Similar but Different

April 6, 2011

The Nissan 270Z was developed in Japan by a group of young, hyper ambitious engineers. Each of them had the goal of performing the engineering equivalent of castration on the others. Given the task of creating the meanest, fastest, most wicked sports car on the road, they used their ambition, their youth, and their zeal to do just that. If they failed, plenty of hungry, young engineers eagerly stepped over them to do it right. Failure meant remaining behind with the hari-kari knife during the company picnic.

Right from the first line on the sketch pad there was anger and aggression. The poster on the office wall read, “Remember Hiroshima,” and this spirit seeped into the car’s plans. When sitting alone in a room next to the blue-prints, one often felt nervous as if in the presence of a menacing entity.

From design process to assembly, more aggression spilled into the prototypes. Menace grew during every stage and came to a crescendo in the final production where factory workers turned the screws in a way that spoke speed, applied lube in a manner that reeked of revenge, and sprayed paint with the samurai’s spirit of victory fresh in their heads. Weaker models were crushed into scrap right in front of the victorious models. The car was born with an aggressive, ruthless soul that hungered for victory.

The Dodge Caravan was born from older, contented engineers looking at one last project before retiring. Comfortable, safe, and with loads of head room, this was the vehicle for driving in the left lane while maintaining a cautious ten miles an hour under the limit. . The poster in their office read something like, “If you love something, set it free,” and had pictures of seagulls. Around closing time you might hear someone say, “Have a good evening, Bob,” or “Enjoy Emily’s recital, Frank.” The group’s credo was “Safer to Under-Power,” and lo, the impetus for putting a small four cylinder engine into a large minivan came to fruition.

Like the Nissan, the spirit of the van’s makers bled into the blueprints and became magnified throughout the production process. The final product possessed a spirit that was calm, safe, and as boring as the guy on the bus that keeps talking about his neighbor’s screen door. 

So which one is better? The short answer is neither. The longer answer babbles on about the vehicles being similar but different and made for a purpose suited to the taste of their drivers, blah blah. In the same way, this week’s recommendation highlights a Primitivo, a wine made with the same grape as the Zinfandel, but created in Italy by a very different group of people. It’s similar to Zinfandel but different.   

Rosa Del Golfo 2005, Primitivo ($15.99): I don’t know if this is the van or the sports car. What I do know is with its coppery/fruity/leathery complexity, this is one of the best quality-per-dollar wines I’ve ever come across. Ever.

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