Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Lines Have Sour Grapes

This is how (not that you asked) my mind works. A friend sent this article from Slate--"Brewing the Best: Pliny the Younger is supposedly the best beer in the world. What does that even mean?"--and so I began considering the differences between the culture of beer and that of wine. How it's easier to be a wine snob, partially due to the money (as with everything, the best almost always costs the most and therefore excludes), partially due to America's wines still fighting newcomer status (even all these years after the 1976 Judgment of Paris) and therefore leaving us provincial, opening the door to snobbery, partially due to beer making you burp, and it's hard to hold your nose high mid-belch.

I also wanted to agree with Brian Palmer's claim that there seems to be less of a mystery in the making of beer as opposed to wine. I've known many a homebrewer (pleased to meet me), but very few home winemakers. Plus even the process seems more straightforwardly work-person-like: you boil your beer, it's just like cooking, and then when you add the yeast stuff happens in the carboy--you get to see it a-swirling and a-foaming, and sometimes even get to clean it up if it blows the bubbler. Wine seems to involve sitting and waiting and hoping--those barrels don't permit us to see much, and then some evaporates and that gets called the angel's share, as if you need the gods on your side to do it proper.

But I knew people did make wine at home, and how that happened piqued my curiosity. So I Googled, and ended up at the Artful Winemaker, and they kindly offered me a video about how the magic (art?) happens. You really need to go watch, or else my critique won't make much sense. You're still reading, go watch. I mean it. OK, thanks.

First, it appears only white folks can make wine at home. Second, when you're selling a plastic device to make wine, be sure to put it amidst as many real wine-signifying sets as possible--roll out those barrels and shoot amidst the vines. Third, get somebody who looks like Mitt Romney to be your pitchman, as that's about all someone who looks like Mitt is good for.

This video also offers a textbook of wine-talk for dummies, starting with the woman describing that Cab-Shiraz blend as "spicy, warm"--just like my Mexican hot chocolate. Later wine expert Dave LaRocque (I looked him up and he has had a long career, mostly in the wine industry of Niagara--good grapes, now with more honeymooners!)* claims you can make "approachable wine that is soft, fruit-forward, and easy to drink," which, beyond sounding like a personal ad from the Key West Blade, certainly sounds better than saying "you might as well slurp this plonk down for there's nothing to taste or savor."

But back to our Mitt-a-like, let's not ignore how he describes the process of winemaking. We know he's no snob, for he says, "I especially like white wine, so I ordered the Chardonnay," which is sort of like saying, "I especially like movies, so I watch Titanic weekly...oh, my blue-lipped Leo." If you're waiting for how the wine gets its, oh, let's call it grapiness, you have to wait till 1:40 into the video, after we hear about "everything you need" (labels are held up) and after, for that Chardonnay, there's "oak for that oaky, buttery flavor many people love in the best Chardonnays." The acorn doesn't fall far from the vine, I guess. If you like mangling language as much as you like making wine at home, this is the kit for you; after two weeks you get to add "a stabilizer and clarifier to make sure the wine completes the fermentation process." That certainly makes things clear to me, especially since I've thrown my dictionary away.

Best of all, you can be an Artful Winemaker, no muss no fuss. Our expert pal Dave LaRocque shrewdly points out, "You don't have to do the crushing of the grapes with your own feet." So, evidently in the Niagara wine region, they still make wine like this. LaRocque sums things up by claiming the Artful Winemaker is "even for those people who don't know anything about wine." The good news is I can fix that sentence for him. All he needs to do is edit out the "even."

Think I'll go drink me a beer.

*Yes, I am a California wine snob.

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