Learning About Wine is Remotely Complex

December 28, 2010

The entertainment system in my living room requires seven remotes. That’s not true; actually there are eight but I don’t know what one of them is for. Making the system work the way I want has been a decades long study (I suppose I could get up off the couch and push the buttons manually, but c’mon–really?). I also know there is such a thing as a master remote where one device will do the job of all seven (eight) but I’ve seen them and they look like the control panel in a nuclear facility. Their instruction pamphlets are only slightly smaller than the Sears catalog.

Because I’ve grown up with the system, I know I can’t go straight from TV mode to the DVD setting and expect to watch my Lord of the Rings trilogy (well, I can but the subwoofer won’t work and you need the subwoofer for the Nazgul scenes). I must first switch to DVD to get picture, then to CD for sound, and then watch the movie with the system set on CD. Any other method will not give me access to all sound features. I also know I have to point the correct remote straight at the TV and away (yes, away) from the cable box to turn on cable TV. To listen to my iPod through the system, I select the VCR feature.

By trial and error or sheer dumb luck, I have learned these things over time. Trying to make sense of the dizzying complexities of my seven (eight) remote system is like trying to understand tax law through interpretive dance. God help you if you’re house sitting and you want to watch a movie. No, I think I’m stuck with the seven (eight) remote system because in spite of its complexities, its quirks, its lack of an intuitive method, it’s what I’ve learned. I like it.  

Like the remotes, over time I’ve also learned a million complexities and quirks that I just don’t understand inherent in the world of wine. Why will one bottle of Cabernet go with mushrooms but a different one won’t? Why can one wine taste better after it breathes when another wine falls apart? The short answer: I don’t know, but like my seven (eight) remote system, I like it.

This week’s recommendation has a million of its own tasty quirks.

d’Arenberg 2008, The Footbolt Shiraz ($18.99): This wine is too delicious. My wife and I each found ourselves vying for control of the bottle.

A Fresh Start for Australian Wines

April 29, 2010

In some ways the Australian wine industry is like the pro athlete who in one week, gets caught with a hooker, punches his coach, inadvertently fires his illegal firearm in public, tests positive for eleven of the twenty something substances banned by his sport, tears a hamstring, and drives his car into a parade float–all while having a performance slump.

 Right now wines from down under are reeling from both bad luck and bad decisions. Recent droughts, hot summers and unfavorable exchange rates with the Australian currency create real obstacles for the wineries.  In addition, large multinational corporations pumping out swill rather than building a better brand with their finer wines have wreaked havoc with Australia’s reputation. Finally, the trend in wines has been away from the bigger, bolder juice that Australia has become known for. One in every six wineries in Australia is unprofitable today as prices have been slashed, and the surplus of wine creates a problem for selling their newer vintages.

 Although Australian wines have taken a few hits recently, they’re also a lot like the All-Star Wrestler that keeps getting up again and again in spite of the beating he takes. If the wine’s problems seem like a terminal diagnosis, tasting the wines I recommend below gives me new hope for the region, like a doctor saying: “Yes, the prognosis is correct, you have four months to live. Oh…. Wait…I’m sorry. I was looking at the wrong test results. Your results look fine.”

 Now many Australian wineries are diversifying to new styles of wine offering an option to the flabby, heavier fruit bombs that were so popular a few years ago. There is a broader showcase of terrific regional wines emerging that promises to pull them from their own NBA rookie-like public relations nightmare.

 Yalumba 2008, Viognier ($11.99): Peaches, citrus, spice, apricots and all the other flavors work together in this wine for the greater good. No prima donnas here to spoil a great team effort.

 Small Gully 2004, The Formula Robert’s Shiraz ($16.99): The Charles Barkley of wine:  A little flabbiness doesn’t matter if it’s doing everything else right . Just when you think it will be another over-the-top example of what Australia was doing wrong, structured flavors of mocha, dark fruit, and menthol arrive to give it game. 

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