April 17, 2008

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Getting lucky
Wherein the author finds not one but two great wines
By Tim Protzman†letters@hippopress.com

It finally happened! I won something!

I kind of knew it would, but I wasnít holding out hope because I never win anything. Scratch that ó I rarely win anything. My father and stepmother win a lot. I worked with a woman who won $24,000 at a Las Vegas craps table (box cars the hard way) and then won $40,000 on a scratch-off lottery ticket. I watched her scratch it off. But I wonít complain because my most memorable wins have come at times when I really needed them. The Christmas I started a new job and the payday schedule meant I wouldnít get paid ítil after Christmas. That $109 scratch-off win helped me buy presents for the kids. The night I threw all caution to the wind and walked into a casino with all my liquidity ($132.29) in the world and hit not one, but two four-of-a-kinds on video poker and left the building with $381.04. Just enough to tide me over to the next paycheck. And itís not only gambling. In a large grocery store I watched a mouse run out from behind the frozen foods and head for the day-old baked goods rack. He disappeared underneath. When I inspected it closer I found a crumpled $20 bill, in plain sight, but off the beaten path. This happens quite frequently. And so does finding coins outside the drive thru window.

So now another chapter is added. Iíll call it ďThe Night I Bought Two Really Good Wines For Under $40.Ē

It started a month ago with redecorating in one of the wine shops I frequent. They moved the Australian and French Rhone sections and condensed the American varietals to make room for a huge shipment of wine. It was a closeout ó bought in bulk, I believe. And it came in plain brown cardboard. I like this store even though they punish some of the pricier wines. They chain them to the display rack with plastic wire ties. I really donít know if they have an inventory shrinkage problem or they just chain the best ones up as a marketing ploy. The old I-want-what-I-canít-have trick. It seemed odd to me that a liquor shoplifter, a wine thief, a grifter would know the difference between a 2003 Kistler Napa Valley Chardonnay and a cheap Bordeaux wine from Graves, but I did see an episode of Masterminds where a reformed professional burglar showed how he chose what to take out of a luxury waterfront home on Hobe Sound in Florida. And wouldnít you know it, the burglar, who sounded like a New Jersey garage mechanic, knew not to take the Picasso print (a reproduction) and to go for the Hockey silk screen. He also hit the wine cellar and stole the cream right off the top of the collection, which were several old Barolos, Barbarescos and Brunello di Montalcinos. But the joke may be on him because the latest wine scandal to break involves adulterated and possible fake Brunello di Montalcinos that may contain grapes other than sangiovese! As if I donít have enough to keep me up at night.

As I watched the brown cardboard pallets of new wine arrive I had one thought: I gotta get a bottle now! But even though Iím a good customer, the wine hadnít been entered into the system, and the one bottle I wanted hadnít been priced. So I chilled. On Saturday, I went in twice. Once in the morning and once in the evening. No luck. On Monday I went back. Same answer. But now there was a twist. Ernie the wine guy told me the bosses might ship the best stuff out to a ďmore demographically upscale location.Ē Now I was determined to get at least one bottle. My plan involved a box cutter and cross-dressing or using diversion to smuggle a bottle out. Then suddenly it dawned on me. I was why some wine shop owners chained up old bottles of wine.

But I didnít have to resort to larceny, because on Wednesday the wines were released and available. I bought one bottle from the long-awaited display and a newer vintage of a wine Iíve enjoyed in the past.

Then the magic happened: both wines were delicious.

The next day I went back for a case of that closeout wine. Here are the wines that made all things Vino new and fresh again.

ē 2000 Torremilanos Ribera del Duero ($5.99) This was the closeout wine that arrived under the cover of darkness and sat in a bonded warehouse for what seemed like an eternity. It comes from the Duero River region in central northwest Spain. Itís a crianza, which means it spent at least two years in the bottle, an oak tank or a steel vat. In this case it was a combination. Torremilanos is owned by Bodegas Penalba Lopez, which has been exporting wine since 1903.

This wine has sweet violet flavors with a touch of sugared rose petals, loganberry, chocolate and leather. This wine was delicious and one of the better ones Iíve tasted this year. Is it a 1996 Chateau Mouton Rothschild? No, but itís close enough for the price. (Though not $6 and not Torremilanos, several Ribera del Dueros sell in New Hampshire at prices ranging from just over $10 to more than $300.)

ē 2003 Freemark Abbey Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($34.99) Freemark Abbey is a 69-year-old trade name for wines grown on land that was once the first Californian vineyard owned by a woman. Grapes have been grown there continuously since 1875. But there is no Abbey. Freemark Abbey is a combination of syllables of the last, first and nicknames of the owners who bought it in 1939.

The cab presented blackberry, tobacco and raw beet flavors with a lingering finish of cassis/prune fruit. There was little oakiness and a pleasant nose, but what impressed me most was the sincereity of this wine. This wine is a throwback to the wines of the Californian heydays. Honest, genuine, drinkable and fresh. Tasting this wine is like driving up Highway 29 in Napa in 1987, stopping at little vineyards and tiny tasting rooms and meeting the winemaker for a glass.


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1/31/2008 Warm up the wine
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12/20/2007 Not fighting for the right
12/13/2007 The liquor store suite
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8/30/2007 Bottle surfing
8/23/2007 Lobster goes red
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12/28/2006 Sins of the vine
12/21/2006 Kissing frogs
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12/07/2006 Like dregs in the wine glass
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10 Wines To Get Lucky With

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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)
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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
Olť! to a week in wine
Opening the Parker book

Our French friends ó 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
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Wine Between The Season
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Wine Works With Red Sauce