Robert Parker, Inc., gave this one 95 to 98 points depending on the vintage. The vineyard’s new (2004) but the vines are over 100 years old. Was $179.99.
• La Corte Negroamaro Solyss ($10.99). From Puglia in Italy. Interesting red grape with spice and zest. Was $14.99.
• Markham Sauvignon Blanc ($8.99). Nice price for stocking up on a very nice everyday wine. Lemon, apple and watercress with a bit of tannin in a refreshing acid balanced mouthful.