Growing up, my family played board games to pass the time. The marathon Monopoly and Risk sessions between my competitive family members provided hours of tense entertainment. Then Trivial Pursuit launched and my friends and I wasted fledgling brain cells learning names of leading men and women from '40s and '50s films. Montgomery Clift means something to me because the pink pie category had him seemingly on every card. I didn't win Trivial Pursuit very often, but at least something stuck in my young brain.
But now there is a bit of relief for my damaged ego: wine games. A flurry of them has been released in the past few years, all based on trivial, yet educational, wine facts. To liven up an otherwise uneventful home tasting, inject some wine trivia into the fray to separate the men from the boys, or maybe just learn something new about your favorite beverage. Some games require an initial 10 minutes of sobriety, like Worldwide Wines ($40), complete with fake money, appellation descriptions and country cards. Others, like WineSmarts ($25) are easy to play — albeit not well — after a bottle of wine per person.
The most highbrow game, Worldwide Wines centers on buying vineyards of the world, ranging from Napa Valley to Long Island to South Africa's Constantia, using a fairly comprehensive world appellation map. You start with 22 million fake bucks and answer wine trivia to get ahead. The multiple choice and true/false questions range from easy to difficult, but after the third glass, all of it became challenging. It did, however, get a bit boring and we found ourselves altering the rules to have more fun.
Another game, Wine Teasers ($13), focuses more on situational wine scenarios, like what wine would pair well with what food. I found the questions a bit subjective, but the explanations had some interesting info in them.
My favorite, and also the easiest to follow with alcohol in one's system, is WineSmarts. It has uncomplicated score cards to record correct answers, and fairly evenhanded trivia ranging from challenging to simple.
If you have no clue about wine, but would like to have one, simply browsing the cards can impart some wisdom. Sample questions: If you buy a California wine with 1999 vintage, what percentage of the grapes must have been harvested in that year? (Answer: 95 percent). What is the principal white grape from Bordeaux? (Answer: Sauvignon Blanc). What does Blanc de Blancs mean on a bottle of sparkling wine? (Answer: a sparkling wine made from only Chardonnay grapes). Good stuff, I think.
Murphy Goode 2003 Island Block Chardonnay Alexander Valley (California) Creamy, dreamy and buttery, with vibrant tangerine, peach, pear and a dash of woodsiness. Sweetness = 3. $18. 4 stars.
Ridge Cellars 2004 Zinfandel Paso Robles (California) Elegant, sultry and juicy — the kind of wine you'd want to start sexual relations with. Port-like in flavor, with roasted cherry followed by pronounced raisins and dried plums. Drink daily, if you can afford it. Sw = 4. $28. 4 stars.
Dry Creek Vineyard 2005 Chenin Blanc (California) Chenin Blanc is a grape from the Loire Valley region of France, which is normally made in a sweeter style. Dry Creek labels this bottle "dry" so you'll know it's not loaded with sugar. Tart green apple, lemon and wet slate mix and bathe the tongue in some fun. It's full-bodied enough to please Chardonnay drinkers. Sw = 1. $12. 3.5 stars.
Bellingham 2004 Chardonnay South Africa A new guy on the scene, this South African Chardonnay is creamy with tangerine and smooth vanilla ice cream topped with chunks fragrant honeydew melon. Flavors flow well together. Bellingham has a delicious Sauvignon Blanc. Sw = 2. $12. 3.5 stars.
Sweetness (Sw) rating is out of 10, 10 being pure sugar. Star rating is out of 5, 5 being wine nirvana.