Fine Wine Writing by Jonathon Alsop

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Boston Wine Expo: Let It Snow!
March 1996

First of all, let it be known that the Boston Wine Expo is not decadent and depraved, although previous years have been rowdy and tasteless and something of a public safety menace with hundreds of wine lovers weaving home once the show wraps up. But decadent and depraved, no -- especially not this year, as winter's first real storm cut the Saturday numbers way down, to the point where the convention floor felt spacious, and driving back under the influence proved only slightly more dangerous than just driving at all.

Arriving early in bad weather had its advantages, however, since no-shows opened up a number of spots in the first few seminars, As I waited to check my coat, the PA system announced complimentary tickets for "The Mysteries of Dry Spanish Sherries." I waited for something tailored more to my particular interests, like "The Incomprehensible World of Over-Priced French Whites," but nothing materialized.

After the snow, navigation amongst the wine tables proved to be the primary problem, as hundreds of wineries crowded themselves into back-to-back rectangles, apparently without any organization or forethought. Here and there, the Italians, Canadians, cheese-makers or New Englanders would buy up two or three tables, and make some stab at a "plaza," but overall, it was helter-skelter and every wine for itself.

Perhaps the concept behind this style of convention design is to make everything fully random, so no winery has an advantage over another for the attendees' attentions. Maybe under this philosophy, everyone is disadvantaged equally, and no one can complain since no one's really looking all that good. Most likely, the designers would pitch their floor design with something like this: "Hey! It works great for the Power Tool Expo. Why not for the Wine Expo?"

Amazingly, the signage this year was worse even than last, since it was last year's signs, except taped to the front of each table, about crotch height, so they were blocked by tasters, and you could only see a dozen or so at any given time even if they weren't blocked. Last year, at least, the names hung overhead, so you could see the inadequate signage from afar.

With only the aid of an ineffective layout of the floor, I quickly abandoned it and began to go with the flow, so to speak. Unable to tell which wineries were which, I became drawn to knots of activity, or just groups of people making audible yum-yum sounds.

First stop was Chamard Vineyards from Clinton CT, whose winemaker Larry McCulloch produces some of the best true Burgundy-style chardonnay in the US. The previous night, Larry's wife Jill had unwittingly expressed her true feelings about how local wholesalers and distributors stupidly ignore the wines of the Atlantic northeast. Apparently, Jill had been able to really hit her stride long before realizing that the person she was lambasting was one of the principal players at Chamard's own distributor. Needless to say, come Saturday, she was keeping the lowest profile possible, which is to say, she was nowhere to be found. Westport Rivers, from Westport MA, was pouring an excellent new pinot blanc which pops up as Wine of the Month at Marty's for $8.

A batch of Austrians had banded together to approximate a demi-plaza, and they also had a nice assortment of pinot blanc, pinot gris, riesling, and the unfortunately-named gruener veltliner. The best of these was the '93 Wienziger Gruener Veltliner (a trial balloon price doomed for a crash landing at about $14). Grown entirely within the city limits of Vienna, this wine was a delicious cross between gewurtztraminer and sauvignon blanc, with plenty of spiciness, perfume, fruit and zest. It doesn't stand a chance retailing at $14, but on the wine list at $25, it might fly.

My Uncle Johnny Ray used to say there's two kinds of dogs: dogs that show and dogs that hunt. Amazingly, importer Aime Amar is both at the same time. At the Expo, he was in overdrive, entertaining groups of six and eight at a time with constant patter and brilliant repartee, translating for his French winemaker-guest, and pouring and schmoozing non-stop. The wines he represents are the very best of the minor regions of France. The '90 Ch. St. Ahon from the Haut Medoc was dense and concentrated, a bargain at $12. Best buy of the day was Aime's '93 Quintet at about $7, so named because it's allegedly composed of the grapes from five growers who were getting royally screwed by a big anonymous importer.

Perhaps the most outrageous showing from North America came from Blackwood Canyon in Washington state. Their current release year is 1988 for the chardonnay ($20), 1988 for the merlot ($35), and 1986 for the dessert riesling ($25). The chardonnay was outrageously styled with caramel, butter, and exotic wood flavors. It most closely resembled an ancient white Burgundy in many ways, and although I seldom go for whites way over $15, this is one I'll be looking for at Violette in Cambridge.

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