Winning Friends, Influencing People

You don’t have to be a wine expert to enjoy a great glass of grape juice from time to time. But sometimes it’s nice to have the upper hand when it comes to wine knowledge. Lots of Wine Sediments readers are impressively informed, but for those who are more oenologically challenged (hey, you gotta start somewhere!), I offer a few simple tips.

Just because you cant tell a beguiling bouquet from the smell of wet dog doesnt mean you cant impress the crowd when its time to open a bottle. The key is to maintain a stock of just a few anecdotes that make it appear as if you could spout off for hours if you so desired. Here are a few to get you started. Use them well.

1) The many meanings of Burgundy heard a friend spout off about a fine burgundy hes had recently? If your friend included the fact that hed enjoyed this wine in a nice restaurant the kind where the entrees dont come on buns then he was telling you about a wine from the French region called Burgundy. (Where some of the most famous red wines in the world are made, and if they are red, they are almost guaranteed to be Pinot Noir.) But if this friend was telling you that he drank this wine while enjoying a cheekful of tobacco out on the front porch of his double-wide, theres a good chance that it came from a box or a jug. In that case, it was the American bastardized version of burgundy, which can describe anything red, reminiscent of wine and definitely cheap.

2) Champagne! (Or is it??) You figure if its light in color, bubbly and has a cork that doubles as a projectile, it’s champagne, right? Wrong. The only sparkler that is actually champagne bears that name because it was produced in the French region of the same name. If it wasnt made in Champagne, it isnt. Most winemaking regions of the world adhere to the French appellation system, and call their sparkling wines by other names (Prosecco in Italy, Cremant from other areas in France). But here in the good ol USA, we call our sparkling wine whatever we want, dammit, and we think champagne sounds nice. Just take note; most non-champagne sparklers will at least mention their area of origin. You can use this one next time someone presents you with a bottle of California Champagne. Wont they be impressed? Or possibly annoyed. Who cares?

3) A Syrah by any other name This ones easy, but most people dont get it right. Syrah and Shiraz are actually the same varietal. Made from the same grape. Youll usually find that Syrahs come from France or the US, while Shiraz is generally produced in South Africa or Australia. Dont ask why. Just remember it.

4) The blends Just because its a blend doesnt mean its cheap. (Unless it was four bucks a bottle). Some of the most celebrated wines in the world are blends the Bordeaux and Rhone wines, for example. In California, the winemakers felt left out, so they made up their own blend and called it Meritage. If you ever see this on a menu, figure out a way to get your friends to pronounce it, and then take joy in correcting them. It should be pronounced like heritage not like camouflage. What fun.

5) The Pope It hardly ever comes up, but if you get the chance to strike up conversation around the topic of Chateauneuf du Pape, its worth it. Its a great wine, for starters, but the stories you can tell are priceless. The name literally means, the popes new house. During the 14th century, there were actually two popes, and the French pope lived in Avignon and had his summer house south of there in what is now called Chateauneuf du Pape. If thats not enough for you, tell your friends this one theres a law on the books in the village of Chateauneuf (passed in 1954) that prohibits flying saucers from landing there because they might hurt the vineyards. The law has worked well so far. No records of saucer landings. No kidding.

Take this knowledge and go forth. Impress and irritate your friends. Ahh, the wonderful world of wine.

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