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When the radiator in my 2001 Honda CR-V – nicknamed Pi – went kablooey, it was the kind of situation where major repairs had to be done (and paid for) to determine whether or not Pi would continue to operate at all. So after a lovely spell in the mountains, we returned to Concord and killed more time, but when 3:30 PM rolled around and we hadn’t heard anything, we drove over to the shop (in the loaner) to see what was up.

Things hadn’t gone as expected. The parts supplier had shipped first the wrong radiator, and then a damaged one. There were no other suitable radiators in the area. To their credit, the Honda dealers really took care of us – to the point that they probably took a loss on the transaction – but we had to stay one more night.

The next day, we started off with a very good bird walk – 30 species in under 2 hours! But as time crawled on, we got bored and cagey. Downtown Concord is cute, but small, and we’d seen it all. Three times. We even visited the New Hampshire state legislative building with its golden dome, and looked at old ragged flags and paintings of old ragged white guys, until Mr. Chickadee got the call from the shop.

My poor sad CR-V gets a tow.

Poor Pi goes for a ride. It’s actually in much worse cosmetic shape than this (old) photo suggests.

The car was running, but with bubbles coming up through the radiator, suggesting a fault in the head gasket. When an aluminum engine block gets extremely overheated, it warps. Head gasket damage is extremely expensive to repair (around $4K last time) and will force a car to shut down with very little warning. Which is better than the engine exploding, of course. They recommended against any further repair because Pi is just too old and worn, and suggested that it was time to start looking for a new car.

Still, we needed to get home – we were already 3 days overdue to pick up our dog from the “puppy spa” and needed to get back to work. The service manager looked a bit concerned, recommended staying on the freeway all the way home, and said we should stop only once for fuel. So that’s what we did. Despite rampant anxiety, we drove, and drove, and drove, and so long as Pi stayed at 65+ mph, it was OK. Every time we dipped below 65, the engine started misbehaving – I could feel it misfiring, but there was nothing we could do.

We live about a mile from the freeway exit, but when we turned off onto the city street, the car died almost immediately. After dark, in one of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in our city. I tried to re-start the car and Pi tried really hard to cooperate, but just couldn’t do it.

So we called a tow truck for the last 0.7 miles to our house, emptied everything out of poor old Pi, and spent the rest of our evening on online car shopping. Thanks to the Internet, we quickly discovered that our minimum criteria – AWD, manual transmission, and better highway mileage than 28 mpg – narrowed it down to exactly one vehicle: a Subaru Impreza.

All Subarus have AWD and are therefore extremely popular around here due to our legendary snowfalls (about 120″ annually, or 4 meters). There was exactly one 5-speed manual Impreza for sale in our metro area, so in the morning, I called the Subaru dealer: “We’re interested in buying an Impreza with a manual transmission, but we need a ride. Can you send the courtesy shuttle?”

They replied, “Of course! Are you looking for a 4-door or a 5-door?” I said, “We don’t care – we want a manual transmission. According to your website, you have one in stock.” We were at the dealership in half an hour, and an hour after that, we walked out with all the paperwork underway. Later that afternoon, I signed a million pieces of paper and we took the new car home.

Meet Carmen. She's cute, isn't she?

Meet Carmen. She’s cute, isn’t she?

So far, I’m loving the new Impreza. It handles beautifully, and it’s already getting great mileage. The dealership is a serious upgrade from the Honda dealer that did Pi’s service, and they got us a very good deal on financing – turns out that I’m in the top 1% for the nation in terms of credit! Although it hurts to add another monthly payment to the household budget, we can afford it; it just means that other debts get paid off more slowly.

Our new car is a brand-spanking-new 2013 model; I was the first to even test drive it. The color is “dark cherry pearl” – a deep wine-colored red that almost looks black. To anthropomorphize a bit, it’s much smaller than Pi, which I considered to be androgynous, so the Impreza feels like a “she” car. And obviously, that wine color suggests an oenological name – a deep, dark red.

Mr. Chickadee and I both thought immediately of Merlot, but that just doesn’t fit this zippy, sparkly little thing – the color better matches a Zinfandel, Mourvédre, or Malbec. Our regional reds – Baco Noir and Cabernet Franc – provided no better inspiration.

My favorite wine grape in the world, however, is Carménère, which produces exceptionally dark grapes. It’s a French Bordeaux varietal that disappeared from Europe in the 19th century only to be rediscovered in Chile, where it had been confused with Merlot. Historically, the vitis vinifera vines for these and many other European varietals were wiped out by the phylloxera louse, but not in Chile. The mice upon which the lice travel aren’t mountaineers, so the Andes kept these wonderful grapes safe. Chilean wines are also incredibly cheap, and for those of you who indulge, I highly recommend the value-priced Concha y Toro Xplorador Carmenere; it runs about $6 in my area and tastes amazing (Root:1 also does a great Carmenere at $10). Even young Carmenere wines are lush and delicious, and if you can hang onto a bottle for a few years, it just gets better.

I hope the little Impreza will follow that example, so I think I’ll call her Carmen.

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