Hippo Manchester
September 1, 2005

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Sudden ugly mood swings

When wine matches your emotions way too well

By Tim Protzman  

When men and women reach a certain age they tend to polarize emotionally. Women, perhaps because they outlive us guys, seem to get lighter. Men on the other hand get grumpy.

As I slide toward the 42-year mark and come to grips with my looming mortality, my vanishing good looks and the loss of my devil-may-care attitude, I find myself extra cranky over little things. I want to bring back the Iron Maiden for people who leave the cap off the toothpaste, the stock and pillory for those who donít return the cordless phone to its cradle and use up the battery. And donít get me started about traffic.

Women, on the other hand, tend to blossom in their later years. They wear red hats and have one too many Bloody Marys for brunch. They lavish love on their pets and find crafty hobbies that provide fulfillment and content.Women get eccentric, men get curmudgeonly.

Part of my new crankiness I blame on August. Itís always been a bad month. From the Saint Bartholomewís Massacre to the beginning of World War I, not much good has happened in August, unless you go on vacation. August is like the last mile of a marathon. Youíre exhausted, sweaty and just want to finish. The newness of summer is long gone and the delicious temptation of the harvest still ahead. Yes, these are the days we can taste fall but not see it.

But letís not hold the whole month responsible for all my bad humor. Sometimes life has a way of grinding you little by little until you have no tolerance. A line at the bank in December may be full of smiling faces and holiday wishes, while the same line in August holds nothing but sweaty brows and frustrated people. And wasnít General Grant more likely to go off over a broken bootlace than a missing supply train? Itís not the big stuff that gets us, itís the little things. Thatís why they say donít sweat the small stuff. But remember, a coral reef, which is millions of tiny creatures one on top of another, can still sink a mighty ship.

But, hey, life in Augustís not all black crepe. If one looks one can find grace, serenity and even humor. Like the message on my answering machine from my sonís friend who was nearly hysterical when she recorded this:

ďI fell asleep at Christineís and she cut off all my hair.Ē

Her bad fortune was my dayís chuckle, which gives a little insight into my own twisted sense of humor. For now I take the lightness where I can find it: a salmon-colored full moon, a newly gathered flock of geese and those wonderful homegrown tomatoes that taste of sun and are so flavorful you can eat them without any dressing or just a little salt and pepper. Maybe thatís the way itís supposed to be. That this long and arduous month be blessed with a bounty of freshness to stir our senses and dull the pain. And if this be true, then I have one more reason to go on and believe, for why would there be tomatoes in August, if not by Intelligent Design?

This weekís wines, like my mood, are sometimes cranky, sometimes frustrating and sometimes uplifting.

2001 Beringer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $31.41 ó Beringer sells a ton of wine, and most of it is the everyday or table variety. They even have a second label called Stone Cellars that sells affordable wine. But they also have some very premium labels that we tend to overlook in the sea of White Zinfandel. The 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon is just over the threshold of Beringerís premium range and worth every penny. What I liked was the fruit, soft cherry and a twinkle of strawberry with a luscious texture and complete absence of tannic bite. What I hoped for was a little more structure, a tad more muscle óitís not a flaw in the wine, just a preference, like choosing spare ribs on the bone rather than the little bite-sized riblets.

2001 De Loach Sonoma County Pinot Noir, $9.99 ó Even though I suspected that this bottle might have oxidized or been stored in a very hot storage area, this garnet-colored wine was good. It was plummy with a trace of port-like flavor that probably wasnít intentional, but from a leaky cork or bad storage. Whatever the reason I found this wine enchanting and a bargain. Was it great? No, but it exceeded my expectations, flaws and all. This bottle showed me the individual personality a wine can develop, and that was exciting.

2001 Isolda Bodegas San Martin, $9.99 ó This one is from Spainís Navarre region. One hundred percent Tempranillo grapes gave their lives in vain to make this ultra-tannic, dry and boring wine. A half-chewed stick of Juicy Fruit has more character than this wine.

1997 Yuntero Crianza óThis wine from La Mancha, Spain had more character but still wasnít great. Its 75percent Tempranillo and 25 percent Cabernet Sauvignon means Crianza was aged for at least two years, 6 months of which are in oak. It is harsh with grapey flavors and a touch of something akin to a high-fructose corn syrup-laden fruit punch.

2001 Campus Oaks Mendocino County Pinot Noir, $8.99 ó A second label from the family-owned Gnekow (Keck cow) Vineyard. Itís very French- tasting with soft tannins and small fruit ó strawberry, blueberry and a touch of watermelon. Understated, whispery and elegant, like listening to the youngest members of the Harlem Boys Choir.

2001 Red Diamond Merlot, $8.99 ó Mostly Merlot with a little bit of Cabernet, Franc and Sauvignon blended in. Very much an American wine that speaks of the Yakima and Colombia Valleys. Fruity but not annoyingly so. Touches of plum, ripe peach, cinnamon and whisper of chocolate at the finish.