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Monday, February 22, 2010

Today At The Wine Shop ...

It's really cold out. The snow is whipping around and the sunlight looks thin, like it lacks the power to even consider properly warming this part of the Earth.

I need something to warm things up. I could start a nice fire, but first I'd have to build a fireplace, chop some wood, load it in the fireplace, buy matches or one of those starter logs ... nope.

I need a good book ... I've read everything I have from the library and a "reread" just doesn't feel right at this time ... next.

A good bottle of wine ... that I have in spades. I use the term "good" because I have several bottles of vino that A) were affordable, B) have cool names and labels, and C) have tasted great each and every time I've tried them.

Wine is typically produced from fermented grape juice and comes in hundreds of subtle shades and flavors. Apparently nature had special plans for the grape because this fruit has a unique chemical nature, one that freely promotes fermentation (the transformation of sugar into alcohol) without the need for additional acids or enzymes. Just add yeast to the process and watch it go!

The history of wine dates back to 6000 B.C. in regions that are now Iran and the old Soviet Union. For American, wine has a unique cultural history, often thought of as an indicator of taste and sophistication. For decades, wine was considered a European of French "thing," with young lovers Claude and Gizelle sitting outside a Paris cafe sipping Merlot and snacking on bread and smelly cheese. Or the raucous Italian family sitting down to dinner at 9 p.m., and everyone from 80-year-old GrandPappa to 8-month-old Jacques had a glass of Chianti. Today, Americans enjoy the works of vintners (that's a fancy term for winemakers) from across the globe ... not just France and Italy but places like Chile, Australia, Spain, Germany, South Africa, Canada, Argentina, and many more. And America celebrates its own wineries, from small businesses popping up in nearly every state to more developed spots like Napa Valley in California and Willamette Valley in Oregon.

The "taste" of wine is determined by dozens of factors, including type of grape, type of yeasts used, climate, soil, and storage methods. Some people shop for "good" wine simply by color ... a clean "white" or a strong "red." Did you know color is simply a matter of what type and how long the grape skins remain in contact with the grape juice during fermentation? ... all grape juice is white or clear. Others shop by "dry" vs. "sweet," meaning the level of residual sugar relative to acidity after fermentation is complete. And still others shop by region ... foreign versus domestic products ... or cost.

I think the most commonsense approach to buying wine is usage. We buy certain wines for cooking (sometimes just short of vinegar) and others to celebrate special occasions. And we don't always buy the same level of wine when having the boss over for dinner as we do when drinking alone. Hell, some of us just pull out a box of wine and go to town!

The world of wine is a land of subjectivity, full of snobs and pretenders who like to tell others what is good and why it's better than the bottle right next to it on the shelf. I have an older neighbor who has a good "winehead" on his shoulders. He once told me, "Good wine is something you try and you like, and bad wine is something you try and don't ever want to try again. Price and place and friends and family have nothing to do with it!" Good advice.

I have a "winetasting" scheme that I use to broaden my experiences without bankrupting my wallet ... I'm not proud and sometimes feel a bit ashamed about it. When I'm introduced to someone ... a business contact or a friend of a friend ... and they try to show those around them that they "know a thing or two" about wine, I feed their egos. Almost always, I get them to brag about one of their favorites and end up getting them to buy me a glass. I've tasted a few really good ones and jotted down the names and details. I've also swallowed a few stinkers. I had an old manager who liked to take the office out twice a year ... called them "collective birthdays" even though we always had cake for every individual on their appointed day (or close to it). Anyway, at one dinner I stroked her into buying me a glass of "the most magnificent white" she'd ever had. It was so dry I though the enamel would crack off my teeth!

I've always wanted to go to a formal winetasting event. I did go to a champagne tasting once. It was at a neighborhood pub/deli/bakery that a pair of married friends frequented almost nightly. We went as a foursome (them, me, and a friend of theirs I just met that day) and worked our way through about 20 types of champagne paired with unusual delicacies. Now the place was filled with couples who were using the tasting as a tryout for their wedding receptions ... not the most fun crowd, with cooing brides-to-be and matching bored-for-a-beer would-be grooms. But I did learn several important life lessons: 1) champagne isn't that great but it can get you TIPSY fast, and 2) I actually love caviar and smoked salmon, two things I never thought I'd ever try.

So get crazy and try some wine. Develop your own profiles. Mine is simple ... I enjoy a sweeter wine, something where I know there's fruit involved with every taste. I enjoy Rieslings, and South African and Australian products have given me consistently good pours. I've never spent more than $30 on a bottle of wine (in the store) and don't think I could go higher than $40 without my head exploding. And if I'm dining in a restaurant with a sommelier, a wine specialist who is there to help me make my selections, then I know I can't afford the wine and I propbably can't afford the restaurant.

What do you like?

POINT OF RANT: Should I be more concerned with the fact that I drink alone ... often?

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