Monday, March 26, 2007

Red Wine Fiends

Since we're just getting started here, I should probably make some of my biases clear. One for phenomena I'm sure to rail against from time to time are the half-brained status-seekers I call Red Wine Fiends. These are poor, misguided folks who drink red wine to the exclusive of all else, and still consider themselves wine afficianados. (In fact, they consider themselves MORE expert than the poor fools who would waste their palate's time on white and rose.)

These myopic nuts constitute, in my opinion, one of the most idiotic aspects of the current wine world. I've encountered Red Wine Fiends regularly in my travels and everyday life. You're having a nice conversation about likes and dislikes, favorite bottles, passions and such. Then you ask them whether they've tried such and such a Pinot Gris or Albarino, and they let go the fatal response: "Oh, I only drink red." Just like that, one half of the world's wine shoved off a cliff like so much refuse. After that, I'm afraid I lose all interest in them as oenophiles. You see, it's not that they've tried all the whites out there, given the matter serious consideration and decided red was their poison when it came down to it. Preferers of red I can understand and heartily applaud. Stand by your likes, by all means! The drinkers I'm talking about don't buy or drink white on principle. It's unworthy, weak-flavored swill. Feh!

What does red mean to the Fiends? It means seriousness. It means important wine, a wine worth its high price. It's a wine that will overpower you and therefore demand your respect. It has alcohol. It has fruit. It has reputation. It the Porterhouse of wines. White is—what?—the quiche. You can blame big red lover Robert Parker Jr. for this state of affairs. You can blame the point system. But whoever you blame, it's the way Americans have been taught to appreciate wine, and it makes about as much sense as shunning all coffee in favor of tea and visa versa.

The Fiends are everywhere, and carry themselves with blustery confidence. I took a series of wine classes years ago. They were conducted by a woman at the Brooklyn wine shop Heights Chateau and help at the kitchenware store A Cook's Companion. Every time the Heights woman brought out a white wine, the Companion owner begrudgingly tasted it with barely a crack in her mind open. "It's not red," she would explain. This, from a woman in the food business. The sommelier at The Oyster Bar in Grand Central once told me of a memorable patron who washed down his several dozen oysters with an old Bordeaux. Oysters! My wife's doctor asked me to recommend a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon under $20. I responded that I knew of few good ones at that price, and mentioned a few other less familiar reds and whites that would proved much better drinking for the money. He shut me down. No: only Napa Cab. Otherwise, don't bother me.

Let me say, that I know of what I speak, because, in my small way, I began my wine life as a Fiend. When I began to teach myself about the ways I wine, I accepted as a matter of faith that the best wines in the world were red wines. I don't know where I got this information, but I assumed everyone understood it as gospel. White wine was insipid, silly, for dilettantes and Ladies Who Lunch. But, with every class I took, every bottle I drank, every book I read, it dawned on me how very wrong I was. In time, to my own amazement, I was wooed over the white camp, astounded by the variety of varietals, flavors and textures. Discovering the misunderstood Riesling grape was like opening a secret door leading to a gleaming treasure trove of lost treasure. Viognier, Ribolla Gialla, Tocai Friuliano, Albarino, Fiano, Falanghina, Pecorino, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Gruner Veltliner, Chassales, Aligote, the mind-boggling variousness of Sauvignon Blanc—the miracles kept on coming. Dessert wines were another hidden vault of riches.

I'm a sucker for the underdog and I've been a white wine champion every since. I still love all kinds of red, of course. How can you not? But I care deeply about white. And, in most cases, when I sit down to eat, it's the color I want by my side. Red's a bully and will often beat up on my meal. White tries to find a way to make friends with dinner.

Now, if only the Fiends can make friends with it.

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