February 28, 2008

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Everything must go!
Shopping the sales shelves
By Tim Protzman letters@hippopress.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.


2/21/2008 His & hers bottles

2/7/2008 Friends in spam
1/31/2008 Warm up the wine
1/24/2008 A drink to them
1/17/2008 Stalking the barking dingo
1/10/2008 Wishes and predictions
1/3/2008 Bit of bubbly
12/27/2007 Drinking blind
12/20/2007 Not fighting for the right
12/13/2007 The liquor store suite
11/29/2007 World of drinkin'
11/22/2007 Thanks for the Napa cabs
11/15/2007 Drinks with Diwali
11/8/2007 Candy Corn hangover
11/1/2007 Drinks with History Channel
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