You are the expert
Do not be intimidated by the $150-bottle guy
By Tim Protzman firstname.lastname@example.org
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.