Things I know about wine

14 May 2012

Four months into a day job polishing wineglasses (rarely filling them):

Champagne smells like burnt toast; Riesling, hot tar or gasoline. A certain dry Tokaj, on the nose: orange Gatorade. Wine can smell like violet candies, menthol cigarettes, jalapeños, and nail polish remover. It can taste like fresh-cut grass, beef jerky, and licking a chalkboard.

People get weird about wine—self-deprecating jokes about how they don’t possibly know as much as you, or jockeying displays of expertise to impress their dates, or sudden strident displays of opinion. A seven-hundred-and-fifty milliliter bottle is, among other things, an agricultural product derived from grape juice; a good way to get liquored up with a friend; a luxury good, like a designer handbag; and an internationally-traded commodity, like pork bellies.

Farmers planted vines on steep, rocky slopes because the land wasn’t good for anything else; wine was the lunchtime drink of peasants. Champagne only exists because the climate wasn’t right for straight-ahead wine, so they had to fuck with the process to make something drinkable. The village council of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, convinced that their vineyards were being raided by extraterrestials, passed a law in 1954 prohibiting the “flying overhead, landing, and taking off” of flying saucers or cigares volants (flying cigars)

Malbec is overdone. Slovenia overperforms. Tannins do not get along with goat cheese. You can switch back to white after a bottle of red, why not? You feel acid at the hinge of your jaw, residual sugar on the tip of your tongue, tannins in your gums. The American oak barrels in which Rioja is traditionally aged make it smell like dill and coconut suntan lotion. A bowling-pin bottle shape called a ‘skittle’ takes its name from an English lawn game.

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