March 13, 2008

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Complain yourself happy
Woe on wines might have brought on a good pour
By Tim Protzman letters@hippopress.com

Maybe complaining does work.

I’ve calculated that I’ve spent almost three weeks of my life on the phone to customer service, complaining. I probably complain about something at least 10 times a day. I’ve become more aware of my bellyaching since Debbie, one of my oldest and best friends, pointed out that “complaining is the ego run wild.”

We used to sit down over a glass of merlot or pinot grigio and have a crankfest. This is when you just go on and on about: your husband, your boss, your ex-wife, your kids, your boss’s ex-wife, your ex-kids, the line at the post office, the Patriots’ losing, the weather, bad wine, horrible service from utility companies and inflation. Deb and I used to have some really heavy sessions. But lately she’s changed. More accepting, more respectful and more reticent. Oh, we still have the merlot — Forest Glen, $7.99, dry with a touch of plum and cherry, tight, closed and a decent finish — at her house. Or Clos du Val from Napa — $22.99, layered with grape, plum, chocolate and nutmeg with a tar and violet aroma — at mine. Deb makes no excuses for her pedestrian wine selections. She’s cheap and she’s proud of it. But she’s given up complaining. Because she read Eckhart Tolle’s book A New World.

At first I shuddered. Not another self-help book! Deb has always been into therapy and spiritualism and psychic phenomena and Rolfing and Reiki and necromancy. (I don’t know what necromancy is but I like the way it sounds.) But this one had some merit. We discussed it over a glass of Tiefenbrunner Südtirol/Alto Adige Pinot Grigio, $13.99, lemon and mineral water with a watercress finish. (My choice.)

The whole premise is to quit judging and judgmental behavior, like complaining, that feeds the ego with messages like — you’re the only one who really understands! If only people did it MY way! I haven’t got MY fair share and your incompetence is costing me money! The book is really more complex than that, but the gist of it is let go, let live and practice focusing love instead of criticism.

Which kind of leaves me at a paradox. Last week I complained that most of the wine I drink is boring and one-dimensional. But like clockwork — BANG! — no sooner than my ego made me lament about the dearth of uninspiring wines I’ve been forced to sample, than a good one came along. I’ll tell you about it shortly. After this little story.

I went to the Web site of the above-mentioned Tiefenbrunner Vineyard. It’s in Alto Adige, Italy, in the area south of the Alps. The vineyard makes both pinot grigio and pinot bianco. I’ve tasted both, but found them similar. Here’s why.

Pinot noir has a white counterpart. It’s hard to determine which came first, but they think pinot bianco or pinot blanc is a mutation of pinot noir. Pinot bianco/blanc is a white-skinned grape. Pinot grigio is another mutated variety of the pinot noir grape. It has a grayish tint to its skin. Pinot grigio is also known as Pinot gris, which grows well and produces great wine in Oregon and the Alsace region of France. To me pinot blanc is a little richer and a little more full-bodied than grigio, but the popularity of chardonnay (yawn) has actually increased its production and its demand as an alternative to oaky, sweet, heavily buttered chardonnays. So even after kvetching about how most wine is insipid, how hard it is to know almost everything about wine, and how the market conspires to only provide high-profit, low-satisfaction wines that all taste the same, I found myself stumped on the pinot grigio/bianco/gris question. And I’m happy to report that the great pinot quest has stoked some of that same old enthusiasm I used to have for wine. And I must remember that my bailiwick is not to discuss which case of top-shelf shiraz to cellar, but what bottle to accompany my evening meal with. I lack the means to stock a great cellar. I lack the means to purchase allocated wines from an expensive mailing list. But I no longer judge those who do. I wish them only good things. And I walk proudly in my role as blue-collar connoisseur. I represent those who buy their wine for immediate consumption and to improve their choices and selection. And I am happy in that role without judgment.

Back to the wine that made me happy.
• 2001 Sanford La Rinconada Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($40.89) I gave this wine a B+ or 89.9 in Parker-style points. While it wasn’t in the category of “life-changing,” it was delicious. Dried cherry, au jus, raspberry hints, a tannic frame that was draped with luxurious powdered chocolate notes. It did lack the barnyard ammonia, but that was actually welcome in this wine. This is a wine for everyone who thinks great wine needs to get 90 points. HINT: the actual bargains in both wine and vintages are those on the cusp, 88 or 89.
Less enthralling:
• Di Pacini Mauro, Fattoria La Lecciaia Brunello di Montalcino 1999 ($32.99) 100 percent Sangiovese grapes from the Brunello clone. Too dry for me with persimmon, sour green cherry and a touch of olive oil. While I wouldn’t buy this one again I’m dying to try the Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello di Montalcino. HINT: fattoria means farm in Italian.


3/6/2008 Operatic wine tasting

2/28/2008 Everything must go!
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