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What's Your Wine Personality?

Find Your Wine Personality by Defying the Norm

by Randal Caparoso

Recently a woman burst through the door of a Berkeley wine store, marched straight to the counter and asked, "Can you help me pick out a white wine to drink right now?" In his best calming, Al Franken-like voice, the store manager said, "Okay...may I ask what food you would be having with your wine?" The woman's reply was, "I'm not having any food...all I'm asking for is a very good white wine, preferably very dry — not something fruity or from California — and it has to have alcohol."

A wine lover who knows exactly what a wine needs to do for her…how cool is that? The woman eventually walked out with a good bottle of Sancerre — a lemony crisp, dry and stony Sauvignon Blanc-based white from France's Loire River. Many of us don't start out that way, but eventually find ourselves reading the back labels — like cereal boxes—of finer bottlings such as Sebastiani Zinfandel, Almaden Grenache Rose, and Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc. We then learn to use a corkscrew and sip from stemmed glasses.

Don't look for help from the experts. Try your own experiments.

Learning about wine is easy enough…everyone has an uncle who is an expert. Perhaps the most perplexing task is learning how wine fits in with what may matter most: food. You see, information on how wine interacts with food is not really found in books and magazines. It's something you have to discover for yourself, bottle by bottle, dish by dish. Don't look for help from the wine experts. For one thing, most of them couldn't care less about how a wine tastes with food, but only about its region of origin, terroir and microclimate, temperature of fermentation, type of oak it's been aged in, the winemaker's dog's name, ad nauseum. For another thing, learning about how wine goes with food is a process of discovering your own tastes and predilections, real or imagined.

White with fish and red with meat? Obsolete!

And it's still about attitude. Perhaps you're dining on a plate of scallops dolled up in a pungently truffled lobster sauce, with a glass of slightly sweet German Riesling, but the combination isn't ringing any bells. Should you try a fuller, richer white wine, like an Alsatian Pinot Gris? Many experts say: Drink white wine with fish and red wine with meat, and light wines before heavy. Like the moral mandate of presidents, most of us stopped believing in these things long ago.

Be bold. Think of Pinot Noir as a cross dresser!

So why not try something else entirely, like a glass of Pinot Noir—a red rather than another white? The thing about Pinot Noir is that it is a red wine that tends to be as soft and easy drinking as any white wine. Think of Pinot Noir as a cross-dresser—a red wine that "thinks" it is a white. But because Pinot Noir is actually equipped like a red wine, with aromas of pepperminty spice and berries as opposed to the floral or tropical fruit perfumes of most white wines, it connects with the soft, pliant, earthy taste of truffle-laced scallops like Bogey and Bacall. An unreasonable but obscenely great match!

Coolness is in the eyes of the beholder. Express yourself and you are as cool as anyone.

In some of today's camps wines such as Chardonnay and Merlot are considered overrated, tired...uncool. Are Riesling and Barbera drinkers that much cooler than Chardonnay and Merlot drinkers? Depends upon the attitude. Coolness as originally defined by, say, Miles and McQueen, long ago by Gertrude Stein, or today by Samuel L. Jackson, has everything to do with a "there-ness." If you know what's there in your heart and mind, and you know very well how to express it by what you do and—in the case of wine, food, fashion, and any of the arts—what you consume, then you're as cool as anyone.

Don't go against your own sense of good taste. If it tastes bad to you, it's not the right pairing combo for you.

If a feathery light, zesty Riesling rocks your world, so be it. But if you know that you like a California Chardonnay for its big, heavy, lusciously fruity flavor—especially with a dinner of juicy, roasted chicken, or even a breakfast of sweet Alaskan king crab and avocado omelette—then no effete lover of Riesling has anything over you. Then again, if you're drinking bone-dry Champagne with super-sweet chocolate (the gustatory equivalent to fingernails on a chalkboard) because some wise, older man, or a charming, younger woman says it's the thing to do, then you're not only trespassing against your own sense of good taste, you're probably defiling one of the laws of nature. It's easy to tell when a wine is lousy, or a wine and food combination is stupid-it tastes bad!

Trust yourself, keep an open mind and try as many combinations as possible.

So how can you go about finding the "there-ness,"…the cool? Keep an open mind, trusting in your own taste, and taking it from there: reveling in as many new wines and different combinations with food as possible, in the same way that you vary your clothes, the books you read, the plants you cultivate, or the music to which you listen. The naked pleasures wrought by unclouded intelligence, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, are sure to be the best. How cool is that?

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(Updated: 12/29/10 SD)

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