Fine Wine Writing by Jonathon Alsop

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12 Hours in Wine Heaven at the Boston Wine Expo
February 2000

If it's true what they say -- that wine is good for the heart -- then the Boston area must be home to more than 20,000 of the most heart-healthy individuals in the world after last weekend's Boston Wine Expo at the World Trade Center.

Beginning Friday night with the Gala Festival of Food and Wine to benefit the Anthony Spinazzola Foundation's mission for hunger relief and continuing until five o'clock Sunday afternoon, hundreds of wineries poured thousands of bottles of wine during the largest consumer-oriented wine festival in the nation.

By the time the doors opened for the public tastings Saturday afternoon, the crowds were more than 50 people deep in spots. The coat check was overwhelmed more than once and had to close temporarily. All in all, 12,000 coats were checked on Saturday, making this year's Expo one of the largest non-industrial collections of Gore-tex, fleece and down on record, un-officially of course.

Needless to say, no one went away thirsty, and wine lovers were in heaven right from the start. The people pouring the wines, however, were looking a bit shell-shocked in no time.

"Saturday verged on being too hectic," said Fred Myers, vice-president of Frederick Wildman and Sons, an importer who distributes wine throughout Massachusetts. "We've participated since the very first Expo when we had one table and one person pouring wine. This year, we had seven tables and 12 pourers, and we still couldn't keep up with the crush," he said. "We brought two days' worth of wine," said Dusan Stanojevic of Moonleaf Imports in Oxford MA, "and we were out in three hours. This is our first year at the Expo, and we were swamped." Stanojevic distributes a line of wines from southern Macedonia just north of Greece under the Poeme label made from the familiar cabernet sauvignon and a rare local red grape called vranac. He is typical of many of the smaller, specialized producers and distributors who come to the Wine Expo looking for the kind of exposure that's hard to find pouring tastes in restaurants or wine shops.

"This is our first interaction with the public," Stanojevic said, "and the reaction is overwhelming. It helps to have a new grape because people want something new. We have to explain and educate," he said, "but it's easy when they taste."

Nancy Parker Wilson of Greenvale Vineyards in Portsmouth RI brought her wine to the Expo from a relatively short distance, and she has had to cope with the prophet-in-her-own-land syndrome for years. Her family also publishes the New England Wine Gazette, and "when we first started coming to the Expo and giving out the Wine Gazette," she said, "wine people just would not believe that we could make good wine in New England." Last weekend though, she was sharing a clutch of tables with Sakonnet Vineyards (also from Rhode Island), Stonington Vineyards and Chamard Vineyards from Connecticut, and Westport Rivers Vineyard and Winery from Westport MA.

Like everything in life, the Wine Expo possessed both the best of amateur wine tasting -- ordinary wine lovers learning about new and interesting wines they might normally never discover -- and the worst, which is people who can't figure out how to taste and spit at the same time. I spotted only a couple of sincerely impaired folks, and to the credit of the Expo staff, the fire marshals and security people were on them like wine snobs on over-priced French wine.

Then there's the unfortunate and unnatural connection between cigars and wine that's been cultivated by Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado magazine publisher Marvin Shanken. This connection manifests itself in the annual presence of a cigar room at the Expo. More than anything else, the cigar room explained at long last why the US government groups alcohol, tobacco and firearms together under the BATF: after five minutes in the cigar room, wine lovers want to shoot cigar smokers with automatic weapons.

Sunday's Wine Expo entertained about a third the number of people as Saturday's event, and that was just right. You could actually find parking, see the wine, and spend a few minutes chatting with the wine makers at leisure. Memo to self: next year, leave the coat in the car, and concentrate on Sunday's tasting.

Tasting Notes

1998 Chamard Vineyards Chardonnay (about $10): One of the best white wines I tasted all weekend. There's no distribution in Boston, so it's only available at the vineyard in Clinton CT, about a half-hour drive beyond New London CT, but it's honestly worth the trip. Concentrated fruit that's rich and almost sweet is balanced by tangy mineral flavors like the famous French Pouilly-Fuisse. An immense bargain.

1998 Huia Vineyards Pinot Noir (about $15): New Zealand is famous for sauvignon blanc, but their red wines are even better, though still unknown. NZ pinot noir is the next big thing from the southern hemisphere, and the Huia is a great specimen, spicy, dense and creamy. Check out the Huia gewurztraminer and chardonnay too. Distributed by Classic all around town.

1997 Lawson's Dry Hills Pinot Noir (price TBD): Not sure if this New Zealander is available in Boston, but we're hoping. Beautiful bright red color with rich cherry flavors.

1998 Killerby Shiraz (about $25): Aptly named, because this Australian is the killer-diller, as we used to say. Full of oak and vanilla and fresh raspberry fruit flavors. It's not cheap, but it shouldn't be. One of my favorite wines all weekend, I kept going back and tasting it again and again, but no one seemed to mind.

1997 Cockfighter's Shiraz (about $15): Brought to you by the same people who distribute the Killerby above, this shiraz is its evil twin, smelling strongly of earth and bark and an attractive bit of barnyard aromas, attractive only if you grew up in the country like me. A challenge all the way around, but worth it.

1998 Fess Parker Viognier (about $25): I've never been a big fan of American viognier, but Fess Parker is changing my mind. The aromas were bright and fruity with rich melon and pear flavors. Next thing you know, I'll be wearing a 'coon skin cap to work.

1997 Louis M. Martini Sangiovese (about $12): Italian varieties grown in California are on the rise, but most are a little culture shocked. The Martini is very spicy and smooth, aged in both American and Hungarian oak. Very nice example of what these Italians can be once they're domesticated.

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