(Today it’s Wine-ology Part Two brought to you by Loie over at CheapWineCurious. This girl’s got a whole lot of shakin’ going on both inside and outside of the bottle. Enjoy! — BD)
Pre-ramble about the Napa Valley Quake:
Last Saturday night I was awaken at 3:20am. While in my twilight, I thought I was sleeping on a waterbed until I was conscious enough to realize that I don’t own a creepy waterbed. The rolling went on for only a few seconds but my pleading for it to stop amplified the duration. I decided if the ceiling were to start crumbling, I would grab the bebe and get the F out of dodge, but where? That is always the question. Door jams and bathtubs, closets and cellars? Would any of these places save us? Run outside – no don’t! Stay inside – no don’t do that! Duck and cover under a table is the textbook earthquake drill. But what if you have an IKEA table? Splat.
As a Californian, you exist within shades of Earthquake preparedness. That preparedness fades with the memories of the last quake only to become reinvigorated when the next one strikes. I’m going to dust off that emergency back pack, if I can find it, and make sure there’s a can opener, new batteries and sweatpants that still fit. I’ll refresh my stash of Earthquake booze. The liquor stores get really messed up during these catastrophes so better be prepared. The only alternative is to rely on the kindness of alcoholic neighbors, who usually don’t like to share or demand you listen to a rambling bitter story about an ex-wife, their cat’s vet bills or drivel about neighborhood politics – you’ll wish the earth would open up and swallow you.
I predict this year’s 2014 vintage will have an onslaught of inspired names like “Seizmatic Soave” or “My Fault Rosé” or “Shook Me Out of Bed Red.” I also believe collectors will go bananas over this vintage and as the week begins, most cases of the best wines bottled this year will be reserved and paid in advance. There were many significant events in the CA wine industry in 2014. After a drought, fires and now a huge quake, this year was rich with stories that will be released with every bottle.
Now on with the show….
Hello dear readers, do not be alarmed, there is no need to reach for your Oxford dictionary in this post. I will keep it rather plain spoken. I will diminish my Maddona British affect so you don’t get distracted with vocabulary and jargon. That said, this is my second guest post on Blogdramedy, and I want to be of upmost service. So today’s dissertation is about a pragmatic and cursory knowledge of wine. Any apt pupil can parlay this information with confidence and social grace when navigating the Dionysian labyrinth.
Bottom line, here is the intel that will get you through an insufferable moment with wine snobs, wine wannabes, wine workers, wine makers and wine aggies. If your intent is to learn about how to enjoy wine, select wine, pair wine with food, get deals on wine and swap recipes – uh – that’s down the hall in room 320 with professor Google. Search it. There are plentiful sources out there much more qualified than moi to take you through a wine journey that will transform your life. That’s not what this is about.
I’m actually going to help you fake it til you make it yo! Yeah, you know, put some swagger in your wine step. Win the ladies and rob the fellas. What the F? I think I now have a personality disorder. Do not be alarmed as my tone of voice dramatically changes. I will remain lucid and capable of providing credible, accurate and useful information. Remember, I’m a bit shook up.
I must disclose that the opinions are my own and are completely debatable. I do have my biases, but as I am a keen observer of popular culture, trend, economics and hubris, I’ll do my best to keep this as fair and balanced as possible. I will also be abandoning tons and tons and tons of information intentionally as I am not Jancis Robinson or The Wine Spectator. If you’re so smart (I’m speaking to prying wino eyes, not you my dear colleagues) then slap me silly and fill in the blanks. I’m cool with that.
The first thing you should be keenly aware of is where they make wine.
Top of the food chain is France. The pinnacle of wine making in the world – or so the snobs will say. Champagne is ONLY made in France. Long story but do not call sparkling wine not made in Champagne, France, Champagne. Everything else is called sparkling wine, even sparkling wine from France that is not made in Champagne, France. Get that straight and we’re 50% there. Yeah, yeah, yeah, Spain has Cava, Italy Frizzante, Proseco, blah blah blah, let’s just keep it simple. Champagne comes from Champagne, France. Done. Tell your waiter.
