Return to Martin Brothers

Last night was my first night back at Martin Brothers. In June, I’d decided to take the summer off when even 15 hours a week felt too much like work. So Margaret and I camped out in Old Chatham for weeks at a time, travelled in Holland, ate turkey in Los Angeles…and, before you could say what-a-lucky-dog-am-I, Christmas was upon us. Liz Martin and her new manager, Dan, seemed happy for the help.

It was easy to get back in the swing. All of my usual go-to bottles were still on the shelves, and a few sections were nicely renovated, especially the Bordeaux, with a nice spectrum of wine from $35 to $135. Midway through the evening, I asked if I could be of help to a young woman who was eyeing a 2004 St. Estephe and a 2003 Pomerol, both priced around $100.

“Which is better?”

“That depends on what you like. The left bank St. Estephe will have classic cherry-berry notes and terroir-driven structure from the cabernet sauvignon. The right bank Pomerol will be softer and more lush from the dominant merlot. Right bank wines mature faster, due to lower tannins. Maybe the vintage will tell us something.”

“Yes, the vintage,” she echoed excitedly. “Are you new here, I don’t remember seeing you before.”

“It’s my first day.” I asked Anthony, at the computer behind the counter, to pull up the vintage chart. While we waited, I asked the young woman, “Are you committed to Bordeaux? I have a gorgeous Cornas from the Northern Rhône you might like.”

The big red syrahs of Côte Rôtie, St. Joseph, Cornas and Hermitage would be candidates for my favorite wine, if such a designation existed. Côte Rôtie is the “roasted slope” at the northernmost growing area of the Rhône, near the town of Vienne, while Cornas — the name derived from the Celtic for “scorched earth” — is at the southernmost part of the northern Rhone, near the town of Valence. That should give you an idea of the climate of this region. The summer heat warms the rocky soil, keeping the grapes warm into the cool autumn. The wine is deeply colored, laced with chocolate, prune and black raspberry, rich with fruit, earth, spice and smoke.

We were looking at the 2006 Domaine Thierry Allemand Cornas, priced at $135, but with a 35% discount, it fell below her $100 limit. The label on the display bottle was gray from the hands of shoppers who had picked up the bottle, twirled it around, then put it back. I reached below for a cleaner bottle, but the woman said no, she liked the grungy label.

As she walked out of the store, Cornas in hand, Anthony gave me a thumbs-up. “Neither of those Bordeaux vintages is very good,” he told me, “but 2006 in the Northern Rhône is outstanding.”

“Thanks,” I said, “it’s feels good to be back.”

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