Churning out pithy wine descriptors is no easy task. Some critics don't even do them, since fashioning creative imageries becomes overwhelming. But it has to be the same for critics in other areas, especially music critics. How does one describe something that can only be heard? At least I have three senses to play with: sight, smell and taste. So, I thought, why not match up the two genres and see what happens?
Cabernet Sauvignon comes in many shapes and sizes, but it is often bold, tannic and chewy. Its fruit arrives slowly, erupting in your mouth like a chocolate-covered cherry or...a surprise guitar solo. Van Halen comes to mind ' the classic stuff, back when Eddie rocked, rough and steady. Like a Cabernet, VH's music is relentless, strong and hedonistic. Missy Elliott, with her commendable I-don't-give-a-shit attitude, also gets in there.
At Barriques Wine & Spirits in Middleton, Jeff Updike recommends the 2005 Joel Gott Blend 815 Cabernet ' 'really affordable, a true rock-star wine.'
Pinot Grigio/Gris, a somewhat bland grape that ' in the right hands ' has moments of glory, tastes clean, citrusy and a bit sharp. And it's often better with food. Dinner party, piano-based music, like Norah Jones or George Winston, works here.
Jack Korpa of Grape & Company gives the nod to a Gaierhof 2005 Pinot Grigio he features, from Trentino, in Northern Italy.
Syrah/Shiraz is mysterious since you never know what you're gonna get from the bottle ' some Aussie Shiraz is light and fruity, and some California Syrahs taste spicy and full-bodied. The spicy ones reflect Johnny Cash, with his gruff, smoky vocals. Fruity Shiraz, delicate and sweeter, is more like John Mayer ' uncomplicated and appealing to everybody, every day.
Ed Shinnick, Portabella's owner and wine buyer, isn't sure he buys the Johnny Cash comparison, but thinks that these wines pair well with his restaurant's food. He especially likes a Australian variety, a 2005 Houghton Shiraz.
Chardonnay, one of America's favorite grapes, has been oaked up, buttered up, and twisted to fit into a chic consumer package for so long, I can't remember its unadulterated flavor. Like music, Chard trends change each year to please the fickle masses. Over the years, U2 has had the ability to morph its sound to change with the times. From acidic, corrosive guitar sounds to a smooth, elegant groove, the band's music makes a statement the way a good California Chardonnay should.
Justin Time of Eno Vino picks two Chardonnays from his list that remind him of U2. 'If you're going back to the roots, the true French Chardonnays, or older U2, like Boy or War, I'd say Olivier LeFlaive Les Settilles.' For a California variety that he likens to mid-period U2 (Rattle and Hum), Time picks a lush Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Valley Chardonnay.
Pinot Noir wallows in feminine sensuality, sometimes coy, sometimes stylish, but always unpredictable. It changes dramatically as it ages, mellowing from a fruity personality into a more austere, darker flavor. Pinot is Sade, whose graceful, soulful music is timeless and embodies the elegance of a Pinot Noir. Erykah Badu, with her smoky, funky neo-soul, comes in a close second.
Tami Lax of Harvest on the Capitol Square heads straight for a 2004 Sea Smoke Cellars Pinot Noir called 'Ten' from the Santa Rita Hills that reminds her of Sade's music ' 'You know, deep, silky, luscious ' you sing when you're drinking it.'
Riesling, the oft-underrated grape of soft, sweet, peachy wines, is one of the 'noble' varieties that people frequently drink surreptitiously, fearful of admitting their affection. People also won't admit they love the cute, syrupy lyrics of country music, but if you investigate their car stereos, you'll inevitably uncover at least one button tuned to a Dixie Chicks-friendly station.
Luis Sanchez of George's Chop House points to a youthful St. Christina Michelsberg Kabinett Riesling from the Mosel region of Germany.
Sauvignon Blanc, acidic and tart, rubs people the right way or the wrong way. Some people just hate the bracing grapefruit, citrus scent and flavor, but others, like myself, love this stuff. I throw the entire rap and hip-hop genre into this category ' it generates the same ire or adoration.
At Cafe Montmartre, it's definitely adoration. Customers are drinking a lot of the 2006 Nobilo from New Zealand, reports Mark Canack of the Momo. But his personal pick is another New Zealand wine, the 2005 Ngatarawa Glazebrook Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 'my favorite in the world ' a phenomenal wine. If I saw it for sale, I'd buy a bunch of it.'
Zinfandel tastes gutsy, fruity, and sometimes garish with alcohol. It wants everyone to know it's in the room, with its strong scent and peppery personality. Who does bold better than Cher? Or perhaps Kiss, back in its youthful days, of course.
Adam Benedetto of Restaurant Magnus takes no more than a second to recommend Plungerhead ' 'it's a California Zin, from the Dry Creek Vineyards in Napa. It is peppery, and it has a great nose. It's a good food wine we sell by the glass. And I think it goes with Kiss pretty well.'