March 5, 2009

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Shabby exterior, great finds
In wine, as in life, digging can unearth buried treasures
By Tim Protzman food@hippopress.com

It seems like a rule of thumb for me that the shabbier the establishment is, the more fun and memories it holds.

I remember one Christmas when we visited my elderly aunt in the Gramercy Park section of Manhattan. The dinner was thoroughly cooked. The napkins beautifully folded. But I had a better time the night before at a friend’s house as they opened their gifts on Christmas Eve. The food was better too. All eight kids got underwear from the ghost of their cocker spaniel Cuddles. And somehow, the chicken casserole with celery and onions and carrots and yellow Campbell’s Cream of Chicken gravy on it far out-shinned Aunt Ruth’s dry, overcooked roast. Or maybe it was the company. The eight brothers and sisters, one wife, a baby, two parents, three friends of the kids yelling “Mock!” as they opened packages of new underwear from the dearly departed dog had more spirit.

And there was that time in Maine that we found that rundown old inn that had two-pound lobsters for $21.99, with corn and fries, but if you looked right you could see the staff working in the basement through the knotholes in the floorboards.

This week I found a special wine in one of those places. A slightly crumbling neon-signed liquor store in a suburb that was on its way down. A check-cashing store stood next door. But it was the last stop before the highway so I stopped in maybe to get a fifth of vodka so I wouldn’t arrive home empty handed. What I found was a dusty rack of wines that had been there a while. Some typical, some weird and some worth drinking. There were two wines from one of my favorite non-traditional Italian producers — Alois Lageder.

Alois comes from the South Tyrol region of Italy. It’s mountainous and very much like the White Mountains or the Alps. Vineyards stretch along the valleys under the cloud-dappled sun. They plant a lot of different varieties, many I’ve never heard of or hope to taste. Like Lagrein and Muller Thurgau.

What I did find was a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Pinot Nero. Both were from the Estate Series, meaning they came from a single estate but not a single vineyard. Each estate may have many vineyards. These two wines convinced me not to give up wine for Lent and to continue trying as many different wines as possible.

• 1999 Cor Romigberg Cabernet Sauvignon. $34.99. The Cor Romigberg refers to an estate vineyard on Lake Calderon with a perfect mesoclimate for cabernet. The wine has a touch of Petit Verdot, which enhances the delicate cabernet flavors. Cabernet is a new grape for Italy, as most of their wines are made from local varieties like Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. This wine was deep and rich with raisin and port nuances with meat, tobacco, tar and violets detectable. The wine had an awesome finish that was low in tannins and airy. I wish I’d bought a third bottle!

• 2002 Krauss Pinot Nero from Alois Lageder. $32.99. I thought this was the case of another imported grape being grown in Italy, but Pinot Nero has a long tradition in Italy as a peasant wine. This wine was less successful than the Cabernet. It took a day to open up, although I decanted it for just that reason. The Pinot Nero was denser, with currants and cinnamon. I was expecting something Burgundian, but this was peasant wine in its rusticity. The Krafuss refers to an estate area where Alois Lageder has vineyards.

Italy, unlike France, is experimenting with high-end, non-native varietals, which often result in sheer wine drinking pleasure. As a rule, avoid French wines with the grape variety on the label, but jump on Italian wines as this is how Sassicaia, the Super-Tuscan was made.

Here are two wines available locally:

• 2004 Conn Valley Vineyards “Right Bank” Cuvee — $39.99. From Napa. A big hefty wine that’s made in the style of a Pomerol or Saint-Emilion. 60 percent Napa Merlot and 40 percent of our old friend, Cabernet Franc. 

• 2005 “J” Russian River Valley Pinot Noir —$31.99. From Sonoma. Not Burgundian either but brawny and American. A powerhouse with fruit up front and hints of grape jelly, pickled crab apple, and anise.This wine impresses me every time I taste it.


2/26/2009 Find a fest

1/29/2009 Woop woop it up
1/1/2009 A white burgundy eve
12/25/2008 Hey big spender
12/18/2008 White, the budget wine gift12/11/2008 Taste Burgundy, drink Pommard12/4/2008 The Riesling holidays
11/27/2008 Recession, anti-recession11/20/2008 Gastronomic recovery plan11/13/2008 A vote for...
11/6/2008 Spooky wine
10/30/2008 Critical darling
10/23/2008 An epitaph of good wine10/16/2008 A wine crime
10/9/2008 All my personalities love wine
10/2/2008 Harvest magic

9/25/2008 Where fantasy meets reality9/18/2008 The mojito cure
9/11/2008 Spend Fall in Spain
9/04/2008 Making a break for it
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