Wine — Mondovino 

Mondovino

By Tim Protzman

However it ends, it’s always bittersweet when a love affair sours. Mine ended last week. In the cold, on Second Avenue.

I had gone to New York City to see a new wine film, Mondovino. Later, I decided to walk uptown to the train station. What should have been a long, loving embrace of 40 blocks was chilly and gray. As my indifference grew, so did the city’s and by Astor Place, the words of a former New Yorker who moved to Northampton, Mass., came to mind.

“I am so over New York. I had the experience, made my way through the tunnels and towers and I just don’t feel the excitement anymore.”

Now I feel the same way. I’m still very fond of the place, but that sense of discovery on every corner, the wonder of architecture and history are gone. But the memories — skating with my daughter at Rockefeller Center, hopping from Starbucks to Starbucks on Broadway, my dad and me 71 floors high at the old New York State Lottery office in the World Trade Center looking out over the harbor and New Jersey — will remain forever. I just don’t want to live there anymore.

Mondovino is a long, beautiful film that got me up and into the Village for a 10:30 a.m. showing. It is the next big wine film in the wake of Sideways’ success but it wasn’t quite what I expected. I wanted vineyard vistas, cellars full of dusty bottles and the history of the land. What I got was a salvo fired at the “globalization” of wine and the Mondavis in particular. Documentary maker Jonathan Nossiter proposes that the use of wine consultants, the effectiveness of the Mondavi marketing team and the lure of increased profit margins have led the Chateaus and Domaines to alter their methods (and tastes) to capture a greater market share.

To me this seems like a sound marketing decision. One, if more people are drinking wine and want something approachable, so be it. Two, it’s happened before; ancient Mesopotamian wine was different from Greek, which was different from Roman, which was different from Gallic wines. Three, if it isn’t good, then it won’t sell. Remember the “new” Coca Cola flop 20 years ago? I see no “end of wine as we know it” coming. And there will always be a demand for a quality product. Should the day come (and I hope it doesn’t) that all Pinot Noir from every vineyard worldwide tastes the same, some enterprising upstart will stake his claim and produce a different Pinot, the old-fashioned way. And you’ll always have the Grand Cru’s. You’ll pay dearly, but they won’t change.

Success is its own reward.

If you really like wine, you should see Mondovino, despite Nossiter’s stand that wine’s not really a business, but some sort of spiritual communion with the land, and his penchant for filming the winemakers’ dogs. I enjoyed it. I could have done without seeing one wealthy winemaker slip into a tank of grapes in his boxer shorts to do the traditional stomping, only to emerge with more than his blackberry showing. My favorite part was the old French winemaker’s description of structure: “Wines that are vertical, wines that cut like a knife and let you taste the layers.”

I use the word “structure” to describe wines a lot. Once you’ve tasted structure you know it, for those who haven’t it’s the way the wine tastes. Upon entering the mouth you get an initial taste (the backbone), which is crisp from the softened tannins. Then the wine reveals the little points and hints of flavor beneath the backbone, but always in concert with the backbone. It’s like licking a rainbow.

Approachability is the term we use for a wine that’s low in tannins and offers the taste of homogenized fruit. The wine is young, but tamed. There are different fruit flavors but nobackbone of crafted tannins. The wine is inkier, more murky. A great Grand Cru is transparent, allowing light through and a bit rusty in color. Approachable wines are dark. Both types have their place and price, which is why we’re more familiar with the approachable wines. But each wine, and even each bottle, has its own unique personality. An aged bottle of $10 red can soar, while a new First Growth can fill your mouth with cotton and wood. And remember the greatest wine in the world is the one YOU love the best!

In honor of the new, improved SATs being taken throughout the state we held two test tastings this week. (Who says you’ll never need this stuff after college!)

The first was the blind quality test. The participants, all 20-somethings (including Nort-Dog fresh from a 6-month stay with the state) choose the best of three blind wine samples:Nicolas Potel Cote de Nuit-Villages 2002 ($29.99) — A sharply structured Burgundy. The tannins never puckered, the fruit was light like a crushed strawberry in a glass of club soda. It’s a step up from a plain Cote de Nuit, but a step below a premiere cru. Thanks to the helpful clerk at Morrell Wine who suggested it; it is one New York spot I’m still in love with. Everyone’s favorite.

Lynch Bages 2001 ($39.99) — A fifth-growth cru from Bordeaux’s Pauillac Region. Still too young and wild to be approachable. Some found it sour. Nort-Dog thought it was better than the raisin wine he had in the joint, but it lacked the finesse of the Potel. Lots of fruit and promise for the future. A cheaper way to discover Bordeaux. Try the better 1999 vintage for the same price. A good wine but hard for novices to get past the youthful exuberance.

Fetzer Vineyards Five Rivers Ranch 2001 Pinot Noir ($10.99) — From Santa Barbara County. Juicy approachable fruit, nice layers and a great price. The Wine Rookies were able to correctly see similarities with the Potel.

 

Globalization test

We tasted three wines side by side to look for similarities in crafting.

Echelon 2001 Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon ($9.99) — Delicious and unstructured with fruit and tartness and a strong finish. Somewhat global in taste.

Cape Mentelle 2002 Cabernet Merlot ($14.99) — Here’s a chance to taste structure inexpensively. Very crafted with a definite backbone and flavors of currant, plum and au jus. Totally inspired wine, very different for the Echelon. 60 percent cab, 40 percent merlot. Global in price, not in taste.

Wrongo Dongo 2003 ($7.49) — From Spain’s Jumilla region. Hated the name, was lukewarm on the wine. Tannic with a flash of alcoholic afterburn. 100 percent Mourvedre grapes. Obviously made to capitalize on the cute name factor, like Yellowtail or Thirsty Lizard. What I liked was that it is so different in taste that it seems to be a traditional, cheap Spanish wine with a good marketing campaign. No evidence of any tweaking to make it more palatable to American tastes.

 

White wine

J. Lohr Estate Riverstone 2002 Chardonnay ($10.99) — Some cream and oak, but not the oppressive amount of a bad wine trying to go straight. Good for guests and everyday. Lemon, escarole and a touch of vanilla.

Find your wine

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission can help you find your wine with a click or two. Just go to www.nh.gov/liquor/, type the name of your wine into the product locator and click “go.” The site’s search engine will come up with a list of stores that carry the bottle you seek.


—Tim Protzman

 
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