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What I've Been Drinking Lately, on Vacation: New and Different Wines!
By John Anderson
Oct 11, 2023
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The Ole Professor, his Spouse and their Young’Un just returned from two weeks’ vacation at Cape Cod — and wish now that they’d booked for three!

One of the things the Ole Gent likes best about vacation time is the opportunity to discover new and different wines.  And one of the few things the Ole Gent actually does like about the USA’s Three-Tiered Wine & Liquor Distribution System is that when you go from one state to another, the wines on offer are likely to be wildly different.  Sometimes for the better, often not.  But nevertheless, a fact of life.

If the Wine Drinking Me is to be stranded in another state—Massachusetts is one of the best places to be.  To begin at the beginning, there are any number of extremely able distributors working out of that Commonwealth.  To name but a few:  Classic Wines, M.S. Walker, Carolina, Cynthia Hurley, Vineyard Road, Ideal Wine and Spirits, and Ruby Wines, among them.

Then, of course, there is my favorite Wine Fact of Life in the Commonwealth:  There is no tax on wine and spirits.  Zero.  Nada.  Zip.  And at most, if not all, retailers, you’ll get 20% off mixed cases.  Mixed cases, mind you! And more than a few retailers will even give you 10% off six bottles—six mixed bottles.  Beat that kind of a deal!

So those are the basic facts in the Bay State.  Now how to proceed from there?

A Bay State-based Wine Friend (WRO’s own Michael Apstein, M.D.) suggests that when staying for 2-3 weeks in the same cottage at the Cape, I order a case or two of wine in advance of our arrival.  Efficient, yes, but it does deprive you of the ability to examine the bottle itself to discover critical information:  alcohol level, the importer or distributor (or both), all hints that point you to a treasure.  

I also honor the same learned Friend’s constant admonition to his readers: “Producer, Producer, Producer!”  To which I would add:  “Importer, Importer, Importer!”  When in doubt as to a producer who is new or even unknown to you, turn the bottle ‘round and read the back label.  If somewhere there you find the magic words — Kermit Lynch or Neal Rosenthal, Vintus, Polaner, Jeanne-Marie des Champs, Cynthia Hurley, Eric Solomon, Peter Weygandt, Louis/Dressner, Roy Cloud/Vintage ’59, or the like.  These are all among the really top wine importers in this country — so you should have every reason in the world to think you’re going to get a good, perhaps very good or even truly excellent, and certainly interesting, bottle of wine.

I’d also make a point to check out the stated alcohol-level of the wine in the bottle.  In these Climate Change-challenged times, it can pay big-time to do so.  Even the Ole Professor sometimes forgets to do this—and has paid the price when he discovered that that Beaujolais Cru he just bought came in at 15.5%!  The Professor is particularly sensitive to super-charged German wines, and is increasingly disturbed to find Rieslings, and, especially, what should be high quality Mosel Kabinett, coming to market at 10+% stated alcohol.  Look instead for fine German estate-bottled wines that finished at 7.5% or 8.0%.  You’ll be glad you did.  These are civilized wines, many of the others — famous or not — are, well, NOT!

But now let me offer you a real insight into how the Ole Professor’s mind works, especially when in a pinch, somewhere new to him.

It happened just this past week in Orleans, where, for many a year, I was a steady customer at a medium-sized retail merchant, which has long since been bought out by a major retailer and renamed.  I valued the store (and its then-owner a chatty, wine-loving gent named Bob) for its hand-selection of fine wines.

The successor-establishment is still there, still in business, bigger than ever it was under Bob’s tutelage; and the selection is bigger but less good — more “cookie-cutter” than it had been in Bob’s time.  But, to be fair, I bought a mixed case of wines, which I would advise a wine-loving vacationer to do on Day One.  It allowed me — and could allow you — to try a wide range and see what to stock-up on for the rest of the vacation, and was happy with most of what I got, but particularly a trio of the succulent, extremely well-made wines from Domaine Jean-Marc Burgaud, among them a 2020 Beaujolais Blanc and the 2021 Morgon “Les Cras” and Morgon “Côte du Py Vieilles Vignes,” both a snip at about $17.60 after the discount.  Indeed, my favorite wine of the whole trip was the Champagne Grand Cru “Le Mesnil” Blanc de Blancs Brut NV, $42 after the discount.  Mesnil is home to the finest chardonnay vineyards in Champagne, and this bottle (imported by Vineyard Road) comes from the high-quality local co-op.  Extraordinary grip and astonishing balance.  Great purity of fruity.  Splendid wine.

But then...I walked into a relatively newcomer to Orleans and almost immediately saw two dear old friends perched on the shelves:  Madame Chanrion’s marvelous Côte-de-Brouilly from the Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes (imported by Kermit Lynch); and the Goisot family’s superb Bourgogne Aligoté (imported by the estimable Doug Polaner).  These are anything but “cookie-cutter” wines, and I knew then that I’d found just the place I’d been looking for ever since Bob sold his business and went off to play on the links!

Stay tuned for when the Ole Professor next returns to this station.  We have a store to investigate!  And a story to tell!  One hint:  You don’t just stumble into running a store like this.  So how did it happen?  What wine retailing secrets can we glean from this tale?

More to come!


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