There are so many freaking appellations which legally define and protect the geographical indication that determines the origin of the wine, but let’s not go down that rat hole as it is as expanse as the tunnels of Cu Chi. If you are questioned about the AVA, DOC, AOC – essentially the origin of the wine – the answer is on the bottle. When in doubt, read. That bottle is your cheat sheet, inspect it, read it with the lighthearted disdain of Agnes Moorehead portraying Endora in a scene with her son-in-law Darren on Bewitched. Stare down your nose at the bottle, squint your eyes, read the front, read the back, ask a smart question like “do you like this producer” while wincing. Yeah, do that a few times in front of people preferably while wearing reading glasses you expertly extract from an inside pocket of your tweed jacket or caftan
The rest of Europe’s wine producing regions are Italy, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Germany, Croatia, Greece, and so on in that order from highly coveted, respectable to cult and exotic.
South Africa has good wines – especially Shiraz and the recently hyped Pinotage. Down under, they are producing beautiful wines but also some mega brands found at every corner market and in every suburban grocery store i.e. Jacob’s Creek from Australia and Kim Crawford from NZ. But don’t limit yourself, venture in the outback and you’ll find it quaffable.
South America is famous for Malbecs from Argentina. The Chilean coast looks like the latitudinal mirror opposite of Nor Cal and produces many similar varietals just as well.
Around the globe we land in North America. The most notable producers of wine are California then Oregon and Washington. However, a fine showing of wines are from various parts of the US and Canada. But California has the pedigree, Oregon has a cult appeal (especially on the East Coast) and Washington is upping its game by stealing talent from Napa and making huge investments in the future of the industry.
CA wine region ranking is open for debate. I don’t have the uvas to attempt this as I have to reside in this state and I don’t have the desire to be a pariah or have my car keyed thank you very much. This is a very personal sport so check yourself before you wreck yourself. I’ve already insulted most of the world’s continents for your benefit so excuse me while I receive my Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur for my sacrifice.
For cheap thrills, let’s discuss the Napa-Sonoma rivalry as it should interest you in context of the recent catastrophe, which could have been much more deadly. We should all be grateful!
Napa is the second home to many San Fransciscans, destination for tourist and a playground for the tony wine set who have unseemly amounts of cash to pursue their bacchanalian fantasies ad infinitum. There are castles that were erected from stones imported from Europe in this century, yeah that old. There are amazing chefs whose food you will never taste as you forgot to make a reservation 8 months ago, or were not re-elected to public office. Listen, Napa is fabulous for a multitude of reasons and I’ll leave it at that. Familiarize yourself with a couple of cult wine names – Screaming Eagle, Harlan – and you are now lock and loaded. Lesson: If you get a bottle of one of these by chance (a fancy uncle passes and leaves you his collection,) don’t pour it in the punch bowl, call a wine dealer with Chinese clients and take the family on a Carribean vacation with the proceeds.
“Sonoma is where you get your wine and Napa is where you buy auto parts.” —a Sonoman of course
Sonomans, me thinks, have a complex about Napa. I believe it is actually a disdain. To personify the contrast, Napa is the star cheerleader of the California wine industry, she dates the hot quarterback and shakes her behind all around acting all cute, while Sonoma is a little edgier, hipper, rustic and a bit hippy dippy. Sonoma is the friend who hooked Napa up with some vines and watched her take the spotlight. Is Sonoma insecure? Possibly. Kick ass. Definitely. Napa has a long, long, hot valley, while Sonoma has the benefit of numerous microclimates, a coastline and an expanse of diverse terroir. Lesson: terroir is pronounced “tear-war” and pertains to the land, climate, wind patterns, appointment of the sun, make-up of the soil, mineral content, geology – it’s not potting soil, it’s a big big big deal. Deified actually. Say terroir a few times correctly within the right context, you are in. We are 70% there with your wine knowledge. Well done.
