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