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Knowledge of wine is de rigueur for people such as us who will someday spend hours in tony restaurants lording it over those less fortunate than ourselves. Here is a primer on wine for those of us planning to enter the ranks of the rich. Note: I worked under a slight disadvantage in the researching of this article because I don’t drink alcohol and don’t approve of the habit in others. But I do worship wealth and there seems to be a close correlation between a familiarity with the terminology of wine, the conspicuous consumption thereof in hoity-toity hangouts and high net worth. Therefore, although I don’t plan to ever actually consume wine and I don’t think any of you should either, it seems to make a good deal of sense for all of us to be able to nod and murmur appreciatively when the powerful and cultured people with whom we shall frequently interface one of these days order wine. That will ingratiate us immeasurably to such people and being in the good graces of the influential is a crucial ingredient in the recipe for worldly advancement. Here, then, is the low-down on wine. The basics of wine are pretty simple. After that, there is a lot of jargon and some geography and sometimes mentions of cheese, the latter being a nuisance because we don’t want to have to start looking into cheese at this point. But, as I say the basics are pretty simple. Let us start with the four main types of wine. They are: red, white, rose and Champagne or champagne. Oop—see, we already have a complication. Notice that I said “four main types of wine,” and then listed four and in a way five. Let us tackle the Champagne/champagne issue and get that out of the way. Okay, capital C Champagne is a region in France that says that champagne isn’t champagne unless it is from capital C Champagne. Anything else is just a run-of-the-mill, far from classy sparkling wine. Capital C Champagne is spending a lot of money on efforts aimed at ensuring that that is clear to consumers because there is a lot of money riding on this. Therefore there are really five kinds of wine according to these fussy French people: red, white, rose and Champagne or champagne. Actually six because we are now a little befuddled thanks to fussy French people and here we will go with: red, white, rose and Champagne or champagne and sparkling wines, an example of which is Champagne but not champagne there being no such thing apparently so maybe we are now down to five types of wine. Okay now that we have expanded our original list from four to five or six types, we can proceed to characterizing four of the five or six. Color is a key characteristic of each type of wine, as you might have guessed from the mention of “red” and “white.” Things get a bit confusing on the color matter.
Red wines: Red wines are sort of reddish but not red red per se. They can be red, of course, and really pretty sorts of red like ruby. They can also be a sort of brick color and get brown sometimes as the wine ages, which is okay. The aging, I mean, in most cases. Not sure that the brown is okay. Now, a notable type of red wine is the classic red burgundy. That makes sense because burgundy is a kind of red. A nice pretty, rich red sort of red. Color wise, I mean. But there is Chablis, which is a part of the region of France known as Burgundy, which is, incidentally, east and north of Bordeaux. (This is the geography part that I mentioned earlier.) Anyway, Chablis seems to be a kind of Chardonnay, which is a white wine made of grapes grown in a region with the name of Burgundy. Not that it matters, really, to you where the wines are grown. Actually, it does, which is why I mentioned all this only not right now because right now I am simply trying to discuss red wine of which Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are prime examples and not Chablis, which is a white wine (see below). Cabernet Sauvignon is often called the king of red wine grapes, which brings up the fact that wines are often named after the grapes from which they are made but not necessarily. And not all wines are made of grapes, of course. But we won’t get into non-grape matters just as we won’t get into cheese, as we said that we would not above or anywhere else right now. Pinot Noir is another kind of red wine and a kind of grape, so there you go with the wine-grape thing again as is also the case with Chardonnay, which is a white wine, which we will deal with below. That is, with white wine. I think we have covered Chardonnay in enough detail already except that I might as well add that White Burgundy, of course, is a white wine that must be made from Chardonnay grapes and which is produced all over the world and not just in Burgundy. I guess Burgundy isn’t as fussy as Champagne is. Pinot Noir is said to go with the oilier forms of poultry. I am not sure what would make poultry oily or what would be classed as oily poultry, so we will defer discussing poultry, just as we are doing with cheese. Noir means black and red wines are often produced from bluish grapes. White wine: White wine is actually yellowish but is made from white grapes which are more yellowish than white or red grape sans their skins. Examples of white wines include Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and White Zinfandel and the aforementioned Chardonnay. And here is yet another complication. One of the sources upon which I drew for this foray into the world of wine puts White Zinfandel into the category of “blush wines,” which is another term for rose and says that blush wines (rose wines) can be labeled white and here we aren’t even ready to deal with roses. And then there’s a white Merlot, which I thought was a red wine but is clearly not if it is called white. Anyway, back to white wines. They are said to be fresh, lively, bright, aromatic, and tangy. I don’t think they are any cheaper than red wines except maybe at the major auction houses, even though white wines are less complex than red wines. I would think that something tangy but not complex would cost less, but there are probably all kinds of factors that come into play like vintage and the prestige of the winery by which whatever you are buying was produced. White wines have traditionally been consumed with
poultry or fish, but these days wine experts increasingly suggest that consumers should drink whatever kind of wine they (the consumers and maybe even the experts--hard to say) like with whatever the consumer is eating, which makes things considerably easier given that a white wine may not actually be such and you are awfully hungry. Roses: As noted above, roses are also called blush wines, and incidentally, pink wines. They can have the briskness (wine aficionados love words like "brisk,” “deep,” “elegant, “fruity,” etc.) of white wines and the complexity of red wines. One source said they need to be consumed when very young and I think that that meant the rose and not the age of the consumer at the time of consumption at least in this country. Sparkling wines: Basically, carbonation and the Champagne/champagne fuss-a-roo. Great, we have covered the kinds of wine. Now we move to even more esoteric matters. There are, apparently, four basic tastes of wine: bitter, salty, sour, and sweet. And gradations and nuances of all of those. Wines can be said to be creamy, buttery, jammy, gamey, nutty, oaky (which is good, one gathers), woody (not good), robust (good), meaty (ditto), chewy (depends), lush or watery (doesn’t sound good to me). One would use these terms after consuming wine. But, as I said above, I don’t really approve of alcohol use. The terms “aroma,” “nose” and “bouquet” constitute a huge part of the wine mystique. “Bouquet” is used to refer to cellar-aged wines, wines I guess of greater value and which are more lore-laden and fussed over than younger, less prestigious wines, which just have aromas. A wine’s nose is the scent the connoisseur deems it to possess, he sniffing about for scents revealing all sorts of significant arcana such as the grape used and what happened during fermentation. On to body. This has to do with the texture and weight of a wine and wines can be fat or fine or solid and so on. They can also have elegance, flair and finesse and so will you once you master all this wine folderol. Some wines can be dull, just as people are who aren’t knowledgeable about things like wine. What are some things to bear in mind when buying wine? Things get a bit confusing here. Some wines are called varietal because they are named for the variety of grape from which most of the wine in the bottle is made. Examples include Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Those seem to be the biggies and if you can master those, you will have it made in terms of sounding sophisticated enough seems to me, but you might want to memorize terms like “1787 Chateau Lafite” and make sure that you note the alcohol content because you don’t want to get blotto when you are with the powerful and influential people mentioned above.