Vino & Veritas

BY JUSTIN DILLON

Some wine columns ask the simple questions.

“Should you drink red or white with salmon?” (Either.)

“What’s Burgundy?” (A region in France that makes wine you can’t afford.)

“Why do the French name their wines for places, not grapes?” (Because they’re French. Asking that is like asking, ‘Why are Canadians dumb?’ If you’re asking that, you’re probably Canadian.)

This column, though, asks the hard questions. And not just the inappropriately political, up-with-gay-people kind. No, the hard kind. To wit: instead of asking, “What do you get for the wine lover who has everything?”, this column asks, “What do you get for guy who sort of likes wine but would probably ask for the receipt if you got him anything to do with wine?”

This column, then, is about what to get for the non-wine-lover who has nothing. Call it “Gifts for the Interested Amateur.” Or “My Column Is Due Tomorrow.”

The best gift you can get a wine-drinker is Riedel glasses. These are great for people who drink wine all the time as well as for people who don’t know anything about wine and who even don’t care to learn more. Why? Because believe it or not, Riedel glasses will change the way you think about wine. For about $8 a glass (usually in packs of four), one of Riedel’s Ouverture Series will focus the flavors and smells of a wine in a way that will show you much more about wine than you’ve known before.

Dedicated wine-drinkers (also known as “wine columnists” or “the lonely ones”) always need more of these, and oenophilic neophytes (Look, ma! No editor!) will probably find it changes how they experience wine. Riedels are available at almost any wine store and at www.riedelcry-stal.com.

Another great gift is a good corkscrew. My personal favorite is the “waiter’s friend,” which is the one you’ve seen, um, waiters use. It has the flip-out corkscrew and the little lever that uses leverage to pull out the cork. But because it can be a little tough to learn, you might go with a screwpull for people who are less used to opening wine bottles. These little beauties cost about $20 and are a simple, virtually effortless way of getting the cork out — which can sometimes be the most intimidating thing about serving wine to people at home.

Next, and at the risk of forcing the reader to recall the seedy contours of my social life, I’d recommend a Vacu-Vin system. These are the rubber-cork-and-vacuum-pump combos that, by removing much of the oxygen from an opened bottle, can extend a wine’s freshness. They cost around $10 and are sold at most wine shops; for people who don’t drink much wine and would like their bottles to last for several days, these make a great gift.

Finally, there are always wine books. Because this is putatively a list for the non-wine-lover, I’ll confine my recommendation to what remains my favorite wine book ever. The Wine Avenger, by Willie Gluckstern, is the first wine book I ever read. It’s funny, opinionated and boils down the formidable universe of wine to one of those smaller Saturn moons. More bang for the buck in the often-soporific wine-book world would be hard to find.

Tasting notes:

A somewhat mediocre crop this week: Of the four wines tasted this week, three proved disappointing.

The best of the bunch was the 1999 Abadia Retuerta Rivola, a 60/40 blend of tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon that had decent structure and deep fruit. I got it at Marty’s for $12.99. While by no means a superstar, it’s a good buy that would taste especially good with winter’s meatier dishes.

Next came the Castell Del Remei Gotim Bru 1998, which Marty’s sells for $10.99. It had good fruit but lacked “guts.” After a while, it did open up a bit and gain some structure, so it might be worth revisiting, but all in all, I found it disappointing.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment, in terms of initial expectations, was The Fifteen Grenache 2000, a 100 percent grenache wine that I bought at Marty’s for $12.99. Robert Parker, my trusty wine muse, loved this wine. I found it a little too sweet and lacking in structure; while it had a pleasant juiciness, I couldn’t stop thinking of grape Bubble Yum.

Finally, I was perhaps predictably let down by an Italian zinfandel (zin is done best, and almost exclusively, in America), the Anfora Zinfandel 2000, which Marty’s sells for $12.99. While it had a chocolatey, dark-fruited nose, it turns out to be somewhat less fruity to taste, and it lacked the characteristic jamminess of an American zin.

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