Keeping up appearances
judge a wine by its label or a wine taster by his outfit
by Tim Protzman
Remember all the things
your mother told you?
“Don’t run with
scissors.” Don’t talk on the phone during a thunderstorm.” “Always wear
clean underwear.” I don’t worry about these anymore. At my age I rarely
run, my phone is cordless and I’m really into bleach so my briefs come
out sparkling white. But I should have paid more attention to the
thought behind the underwear thing, because this weekend I had a problem
which reminded me that presentation is everything.
My daughter got her
driver’s license and her mother helped her get a car. Early Saturday we
went to Motor Vehicle to register it. Once it was street legal we did a
little basic maintenance, air in the tires, check the oil and other
fluids and made sure all the lights worked. Now I’m an autumn,
color-wise, so this is my time of year. And before we popped the hood I
changed my brick-orange shirt and put on a t-shirt. The mistake I made
was not changing back into the dressier shirt before leaving the house,
setting me up to violate the clean underwear rule.
My daughter took off in
the car (I’ll probably see her again at Thanksgiving) and I went to the
office for a meeting, wearing the tee shirt.
On the way home I
stopped at a rather snooty wine shop. It’s a little more expensive, but
it’s conveniently located and has a great selection. To my delight they
were having a wine tasting, in a little reception room off the store. I
went in, wearing the tee shirt with a few grease stains on the front.
Most of the people were
wearing collared shirts or smart skirt sets with matching tops and
jackets. They smelled nice. Their shoes were expensive. They bought wine
by the case.
And there was me, in my
slightly ragamuffin outfit, looking not like a wine writer but some
off-the-street freeloader out for a cheap drunk. I lasted about 20
minutes before the host took me aside and told me they were closing.
Everyone else stayed. Mom was right, presentation is everything.
A few years ago at a
single-malt dinner I heard a great story about marketing and
It was in the early
1970s when the Japanese economy was booming and the taste for great
Scotch was sweeping the Land of the Rising Sun. There was this
traditional distiller from Islay, the western part of Scotland, who
wanted to export his product to the Far East.
He needed the help of a
giant beverage company, but he couldn’t get them to return his calls.
Until he came upon a great idea.
He invited the head of
the beverage company to taste what he called a 300-year-old single malt
that had been aging in his cellar since the Great Fire of London. The
invitation said the distillery had found the hogshead of whiskey in a
sealed chamber when they were remodeling. The distiller claimed it had
been sealed up in the 1790s.
The distiller took it
down to London, unopened, along with his best 20-year-old single malt.
The head of the export company, some Earl or Lord something, arrived at
He considered himself
quite the connoisseur and was intrigued at the chance to try such an old
piece of history. The wooden stopper was pulled and the Scotch was
gently decanted with all the care one would give to a priceless antique.
The liquid was cloudy but pungent. The distiller took the crystal
decanter into the kitchen of his hotel suite and poured two snifters of
the precious “water of life.” Then he poured two snifters of his
20-year-old Scotch and brought the tray out to the export Lord.
They swirled, sniffed
and finally tasted. The exporter was impressed. Both whiskeys were
delicious, tasting of caramel and leather, with a touch of peat and
wood. Then the distiller made his move.
“I’ve got a riddle for
you,” he said. “Which one is the 300-year-old batch?”
“This one,” replied the
Lord correctly pointing to the cloudier liquid in the snifter.
“Of course,” the
distiller answered, “but which one do you like better?”
difficult,” the Lord said, “because I like the second one just as much,
if not a little more, but I want to love the 300-year-old single malt
because of the history, but it seems to have gone past its prime. The
real question is what’s in the second glass?”
“That” replied the
distiller, “is our 20-year-old single malt — the one you’re going to
help us export.”
And that’s how
Bruichladdich Single Malt Scotch Whiskey made it to Japan. Presentation
may be everything but the real litmus test is always taste.
Here’s this week’s
wines. Some lived up to their presentational hype, some were sleeper
Pol Roger 1993 Vintage
Champagne, $69.99. For anyone who doesn’t like champagne.
Toasty and yeasty with
a dry finish and creamy texture. The first and best glass from the
1999 Jaboulet “La
Chapelle” Hermitage, $59.49. Better than the 2000 vintage with a deep
raisin flavor and a smooth finish that comes from a well-made, well-aged
2001 Rapitala Hugonis,
$39.99. From Sicily. This was a big brawny wine, a 50 percent Cabernet
Suavignon, 50 percent Nero d’Avola. Made to age, and it shows. Still
very tannic and bitey. A big sticker shock on this one.
2001 Santi Valpolicella
Classico Solane, $14.99. A wonderfully fruity wine from traditional
grapes that are relatively unknown outside Italy. Sixty-five percent
Corvina, 30 percent Rondinella, 5 percent Molinara from the Lake Garda
Hayman Hill 2001
Cabernet Sauvignon and 2003 Meritage. I grabbed the Meritage by mistake
instead of the Cab and was blown away by the structure and supple
The Cab was decent, but
not up to the Meritage (rhymes with heritage, but many people still say
Meritagzh). Licorice, plum and smoked ham flavors. $12.99.
My mother also said
“You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Listen up, snooty wine shop and
stodgy importer: I was good enough for you to rip off my critique of
your Pascal Jolivet Sancerre for your website, but not to taste wine
with decent folk? Next time you see me, I’ll be in my tuxedo.