Wine 101: Tips For the Vintage Impaired


Knowing wines is a requirement to being a sophisticated, worldly adult. 

One cannot command respect by telling the wine steward at a fancy restaurant that your choice for the evening is 'the purple one.'

No. You've got to have a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips. You've got to toss around terms such as 'cork taint,' which sounds like something that violates at least seven of the Ten Commandments but actually refers to the presence of either 2,4,6-trichloroanisole or 2,4,6-tribromoanisole in the wine. You don't want to drink 2,4,6-trichloroanisole or 2,4,6-tribromoanisole, do you?

Actually, considering my miniscule knowledge of both wine and chemistry, I might drink it, on a bet, but only for ten bucks or more. 

Wine lore is very complicated, and wine-lovers are intensely passionate about it. Well, except for Willie, who hangs out around the Wine and Dine. He's passionate about drinking some wine, preferably right now, but he doesn't care whether it's a nice Zinfandel or a bruised Pinot Noir which has been splashed liberally with lighter fluid. 

I have more in common with Willie than with most sommeliers. Sommeliers can sense this, and usually regard me with the kind of glare one reserves for clogged toilets or Roy Moore. Truth is, I've enjoyed wines which were poured from a $3.99 bottle of Wild Blue Yonder twist-cap just as much I have from more sophisticated beverages. Like Willie, I tend to rank alcohol content above such nebulous qualities as mouthfeel and texture. 

But this isn't a blog about truth. It's a blog about wine, and its place in polite society. Considering the state in which we find 'polite society' these days, truth has no place at the table, and probably shouldn't even be in the dining room.

That said, there are eight basic types of wine. Or eleven, or four. Depends on who you ask, and how much wine they've had. But we'll go with eight. They are:

1) Cabernet Sauvignon (pronounced 'Cab-er-nay Saw-vine-yawn.' Or, if in Mississippi, 'Cab-er-nay That-purple-one'). Cabernet Sauvignon is best served with gas-station fried chicken on a stick or suspect leftover Chinese take-out. Also lamb or smoked meats, which if you had any, you wouldn't be reading this blog, so forget all that. Not available at the Wendy's drive-thru. A good choice if you don't know wines because it sounds vaguely French and affords you an opportunity to lord it over that jerk Skeeter when ordering.

2) Syrah, also called Shiraz, because like I said the wine fanciers can't make up their damned minds about anything. Pronounced 'Sear-ah' or possibly 'Qrccktyhsty' or even with a loud brief whistle, for all it matters.  Suggested pairings include Hungry Man frozen dinners, a simple fist-sized lump of monosodium glutamate, or a live Cape buffalo. This is a full-bodied red wine that may have been made in Australia. If so, it probably contains a component of outlandish venoms which may or may not prove fatal. But anybody that can choke down a Hungry Man brand hamburger steak is probably immune to hairy monkey spider cobras anyway, so down the hatch.

3) Zinfandel. Pronounced 'Cirque du Soleil.' Zinfandels are usually favored by circus folk, mainly the chain-smoking chimpanzees. Delicious when served with government-issue cheese or a tempting assortment of squirming mollusks garnished with lit fireworks. A Zinfandel is a red wine, because the circus chimps like watching something dark spiral its way through those complicated loop-de-loop straws. Often associated with a faint aftertaste redolent of sawdust with hints of nitroglycerin.

4) Pinot Noir. Pronounced 'Pee-no More' by persons who consider themselves to be fabulous wits and aren't. Pinot Noir is most often selected for enhancing the subtle flavors of traditional German dishes. Since traditional German dishes are composed almost entirely of sausages and consumed amidst the eye-watering fumes of weapons-grade sauerkraut, no one is really sure what, if any, flavor Pinot Noir presents. I asked Willie, and he just muttered something about galoshes and stump water before shuffling off in a somewhat uncoordinated pursuit of a middling-good Chardonnay.

5) Chardonnay. Pronounced 'the yellow one.' Chardonnays are white wines, which go best with chicken, shrimp, or pre-trial bond hearings. Oak-aged Chardonnay may present spicy, bourbon-y notes. Chardonnay aged in a box, I suppose, will offer imbibers the insouciant flavor of recycled Amazon Prime shipping cardboard, but that's just fine for most informal bachelorette parties. Generally associated with regret, impulsive and unwise eBay purchases, and the phrase 'you've been served.'

6) Sauvignon Blanc. Pronounced 'That one there' while pointing to the wine list. A bitter, tart wine, Sauvignon Blanc hates you, hates your stupid face, hates your shirt and your hat but it especially hates that monocle you though would make you look dashing. Best served with blackmail or murder-for-hire deals, Sauvignon Blanc wants you to know you'd better watch your ass, pal, because your day is fast approaching. Sauvignon Blanc doesn't care what you're serving, as long as you choke on it, and it will leave bits of broken glass on the back of your tongue just to make the point. Enjoy.

7) Pinot Gris. Pronounced 'My, Ain't WE Fancy.' A light-bodied white wine, Pinot Gris is the Millennial of wines, in that all the other wines swear it is lazy, shiftless, lacks any sort of work ethic, and wouldn't have lasted ten minutes back in the day. Sick of being unfairly labeled by older, more acidic wines, Pinot Gris just keeps its earphones in and listens to Green Day while you pour, because who the Hell are you to cast blame when you wrecked the economy and made everything so expensive and what do you know anyway, Grandpa.

8) Riesling. Pronounced 'Baggins, we hates it.' The most reclusive and secretive of all the wines, little is known about Riesling, aside from its fascination with some outlandish ring or other and an unfortunate tendency to strangle passers-by. Originally crafted in the Gladden Fields (near the banks of the Anduin, during the Third Age), Rieslings are still a bone of contention in wine circles. Some insist Rieslings are best accompanied by raw fish or scraps of Orc, while others look on in confusion and assert they are Star Wars fans and wouldn't know about all that 'Elves and fairies nonsense.' At any rate, serve Rieslings with caution, and only to people for whom you have no great affection.

Congratulations! Armed with this newfound knowledge, you are now a worldly, urbane person of elegance and wit. 

Now I'm off to have a beer. See you next week!

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