That Special Bottle

I suppose I shouldn't admit this, but the fact is, I don't pay much attention to wine reviews I run across in newsletters and magazines dedicated to things vinous. Still, every once in a while, something catches my eyesomething like the following, in a recent issue of Wine Spectator's weekly electronic bulletin: "Riesling Kabinett Rheingau Hattenheimer Sch├╝tzenhaus 2002," read the lead-in. "This shows intensity and presence . . . with peach, flower, citrus, and stone aromas and flavors, backed by firm acidity." As a lover of the noble wines of the central Rhine valley, I was already sold before I got to the price$13, a steal for a wine with such a pedigree. But where to steal it? I called my regular wine-shop. The response was not encouraging. "Oh, I hate it when they do that," said the voice on the other end of the line. "The magazines put something like that in and the next day we get calls for the wine and we have no way of knowing how to get it or whether it's even available in this state, and when it's an obscure wine like this one, we'd hardly know where to begin, even if we had the time to look into it, which frankly we don't." Oh. Well, fair enough, I thought; but I wasn't ready to give up. I risked a call to Wine Spectator's New York office. By pulling my press-card, I was granted an interview with someone in charge. I asked why such reviews didn't include contact information, so that readers would know where they might buy a recommended wine. My interlocutor patiently explained that it wasn't that simple. Sometimes the same wine is imported by dozens of different firms, while others are available in only one state, even through only one outlet. It was entirely infeasible to include all the various information I was asking for. Their job was to review the wine; it was my job to find it. Fair enough again. Next, I did what I should have done in the first place: I ran the words "Hattenheimer Sch├╝tzenhaus" through a Web search engine and turned up a surprising 31 references to the very wine I sought: most of them, unfortunately, in German and highly technical, or on the sales lists of stores in Quebec, Surrey, or Sachsenhausen. But one citation mentioned a company called Niche Marketing of Morris Plains, N.J.; and sure enough, Niche proved to be sole agent for the wine in question. Too bad that the wine wasn't available in Washington state. Why not? Because to be sold at retail in Washington, a wine must first be brought into the state by a wholesaler, and no wholesaler had chosen to carry Niche's aptly named products. However, all was not lost. If I cared to call the Washington State Liquor Control Board, they could easily order the wine I wanted from Nichebut only in case lots, unfortunately. I have a high opinion of Bruce Sanderson's taste in German wines; but high enough to invest over $150 on the strength of it? I don't think so. So for the time being I'm baffled. But not defeated: I mean, if they can put a man on the moon. . . .

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