In which, after taking several months off to change diapers, our columnist laments the foul odor coming out of Washington on wine legislation ...
Further proof that your government doesn't like you: "The Trafficking Victims Protection Act." It's not enough that the neo-Prohibitionists and the Temperance union masquerading as government health professionals lump us in with cocaine and heroin addicts when they harp about "alcohol and other drugs." Now Congress in its infinite wisdom passed legislation that puts wine lovers in the same cesspool as sexual abusers and white slavers.
Remember the old maxim that "legislation is like sausage - you don't want to know how it's made"? Well, here's a case in point. The "21st Amendment Enforcement Act" was bad enough, using a 1930's law aimed at Al Capone to crack down on you and me and the nice winery folks who make those hard-to-find cabernets. But when Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the main stooge of the wholesalers, couldn't get it through on its own before Congress' annual rush to get out of Dodge, he slipped it into a law that as near as I can figure prohibits white slavery.
Now, this group of sex perverts, harassers and egomaniacs may not be able to pass a federal budget in time, but you know they aren't going to let legislation languish that can let them pose as defenders of womankind. President Clinton signed it, natch, on October 28. The bill's passage got very little press coverage, and none that I saw mentioned that "by the way, it also outlaws direct shipping of wine to a consumer's home."
Don't get me wrong - I oppose sexual abuse of all kinds and have no problem with increasing the penalties for it. I just don't like being tarnished as an addict or a gangster because I like to pull a cork before dinner. So I'm not gonna pull any punches now ...
To be sure, the final version of the bill was less harmful to wineries and wine lovers than the original incarnation. Senator Dianne Feinstein (Yay, California!) managed to get it amended to require state authorities to argue in court that their laws banning interstate direct shipping are reasonable. Or something like that. I'm not really sure. And those of us lucky enough to live in "reciprocal" states will still be able to pick up the phone and order up some chard. Our underpaid and outgunned lobbyists in Washington feel they did what they could and that the legislation essentially will kick the issue back to the courts rather than settle it in the wholesalers' favor, but no one has been able to explain clearly enough to me why I should not be pissed that this law passed.
Making matters worse, the Washington, D.C., city council is considering legislation that would restrict the ability of wine stores and smaller wholesalers to "direct import" wines. Who would benefit? Not the city, which would lose revenue; not the stores, ditto; and certainly not the consumer, but only the mega-wholesalers that have gobbled up the locally based companies over the past few years. The D.C. wine market - one of the most vibrant in the country because of laws that encourage competition - is at risk.
Further making matters worse, in my home jurisdiction of Montgomery County, Maryland, the Womens Christian Temperance Union (Yes, they are still around.) and a group called the Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Advisory Council are up-in-arms about a proposed ordinance that would allow the new Fresh Fields supermarket in Silver Spring to sell wine and beer. Why? They say homicides and other violent crime will increase as alcohol becomes more available, despite county statistics that show otherwise.
Never mind that a county liquor store opened just around the corner from the new Fresh Fields a few months ago, selling booze as well as wine. Never mind that Morris Miller wine store is about a mile away, just inside the D.C. line. Letting Fresh Fields sell wine is certain to bring fire and brimstone down on dear old Silver Spring.
It's enough to drive a guy to drink.
Sitting at the bar at Jaleo recently, I was enjoying one of my favorite pastimes: scarfing some tapas and squinting at the bottles behind the bar to see what my friend Antoni Yelamos has added to his ever-growing selection of fine Spanish wines. I noticed a strangely familiar yet out-of-place foil on some bottles arrayed behind a Rioja and asked for a closer look. Could Tony actually be selling an American wine?
You betcha! It was Clos du Bois Tempranillo 1997. Near as I can tell, it was the first bottling of Rioja's main grape grown in the states and widely available. (Clos du Bois had a limited edition 1996 they sold at the winery. At least two Virginia wineries, Chrysalis and Horton, are growing some Tempranillo but have not begun selling it.) Tony told me he was astonished to find it and even more astonished at how good it is and how well it paired with Jaleo's cuisine.
He was right. The wine was recognizably Sonoma in character, spicy and rich and with a hotter finish than Rioja fans will be used to. Yet it didn't scream out zinfandel, cabernet or merlot. It showed a different nuance with every sip, here a hint of beef, there cream and vanilla, then earth and berries.
I've since had the pleasure of tasting Clos du Bois 1998 Alexander Valley Reserve Tempranillo, at it was even better. At a suggested (California) retail price of $16, it's good value, too.
Winemaker Margaret Davenport and her financial backers are to be applauded for breaking ranks with the usual cabernet and chardonnay parade (which they march in pretty well). More variety - especially at this quality level - benefits everyone. Most of all, us consumers.
(For the record, Tony has since added another Yanqui wine to his selection - the Ridge Mataro, which of course is the Spanish name for Mourvedre.)
Recommended Reading: The December 2000 issue of The Atlantic Monthly features a cover story titled, "The Million Dollar Nose." You guessed it - it's a lengthy treatise about our favorite guru, Robert Parker. (The title refers to the value of the insurance policy on his olfactory sense. That company is getting off cheap, if you ask me.)
The feature is written by William Langewiesche, an Atlantic correspondent, who evidently is not a wine geek. Those of you who have been reading Parker and about Parker will not find your knowledge level increased exponentially by this article, except for some hilarious details about his first trip to Europe, when he got turned on to wine. Perhaps the Bard of Monkton is opening up about himself a little more.
The Los Angeles Times published a series on Parker about a year ago that shows more of his style and his impact on the U.S. wine industry. The Atlantic article focuses on the row Parker has engaged in this year with the Bordelais over his support of the garagistes - the Bordeaux equivalent of Harlan Estates and other cult wines - and his crusade for lower prices, especially in off years. Interesting stuff.
On a personal note, I was taken by the following quote from the Bard: "A wine goes in my nouth, and I just see it. I see it in three dimensions. The textures. The flavors. The smells. They just jump out at me. I can taste with a hundred screaming kids in a room. When I put my nose in a glass, it's like tunnel vision."
One wonders if he has ever tried tasting with a hundred screaming kids in a room. (Notice he said "a" room, not "the" room in which he was tasting ...) I've had enough trouble finding time to write one of these WineLine's the past few months with one wriggling baby competing for my attention. Whew. So with that note, and absolutely no guarantee I'll find time to send another one in 2000, let me wish all of you Happy Holidays!
Copyright 2000 by Dave McIntyre
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