Music to Your Mouth

Popular wines, up and down the dial

Churning out pithy wine descriptors every week is no easy task. Some critics don't even bother, since fashioning creative imageries each week becomes overwhelming. But it's got to be the same for other critics, 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, just for shits and giggles, I could match up the two genres and see what happens. The result follows:

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 completely hedonistic. Missy Elliott, with her commendable I-don't-give-a-shit attitude, also gets in there.

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, the chard trends change each year to please the fickle masses. Over the years, U2, the everlasting Irish rock band, has had the ability to morph its sound to change with the times. From acidic, corrosive guitar sounds to a smooth, elegant groove, their music makes a statement the way a good California chardonnay should.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 evoke Johnny Cash, with his gruff, smoky vocals. Fruity shiraz, delicate and sweeter, is more like John Mayer — uncomplicated and appealing to everybody, everyday.

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.

Recommended Wines

Fattoria Le Terrazze 2004 Rosso Conero (Italy) Bright, fun cherry with some tart acids that zing. Old school Michael Jackson dance music. Delicious and cheap. Sw = 1. $10. 4 stars

Bogle 2002 Phantom (California) Port-like in flavor, with hearty raisins and prunes, dark black cherries and fresh blackberries inching their way in. Big, beefy and not for the faint of heart. Allow to breathe before you drink it. Nine Inch Nails kind of wine. Sw = 3. $22. 4 stars

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