14 April 2011

Glasses of Exotic Nutty Stuff

Lovely now; surprisingly youthful. Delicate grapefruit aromas. Flinty, buttery, vanilla toastiness, nice weight on the palate. Floral, sweet citrus and pear, sweet cream, roasted nuts and vanilla flavors. Soft floral and butterscotch notes.

If this was a woman I’d fall slobbering at her feet. If this was a potluck I’d think I’d stumbled into a BMW convention. But if this was a glass of wine, well, I’d ignore the foo-foo, drink whatever they served and ask for another.

With all due respect to the excellent winemakers at Hafner Vineyard, isn’t all this wine perfume a bit much? Is there anything else created by people as over described as modern bottles of wine?

You could make a meal out of what some can find in Chardonnay.

First course: Grapefruit baked with butter and vanilla. Then pears in sweet cream, roasted nuts, butterscotch pudding to finish. Not nutritious, but pretty tasty, I’d bet.

“Winespeak can only take you so far,” note Kathleen Burk and Michael Bywater in their book Is This Bottle Corked? The Secret Life of Wine. “After that it is up to you...”

The authors quote a range of wine descriptions, from leather, pencil shavings, rubber, stone and compost, to licorice, chocolate and coffee. Since few can “really discern more than a small handful of scents and tastes” you might be better off to “just pour yourself a glass, drink it, and decide whether or not you like it,” they say.

If a reviewer writes a particular wine reminds her of “cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush” you might pass. Another wine evokes “a rugby club changing room.”

The authors of Is This Bottle Corked? have put together a number of brief essays on some of the main topics that might intrigue imbibers. The authors may sound at first a bit flip, but contained in their lightweight approach is a great deal of significantly useful information. “Flavor,” they explain, “is actually made up of two components: its ‘nose’ and its taste...certainly, part of the fun of drinking wine is catching the differences between what a wine smells like and what it tastes like.”

In another wine book prize-winning wine writer and British TV/radio expert Oz Clarke says Let Me Tell You About Wine, a Beginner’s Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Wine. His book is richly illustrated with photos, graphs and charts. Clarke invites the reluctant sipper into a comfortable relationship with the glass, and the book could not be more friendly to beginners.

Right at the start Clarke breaks down wine tastes and smells into 18 basic groups, each of which he then matches with the best wines in the world. Group 6 as one example is “Earthy” -- savoury reds which “are the classic food wines of Europe, the kind where fruit flavours often take a back seat to compatibility with food and the ability to cleanse the palate and stimulate the appetite.”

In this group he recommends Bordeaux and Chianti from Europe, Cabernets and Merlots from places closer to home.

“Your chances of walking into a wine shop and coming out with a wine that’s enjoyable to drink, whatever the price level, are better now than ever before,” Clarke writes. “The last quarter of the 20th century saw a revolution in wine, in terms of both style and quality.”

That’s fine with me. So set up another glass of that gooseberryish perfumy tropical fruit, crisp, refreshing, tangy, bone dry, peach pineapple and honey, black pepper, mellow, intriguing, herby, sweet-sour, blushing, succulent, subtle, sharp, toasty, exotic, nutty stuff... right now!


Is This Bottle Corked? by Kathleen Burk and Michael Bywater. Harmony Books $19.99. ISBN 9780307462916.

Oz Clarke’s Let Me Tell You About Wine by Oz Clarke. Sterling Publishing $19.95. ISBN 9781402771231

Oz Clarke on the web...

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