So, Where Are You From?

July 12, 2011

I had my first experience with an East Block automobile when hitch-hiking in Germany. I believe the car may have come from the Ukraine but there was no way to tell because everything originally attached to the exterior, nameplates included, had fallen off. Two of the three door hinges were broken and it made me wonder what the engineering of the more complex areas, the steering or brakes, for example, were like. Because of the missing door handle, I closed the door by pulling on the window and quickly jerking my hand inside before it slammed. After two or three attempts the mechanism took, held for a few seconds, long enough for me to trust it and lean on it, and then opened again.

As we pulled out into the road, door still rattling, the bald tires broke free from the pavement and the car slid half sideways out into the dark, rainy night. To get around the strict German tail-pipe emission standards, it appeared the car’s manufacturers cleverly routed the worst of the exhaust out the vents in the cabin. Everything in the car’s interior smelled of burnt oil. To make matters worse, from time to time as an empty beer can rolled past the driver’s foot he tried to kick it toward a hole in the floor causing the car to swerve either toward oncoming traffic or an anorexic looking guardrail.

The car’s lights weren’t bright enough to reach the glass covers in front of them and the windshield wiper on the passenger side worked while the driver’s side did not. The driver didn’t seem to notice.

When I finally made it to my destination I turned to watch the ride leave. With a few assorted rattles and a sharp grinding noise, the car limped away behind a thick cloud of blue smoke and as it disappeared into the night I heard the faint sound of a beer can bouncing on the street.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. The East Bloc is not a region known for their elite car engineering. I mean, you don’t look to Siberia for their superb summer  patio furniture or to Somalia for their cutting edge ski wear. That’s why I was so impressed with this week’s recommendation. It comes from Minnesota, a region not typically associated with wine.

Crofut 2009, Prairie Blanc ($13.99): Made from the cold-tolerant Prairie Star and Seyval Blanc grapes, this wine shows a complexity that gives me optimism for the region’s wine future. Try it with another Minnesota classic: Walleye.

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