September 4, 2008

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Making a break for it
Wherein the wine critic escapes a catered affair
By Tim Protzman letters@hippopress.com

This weekend I snuck out of a party.

Now, I’ve crashed hundreds of parties, five weddings, a funeral luncheon, a bar and bat mitzvah, a 50th wedding anniversary, a cigar tasting (with single-malt Scotches) and a graduation party. But I never snuck out of one before.

It all started with the best intentions. Naomi, a former wine rookie, was just getting back into socializing after her father died. I invited her for a wine and supper gathering to view a documentary film about Sri Lanka. The house was right near the beach and I imagined my press credentials would get me an audience with the filmmaker.

It almost happened that way.

We arrived an hour late. A crowd of young teens hung in the front, looking like a casting call for High School Musical.

We introduced ourselves to the host and hostess and we met the filmmaker. He was impressive, but we were starving.

We made our way to the bar. There was nice gin and tonic and good vodka and white wine and red wine. Strangely, there were these beautiful Cerignola olives, elegantly skewered, just waiting to swim in a martini, but no vermouth.

I poured her an Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio. She liked it but was still hungry. I gave her a stick full of green olives. There’s a nice looking antipasto, but no forks or plates. I tell her to use the olive toothpick.

I taste the Ecco Domani. I like it. Slight lemon, then endive flavors. It’s from Fruili Venezia. Ecco domain means “Here’s to tomorrow!” And only $6.99 a bottle.

Some guy behind me with a booming voice greets our host, a German ex-patriot: “Joachim, Splendid party. What was your contribution to this magnificent culinary effort?”

“Just the wine, Greg” Joachim answers.

“It’s delicious, Joachim!! What quaint little wine shop did you find these gems in?”

“Costco”

Trying not to laugh, I remember a delicious 2004 Chateau Lascombes I picked up at Costco. It was $48.49, which was below the usual $50 mark, and it had deep plummy fruit with tobacco smoke, leather, licorice and chocolate hints. And a great price for a Second Growth Margaux.

Now 30 minutes into the event we’re still starving. We head for the town beach to see if the snack bar’s still open. On the way a crying child runs by. We ask if he’s alright but he just runs past.

No snack bar, but we do catch up with the High School Musical cast. They’re having a sand fight.

By now the crying child’s mother is yelling at all the cast members. Junior got sand in his eye.

Back at the party and still no food.

Then suddenly, a dinner bell. Everyone’s off like they’re at Pimlico. Yelling mother sidles up to us and says, “Could Danny cut in? He’s had a rough day.” I let him in but Naomi’s not budging.

We wait in line for nothing. The food’s horrible. I get another glass of Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages 2007 ($10.99), a chewy wine full of grapey Gamay goodness with hints of strawberry and Welch’s Grape Jelly.

I’m thinking about a quick exit. We move toward the gate. The movie’s about to start and people are taking seats around the smallest flat screen I’ve ever seen. Swarms of mosquitoes are descending with the twilight despite a carbon dioxide-powered Mosquito Magnet. It’s now or never. We head out the gate. Only a few steps remain between us and the driveway. No host or hostess in sight.

Almost free. Across the drive toward the car. Then — oh, God, Danny and his MOM!!

We stop and pretend we’re just smoking. She doesn’t come over. But some woman does.

“Oh, you’re smoking… I thought something was on fire,” she says.

Technically it is, I thought.

“They’re about to start,” she says and just like the well-meaning cabin stewards on the Titanic, she beckons us back to the crowded little viewing area, and our doom.

“Come on,” she says.

I had to think fast. Maybe she was one of the hostess’s goon squad. Janice didn’t look too happy and the cheap catered food says “I’m being forced to throw this party for someone I don’t like.”

“I’ve got to use the restroom,” I suddenly say. It was the best I could come up with.

“Me too,” Naomi pipes in.

Once again on our own, we head for the bathroom. But there’s Janice.

“Get a seat,” she urges.

Naomi hits the bathroom first. Stay in there until everyone’s in the swampy mosquito-ridden way-too-small-to-see flat-screen fake movie premier area and we’ll head out the front door and circle behind neighboring cottages to keep hidden from the viewing area, I tell her.

The house falls silent as the guests move into the backyard movie theater. We head out the front door, but it sticks, forcing me to tug it hard. Nothing. Naomi grabs the handle and pulls. It opens with a loud thud. A dog trots into the hallway but we’re already out, leaving the door ajar. We head for a clump of trees, then across the circular cul-de-sac toward our car. We walk past the car, around the back of a cottage and reach the passenger-side doors. The Durango SUV hides us from the movie crowd. I climb across the front seat and turn the key. My only regret is that it’s not standard and I have to turn the engine on instead of just coasting. But we’re away. And I don’t think we’ll have to worry about getting invited back.

We stop at a fried seafood shack and order breaded delicacies.

“Tell me again what the documentary’s about?” Naomi asks.

“Sri Lanka, the civil war there and the atrocities and torture that went on,” I answer.

She looks at me and says: “Makes tonight’s problem seem ridiculous, doesn’t it?”

I just laugh and take a bite out of another fried clam, suddenly feeling very grateful.

Here’s this week’s wines:
• 2004 Fattoria di Cinciano Pietraforte ($24.99). This entry-level Super Tuscan was pleasant but still young. It was big and chocolatey and not unpleasant, but it doesn’t play out as well as Tenuto San Guido Guillalberto Sassicaia, which is only $15 more.
• 2005 E. Guigal Condrieu ($44.89) A 100-percent Viognier grape wine. Had a leaden finish, though. I enjoy the delicacy, the structure, but can’t get past the metallic finish. A rare white Rhone for me, but I’ll try a different vintage and producer next time.
• 2004 Montecastro ($35) From Spain’s Ribera del Duero. All Tempranillo, big subdued fruit with a very dry backbone, that hasn’t reached optimum structure yet.
• 2004 Chateau Beychevelle ($42.39) From Bordeaux’s St. Julien region. A fourth growth and one of the best bargains from Bordeaux’s bargains. The Expert experts give it a 90, an 88 and an 89, but I love the price and the pedigree. Prune, blackberry, chocolate and a touch of pencil lead in the aroma.
• 2002 King Estate Pinot Noir ($46.99). The regular King Estate Pinot Noir is $26.99 and almost as good. This is grown, produced and bottled on the estate or vineyard. The less expensive one uses some sourced grapes. This was my favorite wine of the week. Layered with cherry, apricot and grapefruit rills running through it. The wine had a distinctive Oregonian flavor, which, while husky, bordered on Burgundian.


8/28/2008 Achieving the impossible

8/21/2008 AVA in search of a movie
8/14/2008 Return to seller?
8/7/2008 Wine at the game
7/24/2008 Reviving a star
7/17/2008 Champagne staycation
7/10/2008 Pair vintage with vintage
6/26/2008 Leftover wine
6/19/2008 Fortune favors Opus One
6/12/2008 In the year 2048
6/5/2008 Tea, the original infusion
5/29/2008 Hello old friends
5/22/2008 Ancient in the new world
5/15/2008 You are the expert
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