May 15, 2008

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You are the expert
Do not be intimidated by the $150-bottle guy
By Tim Protzman letters@hippopress.com

This is called “How to Lose Friends and Anger People.” And much apologies to Dale Carnegie, a gentle soul whose now 74-year-old book still is a guidepost for rational, cool-headed negotiations.

I’m in a crowded restaurant with about five other people and one is a contentious little son of a gun. My friend Norie orders the mussels. Dark Cloud — short for “outside of every silver lining there’s a dark cloud” — mentions shellfish are the filters of the sea. I reconsider the lobster. He disses the service. Sends his salad back to get the walnuts removed. Makes a big deal out of retelling her that he “distinctly told you ‘no walnuts.’” Answers his cell phone. Talks for five minutes, then tells his date “nobody” when she asks; “who called?” Then it comes time to order wine.

I choose the cheapest thing on the menu, Toad Hollow “Eye of the Toad” Rose for $22. Norie suggests champagne. Get ready, get ready, here to comes…The Lecture.

“Let’s rise above the usual and experiment with genuine wine,” Dark Cloud proclaims. Which I think means: since we’re splitting the cost I’m gonna get a big showy price bomb. He chooses the 2003 Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. $160. A great wine. Then he starts on the whole “American wine consumers are such novices, they need guidance; their palates have to be trained” stuff. “Now the French….”

I had him on that one.

“Funny you should mention that,” I say. “My friend Alain called me from Paris recently and we started talking about that. He worked in a gourmet cheese shop in New York and he said one of the best things about being in Paris is the very drinkable, inexpensive wines you can get by the glass or purchase by the liter for take-out in the cafés.”

This caught him off guard. He countered with something like, “In this country we’re so money-oriented that were programmed to like the best bargain, so if you’re drinking an inexpensive wine and you know it’s only $7.99 then there’s a psychological effect on the taste buds which makes you like it more than you would if it were tasted blind.”

No, I tell him. There are $10 bottles that put $150 bottles to shame. And I zing him with my own personal theory — anyone knows great wine when they taste it.

This brings on a firestorm of spin control. “No! One must learn to appreciate wine, like ballet or Scotch.”

I tell him of my first Scotch many, many years ago: at too tender an age to note here, because I don’t promote underage consumption, but I was close enough to childhood to notice the similarity in the taste and the nuance of smoke, peat moss and leather like when I chewed on my mother’s green leather key case.

The evening was a bust, except the wine was delicious. At one point Norie and I went out for a cigarette and contemplated sneaking to the car. But what it did was help clarify a few wine rules.

(1) Everyone is an expert. They can tell a great wine from a bad one. However, personal taste factors might mean they don’t like the great wine. It’s OK.

(2) Many expensive wines are not great tasting. Bad vintage. Lazy vintners. Greed. All these conspire to sometimes hide behind the impressive label and lore.

(3) Many cheap wines are real and genuine and taste good.

(4) Not enough wines are good. They miss the mark. They’re fake tasting, chemically and unnatural like imitation orange soda versus fresh squeezed OJ with sparkling water.

(5) Wine experts can tell you where the vineyard is, little anecdotes about the history, what grapes are in the bottle, but the only way they can tell if the wine is good is by tasting it. Which is the same way a civilian tells. (OK, there are some who can tell you by smell.)

So try as many wines as possible. And only drink the great ones twice.

Continuing with last week’s theme of wine you gotta have, here are some imported wines that I consider mid-range in price and tastiness, and many of you will find agreeable. Notice I didn’t say great or phenomenal? That’s because you’re the expert. Only you and your palate can decide.
• Lake Chalice Sauvignon Blanc ($14.99) From Marlborough, New Zealand. A lively little Sauv Blanc with less acid and more sweetness than its American counterparts.
• Kiwi Pinot Noir ($13.99) From the tip of the South Island in the Nelson region. A B-list pinot that shows the terrior and characteristics of New Zealnd Pinots perfectly.
• Marques de Caceres Rose ($9.99) 80 percent tempranillo, 20 percent Grenache. The perfect patio wine.
• Farnum Hill Extra Dry Cider ($9.79) OK, it’s not wine and it’s not imported, but it’s yummy and it’ll stretch your “adult beverage” repertoire. Almost like the finest homemade champagne.
• Clos La Perriere Sancerre ($17.99) Another take on Sauv Blanc. Unlike the dry clay of New Zealand, the French soil of the Loire Valley is slate-y and loamy from the river. Drier wine with more minerals. Drink them side by side and become an expert.

More next week on wine you have to taste.

Here’s what I tasted this week:
• 2005 Beringer Napa Valley Pinot Noir ($19.99) Read about this one in another wine column, found it plain and unadorned, but yummy, like the perfect shrimp Scmpi. Simple, tasty and satisfying. Would crown it king if it were only $12.99.
• Heidsieck & Company Monopole ($39.99) Now here’s a bargain, sort of. This rates up there with the Moet & Chandon and the Millesime Rose. I think Pink Champagnes are the best buy because what you can get in the $35-to-$70 range in pink is equal to what you get in the $85-to-$120 range for the primarily chardonnay champagnes. Lovely. Strawberry soda for adults. Light and tart. Seventy percent pinot noir with 18 percent Bouzy Rouge (old, more mature Pinot vines usually on higher well-drained parts of the vineyard, 20 percent chardonnay and 10 percent Petit Meunier. Heidsieck & Company Monopole was formed by the Heidsieck family. One branch founded Heidsieck & Company Monopole, the other Piper-Heidsieck. The Monopole represents a monopoly on certain vineyards that only go into Heidsieck & Company Champagnes. Oh, and also, the people who work there all look like the little rich guy from the Monopoly game.


5/8/2008 The must-drink list

5/1/2008 Gaming wine futures
4/24/2008 Chronos and me
4/17/2008 Getting lucky
4/3/2008 The daquiri's of spring
3/27/2008 Germans play well with others
3/13/2008 Complain yourself happy
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