Hippo Manchester
October 13, 2005

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Wine’ll make you crazy

Enjoying vino through smell, taste and shape

By Tim Protzman    tprotzman@hotmail.com

Wine can play tricks with your mind — and not just when you drink too much of it.

Sometimes, my mind is capable of intense feats of memory, where every detail of a long-ago event plays out as clear and crisp as if it were yesterday. I remember a gathering with friends and family right down to the bottle of wine.

Other times, I’ve missed things right in front of me. You know the feeling. You decide to try that new neighborhood restaurant, the one you pass every day, and you ask how long they’ve been open and they say “three years.” It’s a human propensity that we take the common, everyday things for granted, and they blur into the background. 

Two years ago, while reading a wine book, I made one of these discoveries: wine bottles have different shapes! “Oh yeah,” it dawned on me; burgundy bottles are different from Bordeaux bottles. California chardonnay comes in a different bottle from cabernet. I mean, how thick is that? I had extensive notes on each bottle tasted, I could recognize the labels, but I’d never noticed the bottles’ shapes.

The book went on to explain why bottles have different shapes. It seems the two modern shapes of bottles are based on how long the wine’s intended to age. Cabernet-based wines, merlots, Bordeaux and most Italian and Spanish reds come in the bullet-shaped bottle that looks like it has shoulders. Whites, Burgundies, Rhone styles and pinot noirs come in a bottle with a more tapered neck. The glass is green or brown to block out the light. The longer a wine ages the more sediment it develops and the Bordeaux bottle’s shape seems to naturally collect some of it and keep it out of your glass.

Though the shape of the bottle doesn’t always catch my attention, four wines stand out in my mind — not only for the meal, but for the atmosphere and companionship.

Chateau Lynch-Bages, Pauillac It was August 1997 on Little Tupper Lake in upstate New York. My friend Gil, his wife, Diane and I were on the dock. The sun was setting in the west; an intense storm was raining down lightning in the Adirondacks to the east. We sipped a 1983 Chateau Lynch-Bages we’d picked up for $23.49 in Lake George. The wine was ruby colored and full of layers of grape and blackberry flavors. We laughed, sipped and talked until the stars gave us the last act of the celestial light show. The 2000 vintage of Chateau Lynch-Bages, Pauillac is $79.99 at the state liquor store. Drinkable, but in 10 years, wow!

Paul Jaboulet Crozes Hermitage It was Christmas Eve. I had to work until 7 p.m. and be up early the next morning. I ate filet mignon with béarnaise sauce and sipped a 1990 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage, La Chapelle—spicy like cayenne, sweet currant fruit tones and a wonderful toastiness. It wasn’t cheap, $62.49, but it was perfect as I watched TV Mass and wrapped presents. Pick up the 1998, 1999 or 2000 Paul Jaboulet Crozes Hermitage for $13.99; it’s very, very close to that wonderful Christmas Eve vintage.

Pedronelli Mother Clone Zinfandel Any gathering was a true celebration at the late, great James’ house—it was 18 stories high with a river view. James served Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel, and occasionally its more elegant sister, Pagani Ranch. I recently found a 1993 Lytton Springs for $26.99 and it opened a flood of goodtime memories. Pedronelli Mother Clone Zinfandel for $14.99 is an excellent stand-in.

Beaulieu Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Mr. R. had a large bottle of Beaulieu Vineyards George de Latour Private Reserve in his office. He explained it was a Methuselah size—six regular bottles. They use biblical names for big bottles: Nebuchadnezzar, Balthazar, Jeroboam. We got a taste the day he retired. It opened like a beautiful flower and wilted quickly. The last glass was full of sediment and devoid of flavor. Beaulieu Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa for $13.99 is a very interesting, similar wine.