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Every so often I'm reminded of the silliness of the State of North Carolina being in the liquor business. They can't advertise.

North Carolina's ridiculous liquor laws 

Booze is cheaper in states that don't require government stores

Every so often I'm reminded of the silliness of the State of North Carolina being in the liquor business. They can't advertise. (Imagine the state telling you to buy Jack Daniels—instant lawsuit if anything goes wrong.) Because the consumer can only buy liquor at the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) stores, the prices are fixed and the selection is limited. What a system! I spent a few days on Long Island this holiday season and cut out a local advertisement from the newspaper. I took it to my local ABC store. Here's what I found:

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Item Long Island Local ABC Store
Absolut Vodka $16.99 $20.95
Gordon's Vodka $9.99 $16.95
Whitehorse Scotch $9.75 $15.95
Johnny Walker Red Scotch $17.99 $23.95
Chivas Regal Scotch $23.99 $31.95
Cutty Sark Scotch $12.99 $18.95
Maker's Mark Bourbon $20.25 $23.95
Sambuca Romana $15.99 $19.95
Amaretto di Sorono $15.99 $19.95
Godiva Chocolate Liqueur $18.99 $29.95
Alize Bleu $15.99 $22.95

The Maker's Mark prices seem pretty close, but in reality the Long Island price is more than 15 percent less. Let alone Godiva liqueur, a whopping 37 percent less on the island. Is it any wonder people drive to Washington, D.C., to save money on liquor? And don't even try to buy a bottle of Grappa here: No, my Italian spirit loving friends, ABC doesn't stock it. In their defense, they will special order you a case, but no smaller amount.

Why the difference? New York works on a three tier system (importer, wholesaler, retailer) just as we do. The difference is that on Long Island there is competition between stores. For 2007, why don't we resolve to tell our congressmen to get North Carolina out of the booze business?

DECANTING: A REALLY GOOD IDEA

This column contains a few interspersed reminiscences of my 14 years in retail wine sales. Holidays have a way of reminding me about some of the highlights (and horrors) of the trade. I recall how often I used to tell consumers about the joy of decanting. Any young bottle of red wine, whether a full cabernet or a light Lambrusco, will please more if decanted an hour before serving. Decanting can mean a decanter, but a glass pitcher or glazed crock will do nicely.

This makes sense. The wine, a prisoner between glass and cork for months if not years, is bound to be a bit closed up after its lengthy incarceration. Oxygenation opens up and breaks down this concentration to reveal a full blast of scents and a softer, more generous mouth feel.

If getting home includes a last minute meal—take out, perhaps?—with little or no time between arrival and consumption, then try this tack: Uncork the wine in the morning and then pour away when you get home. You'll be amazed and pleased with the results. Many people pooh-pooh the idea of uncorking only. "How much air can get into that tiny opening of the bottle's neck?" Enough, I believe, to start the process rolling. This bit of oxidation, with varied neutrons and electrons roaming about, is ideal so that not too much air comes into contact, thus taking the starch and vigor out of the wine's flavor. Try it. You'll find that once you pour the wine, that small amount of "breathing" will now allow the wine to explode in the glass with perfume and richness almost immediately. I see no reason why the same principal cannot be applied to whites or rosés. Just refrigerate after uncorking.

If, however, you do not plan to drink the entire bottle that evening, then I would say to ignore the previous advice. Clearly, the less oxygen exposure, the longer the wine will stay fresh. In this scenario be sure to recork the bottle between pours and store in the refrigerator overnight. If you happen to own one of those inexpensive vacuum pump gadgets to keep wine fresh, by all means remember to use it. A small investment, by the way ($10-$15), and available at any wine shop.

I also recall, with some humor, some loons who years ago used to write dead-serious articles about the exact amount of time necessary to achieve the ideal decanting results for big, forceful wines such as Barolo or Barbaresco. I remember laughing at the sheer weird science of it all. "Decant for 17¾ hours" ... really! Sometimes the recommendations involved days of opening and waiting. Not for us. Just feed the cat, set the house alarm and uncork that bottle. Later that evening—welcome home!

