Shall I walk it to the register for you?

October 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

Reprinted from Portland Press Herald, September 29, 2010

Much of the challenge for wine sellers comes from “hand-sells.” Hand-sells are great wines that not enough people gravitate toward. Hand-sells are why wine people get into wine, and what drives those people crazy when they try to sell them.

The hand-sell is the bottle that needs advocates: its label usually lacks a cute animal or hip design, or even a clear expression of the grape and geographical origin.

Hand-sells are not geeky wines. They’re not hard to “understand” or like, they don’t require secret handshakes, they’re not expensive. They just seem either too weird, or the opposite: too uninteresting. Hand-sells invite comments such as, “What kinda grape is Roero Arneis?” But also “chardonnay? I’ve had a million of those” or “That dusty thing has been there forever! I’m cooler than that ”

Such comments ought to be beginnings rather than endings. The skilled hand-seller swoops in and says, “Ohmigosh, let me tell you why your butternut risotto is screaming for Roero Arneis.” He says, “This chardonnay will challenge every idea you have about chardonnay,” or “You and this wine are equally cool.” Then a conversation begins, and lives are ennobled.

Meanwhile, the hand-sells just sit on the shelf or wine list, unassuming and even unconcerned. The hand-sell is confident that once you come to it (after viewing it from the corner of your eye for several months), you’ll be a long, loyal friend who will spread the good word. Yes: the hand-sell knows that in time, you yourself will become a hand-seller.

Huber Gruner Veltliner Obere Steigen 2009, Traisental, Austria, $18 (SoPo): A preliminary hit of salt and lemon broadens and softens into something much more multifaceted. The pure, race car qualities of Gruner Veltliner take on an oiliness that matches up with so many garlicky/olivey/olive-oily foods. Gruner is famous for its abilities with green vegetables; I sipped this with roasted kale and potatoes as a bed to bluefish and started hand-selling in my mind.

Vinosia Malvasia 2007, Salento, Italy, $13 (Central) One of the varieties of Malvasia in this wine, Candida, is usually used to make the sweet Madeira wine Malmsey, but in this dry white, that viticultural background comes in the form of an autumnal richness brimming with caramel, cider and brown butter. The subtle acidic backbone is lemon-y but heftily, fleshily so: lemon rind rather than spritz.

D’Orsaria Cabernet Franc 2009, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy, $14 (Devenish):ong> Many Italian takes on single varietals of French origin (Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc) end up putting the French versions to shame. (Friulian Cab Franc is a cousin – at least – to the Bordeaux-bred up-and-coming-in-Chile Carmenere.) D’Orsaria makes terrific wine, and here’s what pops out of a glass of the Cab Franc: black pepper, burning wood, hay, wild herbs, green peppers and gravel. It plays in the higher octaves, and is perfect for seasons-turning meals. Not cold-weather stews, but burgers, mushrooms, charred meat and veggies or blackened fish. Trust me!

Trapiche Broquel Bonarda 2006, Mendoza, Argentina, $16 (National): Argentina doesn’t just provide bargains at the supermarket-Malbec end of things. The smart Argentine winemakers can coax serious – but approachable – elegance out of their grapes at prices that make other regions weep. There’s a brambly, gamey quality to Trapiche’s high-end Bonarda, but it’s like an English fox-hunter: aware that the clothes make the man.

Gobs of rich, profound red fruit will woo you initially, but keep going. Like a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, it comes with branches and leaves attached, and the chocolate-y, French roast-y spirit will take you deep into the night.

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