Wine — Cheers And Whines Of The Vine
Cheers And Whines Of The Vine

By Tim Protzman

Why do people read a wine column?

Easy, they want to learn something, have their knowledge confirmed or participate in something they’ll never do. It’s the same as a column on skateboarding — those who do it, read about it. The truth, is most people don’t read wine columns, and the majority of those who do just skim. That’s why lists and perky descriptions of the wine are big. They catch people’s attention.

One thing I hate about wine columns is not being able to find the wines they talk about. So at least tell me what grapes it’s made from and maybe a little bit about the vineyard. What I really like are the descriptions of great meals and wine in exotic places. Tell me about tasting a 50-year-old bottle in a eucalyptus grove. Take me to a Chilean inn and let me wander around the cellar. And speak in plain English; no more “The first sip was as ethereal as a hummingbird kiss with lavender and mead flavors followed by a smooth finish of New York deli pickles and sashimi.”

Truthfully, there are only so many ways to describe the taste of wine, so it might be better to skip all the fruit-smoothie talk and just stick with a few basic terms. But don’t stop moving us out of our comfort zone. If you trace the evolution of wine drinking in America you’ll find wine was the province of the rich from the Revolution to the early 1960s. At that point,  the critical mass of  people from wine-drinking cultures and the Californian jug parade intersected. Hippies loved the stuff, and it was cheap.

The cash influx gave vineyards some research-and-development funds and Napa took off. Today, it’s gratifying that best-selling wines tend to be around $12.99 a bottle, show a degree of crafting and actually have a taste fingerprint detailing the region, soil and style characteristics of the vineyard. That’s why we drink wine — the subtle differences, the different flavors. If we wanted homogeneity we’d drink Pepsi.

Here in plain words are some of the past year’s wines that were hits, and a few misfires, too:

Nice whites

Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru “Morgeot” Olivier Leflaive — the best 2002 white Burgundy I tasted. Fruity and deep.  I can’t wait till 2008 when this gets really great. $21.99. Morgeot is the most famous of the little villages that make up Chassagne-Montrachet.

Callaway Chenin Blanc 2001 — a nice wine made even better by the $6.99 price and the tiny rile of sweetness that backbones the wine.

Canyon Road 2001 Sauvignon Blanc —a great producer and a great price. Even though it’s commercially produced (evaporator, centrifugal concentrator and steel tanks) it’s more than plonk. Tart cranberry hints with a lemon/grape underpinning. $9.99

Domaine de Vaufuget Vouvray 2002 — a touch of sweetness and the good soil tones of the Loire Valley greet your palate. $14.99

Louis Latour 2002 Macon-Lugny “Les Genievres” —translates to “the junipers.” Plump juicy white grape with an astringent Burgundian backbone. $11.99

Barone Fini Valdadige Pinot Grigio- 2002 — lemon verbena and spinach with a slight effervescence. $11.99


Chateau Calissanne Cuvee du Chateau from Aix en Province  — the best rose from France I ever had, $8.99. 15 percent Cabernet, half Grenache and 35 percent Syrah mix.

Nice reds

Freemark Abbey 2000 — A fruit-forward, but Bordeaux-style cab without the grassy tones but with the band aid smell of a great claret. $21.99.

Shale Ridge 2002 Monterey Syrah — nice, unassuming, not a Rhone, but at $8.99 who cares.

Chateau de Francs 2000 “Les Cerisiers” — a delicious Bordeaux-Cote de Francs. A merlot, cabernet franc and sauvignon blend that should age wonderfully and present Californian-style flavors galore. $15.99. Les Cerisiers  refers to the cherry trees near the vineyard.

1995 Chateau La Louviere Pessac-Leognan — stupendously profound. Structured and no residual tannins deep inky flavors, prune brandied fruit and chocolate $33.50

Napa Ridge 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon — what a good doobie! $7.99. Fruity with nice ammonium/barnyard aromas and strawberry raspberry taste notes. You can’t go wrong with Napa Ridge, my favorite mass-market vineyard.

Hawk Crest 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon — $11.99, part of Stag’s Leap winery. Jammy with dry cabernet tastes of burnt currant, Band-Aids and grass and blackberry. R.L. Stevenson poem on the cork.

Buena Vista 2001 Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir — pretty good. $16.99


Kendall-Jackson 2001 Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir — Nice but vintner’s reserve? This is a huge commercial house; what vintner is reserving it? Obligatory cherry and other semi-fake fruit tastes; would be welcome at a gallery opening in Scranton. $13.49.

Michel de Montaigne, Bergerac — $15.79. A red from up the Dordogne River. Plummy and frumpy like a French farmwife.

Dynamite Cab 2001 North Coast from Lake County, California. Fizzled like a wet firecracker.  $17.99.

Frei Brothers 2001 Redwood Creek Cabernet Sauvignon  —Would be perfect if you were trapped in an elevator. $8.99.

Oracle 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa’s Stellenbosch region —wane and lacking the finesse of a Californian or Bordeaux, and the ruggedness of an Aussie Cab. Indicative of most South African efforts at Cabernet. $13.99

Michael Sullberg Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 —a small often-forgettable producer for Northern California. $14.99

Tell Tim your wine stories. You can reach him at

Find the wines discussed in Hippo’s food section at state liquor stores. For exact locations of your favorite juice, go to

—Tim Protzman

2005 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH