The Boston Phoenix
February 24 - March 2, 2000

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Find wine

How to locate those luscious liquids

by Thor Iverson

"Why don't you tell us where to buy the wines you recommend?" If there's a more common reader complaint about my columns, I don't know about it. Well, I hear you. I understand. I sympathize. But I'm not going to change.

There are good reasons for my obstinateness. One of them is fairness: I frequent a pretty small number of stores, most of them in a direct line between work and home. It wouldn't be fair to stores elsewhere in Boston if I constantly singled out a few sources. (And if I visited every wine shop in the Boston area, my Visa bill would soon exceed my salary.)

Another is utility. If I say that a wine is available at Gordon's, in Waltham, that's not much use to those of you who, say, live on Beacon Hill without a car. Rather than charting the geographical distribution of every wine I recommend, I'd rather devote the time and column space to talking about the wines themselves.

Availability is another reason I don't mention specific stores. Retailers, especially smaller ones with high turnover, frequently run out of things, and there's at least one or two weeks between the time I purchase a wine and the time it shows up in a column. By then, every case of the wine may have sold out.

And even when stores don't run dry on a particular wine, they might change their prices. A wine that I purchased for $9.99 at a New Hampshire state liquor store might be $13.99 (or more) in the Back Bay. Or a positive review in the Wine Spectator might lead to a substantial price increase. Quoting a price that has since doubled is an easy way to create ill will between consumer, retailer, and writer.

Ultimately, though, the biggest reason I rarely mention where to find a particular wine is that it's so simple for you to find out yourself. And not only is it simple, but it will also make you a smarter wine consumer.

Here's the scoop: every liquor store has a catalogue, updated periodically, known as Beverage Business. This catalogue lists nearly every wine that's available in this state, categorized by distributor. (Distributors are the middle tier in the state's three-tier wine system; they bring wine into the state and ship it to stores.) Once you know the distributor, you can find any wine that is sold in the Massachusetts system -- which is almost everything, with the significant exception of many small-winery bottlings. (This, incidentally, is where legal direct shipping would be extremely helpful.)

And thus a simple call or visit to your local retailer, and a few minutes with this catalogue, can give you a distributor's phone number to call. Assuming the distributor isn't grumpily unhelpful, he or she will be able to pinpoint several stores that carry the wine you're looking for. And there's an even better way to use the catalogue: get your retailer to order the wine for you. If you have a good relationship with one or more retailers -- and if you don't, you should cultivate one -- they'll usually be happy to secure any wine not currently on their shelves.

Now that we've discovered the technique, it's time to put it into practice. Here's some homework:

1997 Papin-Chevalier Anjou-Villages "Clos de Coulaine" ($10). Mint-chocolate nose, chewy and almost bark-like palate of bitter chocolate, orange rind, cassis, and earth. Yes, I know it sounds like a candy assortment gone horribly wrong, but it's really an excellent wine that just needs five to 10 years to come around. This wine is the opposite of "voluptuous," whatever that is.

1997 Renwood Zinfandel "Old Vines" ($12). Zin doesn't get any more classic than this. Peppery blueberries, with a sort of untamed taste that wine writers usually call "briary" or "brambly." Perfect with barbecue-sauce-covered anything.

1998 Edmunds St. John Viognier ($18). A big lemon- and orange-rind fruit bomb, but unmistakably viognier (which is rare for a California bottling). Serve with fish topped with fruit salsa.

1999 Isabel Sauvignon Blanc ($19). This wine certainly doesn't lack acidity, but its peach/lime/grass flavors actually make it mellower than the usual New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Tasty stuff that perhaps needs a year to settle down. (Disclosure: this is imported by a friend of mine, but anyone who tasted it at the Wine Expo can vouch for its quality.)

1998 Leon Beyer Gewürztraminer ($19). After several years of being blocked from the marketplace (long story, obscure local wine politics), this high-quality Alsace grower is once again available. And what an introduction: spicy cashews, slightly bitter honeydew, a deliriously delicious bone-dry gewürz. For stinky cheese, or sausage.

1998 Henry Pellé Menetou-Salon "Clos de Blanchais" ($20). Delicious sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley, perfumed and citrusy with a slight mineral tang. Perfect with simply cooked flaky white fish.

1997 Coppo Chardonnay "Monteriolo" ($35). It's rare that I recommend an Italian chardonnay, but they don't get much better than this. Like tropical fruit salad, perfectly balanced with a reasonable amount of oak, solid acidity. Great wine. Note: the 1998 Coppo Chardonnay "Costebianche" is livelier and less profound, yet very worthwhile at a much cheaper $17.

Thor Iverson can be reached at wine@phx.com.


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