Bottles That Make You Smile
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Let us now praise silly wine, the wine of summer and Indian summer. It is the nectar of boat and backpack and stadium, as well as the lawn at Wolf Trap while experiencing something wonderful by Puccini.
Let other throat-clearing oenophiles hymn the virtues of $100 burgundies, $80 barberas and California cabernets imbibed properly only on one's knees. My song is to the wine of the open road with the top down, the wine of the fair wind and the following sea, the wine of the tailgate party and the picnic basket and the one that lubricates the moonlight swim and the stroll among the autumn colors. Those are not really places for Chateau Margaux or Gevrey-Chambertin. What we're looking for in such locales is something approaching Vivaldi in a glass.
Silly wine is, first of all, festive. One could argue that all champagne is silly, what with that popping cork and all those bubbles, but here we must demur a bit at cost. Silly wine is by definition not serious, so it must not have a serious price. Silliness should be obtainable for less than $10.
Just because it's silly, however, doesn't mean it's not good. Silly wine should be both delicious and salubrious, thirst-quenching and companionable, intoxicating more in color than in content. Excessive alcohol may encourage silliness in the drinker, but it inhibits it in the wine. Somebody still needs to steer the boat after lunch.
But enough of generalities.
My own personal favorite among silly wines is a splendidly lighthearted rosé from California named Vin Gris de Cigare . This is produced by the Bonny Doon people in California, who were in such a good mood when they first produced it years ago that they used to put the label on backwards. You had to look through the soft-pink contents to read the name, which as I remember has something to do with a vineyard where workers are not allowed to throw cigar butts. Vin Gris de Cigare is very agreeable stuff indeed, the sort of highly drinkable palate pleaser that puts the lie to those who confuse all pink wine with cloying substances like white zinfandel.
White zinfandel or "blush" wine is not really wine at all. It's a sort of Kool-Aid beverage consumed by the children of parents who, under the spell of various regrettable substances, once drank Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill at Woodstock. That's not silly; that's scary.
It's true, however, that too many pink wines err on the side of sweetness (or sometimes, extreme tartness) and thus never rise to the level of silliness. Silly is not the same as trivial.
Vin Gris de Cigare, for example, is an even- tempered good sport, equally at home with a soy sauce-and-ginger-marinated flank steak or a chicken sandwich. It is particularly fine reaching eastward from Maryland's West River under a 15-knot northwesterly wind when the mainsail is behaving itself.
Silly wine, however, is nondenominational and democratic. It can be red or white or pink (or even green, in the case of Portugal) and can come from any country, though some are sillier than others. Almost all Italian white wines are silly, for example, particularly those bottled in the shape of vases or fish, and Italian sparkling wines might be the silliest of all.
Many would claim that all German white wines
are silly, to which partisans of long green and