September 25, 2008


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Where fantasy meets reality
Wine columns can offer aspiration and inspiration
By Tim Protzman

I read a wine column the other day written by someone else. It’s not that I don’t read my own column (I do), but I read everybody else’s too.

The main complaint against wine columns is that the wines they cover sometimes aren’t available. But isn’t that the same reason why people read romance novels? Why give up your dreams and fantasies just because your husband’s on the couch in a ratty t-shirt with a beer and a bag of Doritos squirming around trying to sneak one out without you hearing it?

So, that’s why I like some other people’s wine columns. Especially the ones that start like this:

“Dawn breaks quickly over the village of Ampuis as the balloon’s spacious gondola sets down in a field beside acres of grapevines. The winemaker ushers us into a 1,000-year-old stone cellar. The steps are worn as we descend into part of the cellar that hasn’t been opened since 1987. Here are the legacy wines, the greatest vintages ever from Cote Rotie. Some secreted out of Paris before the Second World War. Some from that fabled but fragile 1970 vintage...”

It’s a bottle-ripping tale of depth and passion for when you’re sitting on the couch with a $4.99 bottle of Walnut Crest because it was the only decent wine you could find at the truck stop.

Then there are the columns about wine you can find but can’t afford. Like Blankiet Estate 2003 Merlot at just $179. I’ll take a case and use the wood box for storage when I move into a van down by the river.

Sometimes, though, all the stars align. When I read a recent Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Weekend Journal, Tastings column by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, I knew the stars were in alignment. Concannon Petite Sirah was one of their top picks for Taste and Best Value. And it’s readily available almost anywhere.

The Concannon Vineyard’s a little off the beaten wine path. It’s in Livermore, Calif., which is about 45 miles southwest of San Francisco. Livermore is more famous for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The vineyard is quite close to the lab and the Tesla Road, named for Nikola Tesla, the brilliant inventor turned mad scientist, who along with Edison made it possible to move electricity from one place to another. The Lawrence Livermore Lab is known for its defense work, especially in the area of nuclear weapons safety. This seems like the last place you’d want a winery, but in Bordeaux they have vineyards next to factories. And most of grapes are sourced from Central Coast AVAs anyway. And I don’t think they store the weapons at the Lab. It’s more of a think tank.

The wine was great. I tried the Petite Sirah, but the people at the wine shop raved about the Pinot Noir. Concannon also makes a Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and a Syrah. All are priced affordably, although you can get a super-premium Heritage level bottle at the winery tasting room, or Cellar Door as they call it in Australia.

The Pinot Noir was really nice too. Maybe even better. The wine’s a little too good to be just a house wine, but the price allows it to be if it wants. I’ve had $45 Cabs and Pinots that weren’t as juicy. (Although I think the cabernet is the least approachable of the Concannon wines.)

The vineyard’s 125 years old and was built by a Concannon who emigrated from Ireland. The wine rookies liked the Pinot but were a bit reserved on the Petit Sirah. Having recently rediscovered the joys of American Petite Sirah I was attuned to the structure, finish, sugar and alcohol content. For a $12 bottle the stuff was good.

With the price being the best feature, the taste being very good, what are the flaws? It’s a little unauthentic. Just a little manipulation, a smidge of globalized wine taste and that creeping up alcohol content (you know they all go up a little each crush), it has a touch of that “better living through chemicals” flavor. Not a huge amount, but not a Chateau Lafon-Rochet St Estephe either.

Explore Concannon Vineyards now. Try two varietals side by side and visit the vineyard if you’re in the Fremont/San Jose Area.

Here are this week’s wines:
• Concannon Petite Sirah ($11.99) Red licorice and elderberry with chocolate and currant sparkles. Great smooth finish, not too dry and a touch of sweetness. No alcoholic afterburn.
• The Concannon pinot ($13.99) cherry, bitter orange marmalade, a touch of earthiness and some nascent structure that follows the finish across the tongue. I really want to try the Syrah.
• 2003 Bodegas Muga Reserva Rioja ($26.99) A nicely structured, dry (tannic, but tamed) Rioja with meat, red cabbage and cranberry fruit notes.
• 2006 Santa Carolina Reserve Carmenere ($7.99) Deep rich and untamed. Like meeting Che Guevara in an internment camp. Once again, I would love to taste a Carmenere that’s been aged for 20 years. Grown in the Maipo Valley, Chile

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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
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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
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06/29/2006 Beer, it's what's for dinner
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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
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03/16/2006 Honoring the dead soldiers
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From grape, to barrel to red-tape jungle

02/16/2006 Love and vine
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01/12/2006 Wine, Cheese and Granny Smith
01/05/2006 Resolve to try new wines
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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
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
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