April 9, 2009


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Brave new wines
Dreamy drinks outside the mainstream
By Tim Protzman food@hippopress.com

It’s been a long time since I felt this way. I was considering couple’s counseling, but then this little ray of sunshine parted the scudding grey clouds and let great rays of sun in.

During past break-ups, I just left. A quick break is easy. But it’s kind of selfish. Not as bad as some of the classic break-ups I’ve heard about. Like when Berger broke up with Carrie on Sex in the City by leaving her a post-it note. Or Steve Wozniak and Kathy Griffin. One day her iPhone just stopped working.

I have three relationships that make me feel like Al Pacino in Godfather III — “The more I try to get out, the deeper they pull me back in.” Or something like that.

One is with my ex-wife. The two kids keep us pretty much on track and together, even though they’re in their 20s. Kids — now there’s a relationship you can’t duck out of. And even when they’re grown up you have worries. Some are stupid. Did my 23-year-old son get on the right bus? Cut the apron strings, Timmie! Is my daughter’s new roommate’s father a West African warlord? That one could be a little stickier.

The other never-ending relationship is with a woman with whom I once lovingly shared a bottle of Louis Jadot Clos Vougeot paired with a fantastic Duck l’Orange. The wine was perhaps one of the top four I ever tasted. (The others were a 1985 Lynch-Bage, a 1990 Jaboulet Hermitage “La Chapelle” from the Rhone and a Simonsig Redhill Pinotage, and let’s throw in a 1989 Grand Puy-Lacoste.)

This woman wasn’t really a wine drinker. She, like my late step-grandmother, was a Coors Light fanatic. But that didn’t sink the relationship. Boredom and drifting apart did.

Last fall I saw her at a non-profit fair at her company. She looked good and I pondered rekindling the flame. Instead, I found her one-legged ex-biker brother an affordable apartment. We met over drinks, two Coors. Then we parted, once again.

Until yesterday. Apparently, the one-legged biker brother was a bit of a terror on the other residents. Up late at night with his loud girlfriend. Hanging pictures and pounding nails at 10:30 p.m. Clomping around on his single clod clad foot. Since she was a co-signer on his lease, I gave her a heads-up before a Notice to Cure letter arrived. She was distant. Cool and professional. None of the previous sparks were there. Totally over. Until I have to evict the clomping biker brother.

My third never-ending relationship is with wine. So many times I’ve gone through the equivalent of catching it cheating on me. The $100 bottle that tasted sour. The moderately cult-y California Cabernet that reminded me of grape fingernail polish remover. The bad champagnes and horrible chardonnays.

But then came Shotfire.

I had given up the trampish, loose Australian shirazes years ago. Acidic, lacking depth and flavor. Generally annoying and harsh- tasting. I took a gamble and picked up Shotfire, a Barossa Valley Shiraz from Thorn & Clarke, a medium-sized family-owned vineyard. It was truly good. And it was only $18.99. Double infatuation.

The winery united two old-time Barossa families: the Clarkes, who were originally gold miners, and the Thorns, who were vintners in the Barossa since 1854. The Shotfire is the second-tier wine they produce. The William Randall line is named after an ancestor who ran a steamboat line on the Murray River.

The Shotfire line includes a chardonnay, pinot gris, a Cuvee of cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, malbec and merlot and cabernet franc, a Quartage of cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, malbec and merlot and the 100-percent shiraz. I would love to be able to taste their full product line, but I fear that with limited availability and low brand recognition Thorn & Clarke will never get the market share they deserve. Usually, unless the wine is truly outstanding — La Tache, Petrus, Ceretto Barolo — it doesn’t pay to buy wine from a foreign country. Taxes and the amount of paperwork are exorbitant. Locally, Shotfire can be hard to come by and might have to be part of a road trip (Vermont, it’s available at Windsor Wine & Spirit in Windsor the Food Coop in Brattleboro and in Massachusetts it’s available at the Discount Liquor Mart at 103 Broadway in Lawrence and the Andover Whole Food at 40 Railroad St.). A few domestic direct shippers can also send you the wines (Vintage Cellars at www.vintagecellar.com, San Francisco Wine Trading Company at www.sfwtc.com and Hi-Time Wine Cellars at www.hitimewine.net) all have some Shotfire products.

It was a one-time wine. A passing discretion. A vibrant memory and a treasured encounter. Very much like other relationships, including the imaginary one with the tattooed arm girl from American Idol. Maybe that’s why they kept rhapsodizing about the mortal trinity of Wine, Women and Song?

Here are the wines I drank.

• 2006 Shotfire Barossa Valley Shiraz — $18.99. Big and voluptuous. Grape soda flavors with a touch of vine stem and seeds. A pleasant hay-like aroma, reminiscent of great Bordeaux. Delicate violet and plum notes. An easy evolving finish that fades slowly like a train whistle in the night.

• 2005 Clos Du Val Napa Valley Merlot — $28.99. From either the Stag’s Leap or Silverado districts, I never found out which. The wine was a bit austere and graceful. Plum, cassis (raisin) and chocolate. I’m glad I never considered merlot as a “joke wine” and I’m glad that the wine marketers didn’t yank all the Clos Du Val vines out four years ago.

• 2005 Kistler Sonoma Coast Chardonnay — $55.49. it was a ton of cash to pay for a chardonnay and I was expecting something Burgundian, but I wasn’t totally disappointed because that fake oak taste wasn’t there.

Maybe that’s why I like wine (and women). You take one out and they show up in a platinum blond wig and it’s like you’re seeing a whole different person. Thank you to all the wineries who don’t just bottle homogenized, focus-group-created products with one goal, to rip as much cash as possible out of the marketplace and then sell the whole operation to Constellation Brands. Thank you, you wineries who dare to be the pretty Goth Chick nobody asked out because she was too complex.

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