A WINE FOR ALL SEASONS
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My wife belongs to a book club. It meets once a month at a member's home. The host supplies some munchies and refreshment. Two months ago I opened a bottle of Merlot and, instead of the usual white, I served a rosé. Well, you should have seen the beeline stream toward the rosé bottle. I warned the group that this was a rather dry, crisp wine, not the softer, slightly sweet drink they might have been accustomed to. It didn't deter the onslaught. From the first "ahh," I knew I had scored points. Has rosé finally won American hearts and, if it's really good, does that mean a real U-turn in taste? I think so, and all the good makers of rosé should prepare for brisk sales in '07. I served the 2005 Domaine de Nizas Rosé ($17) from France's Coteaux de Languedoc. Its spicy, substantial fruit on the nose beckons a supple, refined and highly refreshing mouthful. I understand that Rue Cler, the new Durham eatery, sells the wines from this estate at a good clip. Smart. But you needn't go to France to try lip-smacking rosés that satisfy the richer taste needs of red wine lovers along with the refreshment and verve that white wine lovers crave. These fine American choices ring the right bells as well:

2005 Falcor, California $15

A blend of four Rhone varietals with a luscious ripeness in the mouth and a pleasing, deep, penetrating bouquet that highlights the depth of Carignane and the freshness of Gamay.

2005 Vin Gris de Cigare, Bonny Doon Vineyards $12

Not one but seven Rhone varieties in an amalgam of fresh herbs, flowery delight and orange tingle. The flavors of dry cherry are full but never heavy. Delicious with or without victuals.

2004 Big House Pink, Bonny Doon $10

From the "Ca' del Solo" line of bargain thirst quenchers, this wine will make you believe spring is in full bloom. A riotous blend (the black Charbono grape in a rosé?) that provides essence of berries and like-minded flavors in a balanced melange that will accompany endless varieties of foods.

RESOLVING TO GET YOU INVOLVED

I'd like to open a dialogue first thing. I enjoy, no, love telling you about new finds. My years of retail experience provided me with daily pats on the back, but writing columns has less "hands on" gratification. Please let me know this year if you've enjoyed a suggestion of mine (or, if disappointed), how you feel about this theory (rosés) or that idea (decanting), and, perhaps more salient, what you would like to see in an upcoming column. Cutting-edge information has little steel if you're bored to tears! If the perennial absurdity of our ABC stores distresses you, contact your state representative, but tell me too. I can testify to a committee far more effectively with your letters in hand.

Crazy about a new restaurant, but not its wine prices? Drop me a line. One area I already plan to respond more to, as per your letters, is letting you know not just about the best cabernet in town, but also the worst! Too many times a consumer will buy a bargain (or a not-so-bargain) merlot, only to pour it down the drain. Identifying these stinkers will be a bigger part of my future and yours. (Note to self: Be prepared for fewer industry samples!)

My e-mail address is at the end of every Wine Beat column, and you can also comment at the end of this article.

WOMAN UNDER GLASS

If you find yourself thirsting for more wine information while awaiting my next missive, be sure to go online at nataliemaclean.com. Natalie MacLean is a force field of fascinating words regarding food and wine. Her articles are fresh as a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and her witty, award-winning columns will give an enlightening, whimsical perspective from the distaff side of the wine glass. Natalie's just completed her first book, Red, White and Drunk All Over (Bloomsbury, $23.95), and a sheer love and embroiled fascination for the grape (in copious amounts) comes across emphatically. Natalie often likes to drink herself if not under the table, then certainly next to the glass. She expresses a type of primal sensuousness toward wine that would never occur to me, causing the book's pages to fly by. I recommend it, and her, to you most highly!

Arturo's Wine Beat column appears the second Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at deal5@earthlink.net.

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