Napa Valley is alive and well.

Napa Valley is alive and well.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Burgundy, Sideways, and an Anti-Wine Snob


I was browsing a wine book sometime ago and came across a cartoon that I just have to relate. The scene: A woman at the counter of a wine store is inspecting the wine bottle the merchant handed her. She has this startled look of amazement on her face, and says, "Gosh, I didn't know the French made Burgundy too!" That cracked me up. However, there was a time when I would have reacted to that punch line with an uncomfortable, insecure response like, “So?” or, "I don't get it?" And if you don't get it, read on. (Others, please do, it’s worth it.)

It didn’t take long to find out that Burgundy was not a hearty, mountain grown, jug wine from California’s Central Valley. Burgundy, or Bourgogne (Boor-goan-yuh), as the French know it, is a picturesque region (think appellation) in east-central France. More importantly, it is the birthplace of their most emulated, but seldom equaled, classic wines: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Veteran wine enthusiasts refer to the former as “White Burgundy,” and the latter as “Red Burgundy.” The Romans, who learned of wine’s pleasures from the Greeks, planted vineyards in Burgundy and numerous other locations throughout France. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Monks saved many of the vineyards and perfected their cultivation.

Pinot Noir, and in particular Red Burgundy, was the wine of choice for the character Miles in the popular 2005 movie, Sideways, about two careening, off-course buddies who went to the Santa Barbara wine region to guzzle wine and frolic with the ladies. It was in that movie that Miles uttered those infamous words, “I’m not drinking any “effing” Merlot.” Since that movie, Pinot Noir’s sales are up and Merlot’s are elsewhere. That’s unfortunate, for they share some common traits, one of which is the relative absence of mouth puckering tannins, an appealing attribute for many wine drinkers.

On the other hand, some people could care even less about Merlot or Pinot Noir, or any other wine for that matter. Take, for example, sportswriter Mitch Albom, who authored Tuesdays with Morrie and other syrupy, philosophical quick reads. He felt the need to write an anti-wine diatribe in the Detroit Free Press, wherein he hoped the movie Sideways would not receive the 2005 Oscar for Best Picture.

He opined, among other negative observations, “It’s all an affectation.” And if it won the Oscar, he declared, “People will be running off to New Agey vineyards, pouring pinots and syrahs, and blathering on about harvests and fermentations.”  He acknowledges that he is "one of those people for whom wine is a drink that comes in two colors, red or white."

He also quite willingly advises us of his many close minded "I don't care abouts,"  "I don't care what goes with fish or meat . . . don't care what year it was made . . . don't care if it's from Bordeaux, Rioja, or the bathtub in someone's backyard . . . and don't care if it's Chianti, Chablis, Burgundy, or Ripple . . . or what vineyard gave us the grapes."

And with piercing intellectual insight, he summed it all up by stating that wine is just a drink like every other beverage, “And a few hours later, you excrete it the old-fashioned way.”

I could be wrong, but the contents of one’s toilet bowl seem a rather imperfect way to judge the dining pleasures of food and drink. But, on the other hand, I suppose it depends on how one has been trained.

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