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June 2008 - Napa Valley

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A Redneck's Guide to Wine Appreciation

First, allow me a moment to elucidate my qualifications: My grandpa was a bootlegger in the backwoods of Tennessee during prohibition. That's God's honest truth, and that bit of family history proves without question that I have both redneck DNA and an intimate knowledge of alcoholic beverages. Gramps' legacy lives on.

Both of those bits of trivia are worthy of much greater discussion, but today I need to stick to the point. So, let's take a look at our subject du jour, the Big Vino, the juice of the gods, that is to say, wine.

The first big thing to understand, Bubba (or Bubbette--we rednecks have advanced with the times), is that wine ain't 7-UP. Now, I know that many of you are used to mixing wine and 7-UP, but the point of this little article is to provide an opportunity for personal growth. Keep reading, or maybe have your kid read it out loud.

Now what I mean by saying that wine ain't 7-UP is simply this: If you bought a can of 7-UP down at Elmer's Market and then drove to your uncle Willie's Gas & Groc and bought another can, you'd expect both cans to taste the same, assuming Uncle Willie's half-brother had not done something really disturbing again. Most of us consider the fact that one can tastes just like every other to be a Good Thang.

Not so, with wine. Rather than mixing together chemicals and water in a top-secret combination to yield identical tasting drinks, wine makers have to rely on Mother Nature. And we all know that Mother Nature can be a... bit fickle. In addition to the wine maker's skill, the grape, the soil, the storage, and even the weather during the growing year all have a tremendous effect on the taste of a given vintage.

This explains Uncle Willie's homebrew, of course: Combine a winemaker with no skill, incredibly disgusting grapes thrown out by the Piggly Wiggly store, the fungus-inducing weather of the Deep South, soil worthy of an EPA Superfund site, and long-term storage in plastic buckets, and you get a vintage that works better as concrete cleaner.

The Yin to that Yang is a skilled vintner who has studied his craft for years, grapes cultivated on the warm southern-facing slopes of the Columbia River Basin or Cascade Mountains, 300 days of sunshine per year with cool, crisp nights during harvest, nutrient-rich volcanic soil, and long-term oak or stainless steel barrel storage, and you have the magnificent wines of Washington State. They don't all taste the same, of course, due to different local soils, weather conditions, and different wine makers. But I assure you, Bubba/Bubbette, that is a really Good Thang.

Part of the fun of being a wineaux, i.e. a redneck who likes good wines, is the search for the elusive "great vintage". Since no two vintages taste the same, it is incumbent upon us to taste lots and lots of wines from different vintages. That's a Good Thang, too, as you might imagine. Now, you'll find some hoity toities who will try to tell you what's good and what ain't, but here's the real truth: A good wine is a wine you like. Period, end of story. Anybody tells you different, tell 'em to put a cork in it.

At first, I didn't drink for taste. Like most of my redneck kin, I drank because I was, uh... thirsty. But if you slow down and actually start thinking about the taste a bit, I guarantee you'll find some wines that tickle your fancy.

Having found some great vintages (and write them down when you find them, or buy a case or two), the next Good Thang about wine is that it was made for food. Yep, fer shure. Unlike Uncle Willie's homebrew, you'll not only be able to keep your food down when you have a good wine, you'll find that some wines actually make the food taste better. And I don't mean after the second or third bottle. I really mean that you can be stone cold sober, take a sip of wine, shovel in bit of food, and both the wine and the food will taste better together than either does alone.

In case those instructions are not clear, please understand that I mean that you should swallow the wine first, and then take a bite of food. As tempting as it might be to try to mix it all up together, wine ain't a milkshake, neither. Save that trick for Nestle's Quick chocolate mix. For those who don't know, you take a spoonful of chocolate mix in your mouth, pour in some milk, and swish it around. Rednecks from southern states may also add several chunks of banana.

But I digress. Back to wine.

A second fun thing about being a wineaux is finding "wine and food pairings" that you like. There are some general guidelines, but once again, what tastes good to you is really the definition of what is good. Here are a couple things that I've found to be true for my tastes:

1. Wine shouldn't be stronger tasting than the food you're serving. Hoity toities may scream in anguish, but the first great wine and food pairing that suited me was a California Zinfandel served with hamburgers drowned in a potent barbecue sauce. Zinfandels are often "peppery" in taste and therefore complement a strong barbecue sauce quite well.

Conversely, milder main dishes may call for a lighter wine. I found that some light cheeses go great with Sauvignon Blanc, which is a light and sometimes slightly fruity white wine.

2. Sometimes seemingly odd combinations work out quite well, too. I like blue cheese on crackers with a fairly sweet dessert wine like Roza Riesling. I have no idea why that works for me. Maybe my taste buds are dead from too many pork rinds.

Regardless, wine tasting is an adventure, and a kick in the pants, too. A few years ago I hired a limousine to take me, my wife, and some friends on a wine tasting tour of the Wenatchee Valley in central Washington. Not only was it great fun, but I discovered several fantastic family-operated wineries along the way. We still visit these wineries several times a year for concerts, special dinners, and of course, wine club pick-ups!

By the way, a wine club pick-up is not a new way for you single redneck men to meet women--ya still gotta save that for the family reunion.

About the Author

When he's not writing articles for his fellow rednecks at Redneck-Wineaux.com (http://Redneck-Wineaux.com), Ross Lambert is sampling fine wines and playing guitar. He is also one of several software engineers at Confluent-Data, Inc., creators of LoveWashingtonWine.com (http://LoveWashingtonWine.com

A synopsis on Napa Valley.

A Redneck's Guide to Wine Appreciation

First, allow me a moment to elucidate my qualifications: My grandpa was a bootlegger in the backwoods of Tennessee during prohibition. That's God's ho...

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