In Sonoma, people frown on flashy displays of money so ditch the Rolex and 5 ct. diamond ring, wear a Timex and a friendship bracelet, some clunky all terrain shoes and be tastefully disheveled. You’ll fit right in with all the other billionaires. You can pick out the tourists as they are dressed better than everyone else. Looking good, you are rounding the corner at 80% completion of this course.
My final lesson for today is the types of wine you should be talking about – yes – this is also hotly debatable, but I’m putting my ear to the ground and telling you where the buzz is humming. This is valuable information as being subversively trendy with wine will create the illusion that you care about wine. The happy byproduct is, you may actually come around and care about wine. For now let’s consider you a hardened non-winophile and you just need to get through a rehearsal dinner with your 2nd cousin and his wife who are snobs and seated at your table. Drop a few wine varietal and/or blend names to immediately command respect. Chateau Neuf de Pape, Meritage (rhymes with “heritage.”) Whether or not you like the wine is insignificant, this is for show. Being completely superficial and disingenuous is protocol with polite company.
This hapless couple chirps about a fabulous trip to Bordeaux, France. You mention the Napa Valley decadence you experienced (maybe on a YouTube video, but they didn’t ask to specify whether or not it was virtual.) They then size you up, and instead of shrugging your shoulders and saying “I dunno, I like beer” you pull shoulders back and proudly espouse the merits of your favorite varietals; rosé this summer, an un-oaked Chardonnay, a spunky Tempranillo. Then when they counter with a dissertation on the virtue of ruby vs. tawny port, you share a little secret with them about a late harvest Reisling (dessert wine) from the Finger Lakes, NY that knocked your socks off. If they ask what your favorite wine is, say how much you love a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir but your favorite is a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Oregon. Nice job, that’s 90% right there.
Finally when tasting wine, hold the glass by the stem – don’t ask questions, just do it or risk blowing your cover! Swirl the wine to unlock the aromas and then put your schnoz in the glass, inhale. Discuss the nose (smells like berries, flowers, nectarines, pineapple, cougar piss.) Then sip your wine with a discrete slurp to aerate the liquid in your mouth – the touch of a true aficionado! Describe the taste (tastes like berries, flowers, nectarines, lemons, dirt, pepper, tobacco, cow patties, wet cement) note the acid (sourness from high to low) and the finish (aftertaste long or short.) Congratulations, you are now a faux snob and I will happily try to present any graduate with a diploma if you tweet me @cheapwinecurius…oh wait, but first the test! It’s Scantron so get your pencils and fill in the bubble completely.
- Sonoma and Napa are:
O Best friends
O All the above
2. I like wine because:
O I don’t like wine, I like beer with a tequila shot
O I never liked wine it gives me a headache
O it makes me feel fancy
O I’m open to new and diverse experiences that opens up a whole new world of booze
3. I’m cool if I drink
O Anything from Oregon
O Anything from Bordeaux
O Anything at all because it lowers my inhibitions and I become invincible
O From a sabered bottle and chew the glass from the neck to impress women
4. I can order wines with ease if I
O Demand to speak to the sommelier (som – lee – ayyyyyyy I’m the Fonz)
O Find the oldest & most expensive vintage on the menu & excuse myself when the bill arrives
O First pick a country, second pick red or white, lastly pick a wine by the glass
O Use a Ouija board
5. Champagne is from what country:
O Spain because my waiter said so
6. Terroir is
O Some Frenchie saying
O An 80’s hair band
7. The Finger Lakes are
O How I got suspended in the 8th grade
O Liquid desserts spelled backwards is stressed diuqil
O A New York wine appellation that eludes me
O All the above
O None of the above
O Just guess already
8. Earthquakes are God’s way of
O Helping out with the harvest
O Keeping Californians on their toes, knees, praying for mercy
O Bringing us together in one big terrified group hug
O Letting us know who’s really boss
Congratulations you passed! À votre santé!