When you're at a dinner party and the hosts break out an interesting bottle of wine, what's the first thing you think? Well, if you're like me (you should be so lucky) you're wondering where you put your Rohipnol. But you're also trying to think of something interesting to say about the wine. This is easy if the wine is, say, Merlot or Chardonnay. You just say something gracious like, "Gosh, I hope at least the food will be interesting." Or, "Did you know Merlot has become virtually worthless?" But what if it's a grape you've heard of but don't actually know much about? You don't want to say something embarrassing in front of your date before she slips into a vegetative state. Like, "Wasn't Gruner Veltliner the guy who played Colonel Klink on 'Hogan's Heroes?'" This may tip off your fixation on Bob Crane's home videos. Instead, do what so many wise wine lovers are doing now--memorize the entries on "The HoseMaster's Honest Guide to Grapes." Don't spout the dubious information found on Wikipedia (I just found out "Wikipedia" isn't what you call a Hawaiian pedophile). You don't know who wrote that crap. Here, at least, you absolutely know who writes this crap. A baboon with a keyboard, that's who.
Everyone in the wine business is just sick to death of Pinot Noir's popularity. It's quickly becoming the Sarah Palin of grapes. Dress it up, slap its name on the marquee, give it that distinctive smell of barnyard, and the rubes line up to buy it. The best places to grow Pinot Noir are Burgundy, Sonoma's Russian River Valley, the Santa Cruz Mountains, Oregon (yawn) and, some would argue, New Zealand. Yeah, New Zealand. I've heard a few people say the Pinot Noirs from New Zealand are hobbit-forming. I don't see it. It's a country full of sheep and guys studying the Graze Anatomy. In Burgundy, the greatest Pinot Noirs come from the Grand Cru vineyards of the Cote de Nuits. The finest vineyards are designated Grand Cru, followed closely by the vineyards designated Premier Cru, and then the crap they have at J. Cru. The slightly feminine versions are found in the Tom Crus. And, finally, I mustn't neglect Pinot Noir with bubbles in it, which is either called Champagne, or, at Neverland Ranch, Baby's First Bath. Champagne produced from Pinot Noir is called Blanc de Noir, while Champagne produced from Chardonnay is called Blanc du Bois because it always depends upon the kindness of strangers.
Interesting facts about Pinot Noir:
In Italy it's called Pinot Nero because Italians like to fiddle with it.
There are more than 50 different registered clones of Pinot Noir, and they all travel around together in a little tiny car.
"Pinot" is French for "pine," and it is thought the grape got its name because its clusters resemble pine cones and winemakers often hang one from their rearview mirror and use it as an air freshener.
Other names for Pinot Noir:
Syrah's Bitch (or, in rap, Shiraz Bee-yatch) Spatburgunder Pferdscheisse The Clone Ranger
For many years Sangiovese was considered a great grape, and then it was planted in California and everybody hated it. The same thing happened to the Dodgers. Sangiovese is the noble grape of Tuscany, where it goes by many names. It's Sangiovese in Chianti, Brunello in Montalcino, Prugnolo Gentile in Montepulciano, Morellino in Scansano, and Marcello in Mastroianni. "Sangiovese" loosely translated from Latin means "bloody jug wine." The clones of Sangiovese brought to California in the '70's were transported by means of suitcases as a moving tribute to the many Italians buried in suitcases in the Adriatic Sea and the East River in New York. Sangiovese, unfortunately, didn't make the big splash those suitcases did. The Chianti region, where Sangiovese thrives, is divided into seven subregions--Chianti Classico, Chianti Rufina, Chianti Gary Sinise, Chianti Fiorello La Guardia, Chianti Ricardo Montalban, Chianti Em Anti Em, and Chianti Colli Umama. Consumers would be wise to look for wines from Chianti Classico with the Gallo Nero on the neck, the black cock that guarantees a good time. Don't they always?
Interesting facts about Sangiovese:
Blending Cabernet Sauvignon into Sangiovese adds a lot to the final wine, mostly to the price.
Vin Santo is the dessert wine made from Sangiovese, and legendary broadcaster for the LA Dodgers.
If laid end to end, all the different labels of Sangiovese produced in California would then actually have a purpose.
Other names for Sangiovese:
Atlas Peaked Brunello DeVille BevMorellino
When you say Argentina, the three M's come to mind--meat, Malbec and Mengele. Malbec, of course, is one of the famed red Bordeaux varieties, though it's relatively uncommon in Bordeaux these days, like humility. Somehow, Malbec has risen from the dead and, as the grape identified with Argentina, made a miraculous comeback. In France, Malbec is most closely identified with the region of Cahors, where it often has a horsey aroma, and was memorialized in the popular tune, "A horse is horse, Cahors, Cahors/But no one can talk to a horse, Cahors..." In Cahors, Malbec is called Cot Noir, which is its stripper name. The sudden popularity of Malbec can be attributed to sommeliers who generally mistake novelty for quality, but rightly believe that people are stupid enough to believe whatever you say about wine if you've purchased an M.S. degree online, or at BevMo's 5 cent sale where you can buy an M.S. and get a C.S.W. for a nickel more. It's a ripoff.
Interesting facts about Malbec:
Of the five red Bordeaux varieties (dweebs and anal retentives say there are six, counting Carmenere, but these are people you should wear a bubble suit around), Malbec is Gummo.
Malbec is very sensitive to frost, but loves Sandburg.
Argentinian Malbecs are among the exclusive subset of wines that are all made to taste the same, like Gummi bears, that also includes New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Lodi Zin and Vinho Verde. You had one, you had 'em all. Like the Osmond Brothers.
After 19 years as a Sommelier in Los Angeles, twice named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers' Association, I moved to Sonoma County to explore the other aspects of the wine business. I've spent, OK wasted, 35 years learning about and teaching about and swallowing wine. I am also a judge at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition--so I can spit like a rabid llama. I know more about wine than David Sedaris and I'm funnier than James Laube. Stay tuned for an informed but jaded view of everything wine and everything else.
I'm living proof that alcohol kills brain cells.
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