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January 07, 2006

Wine: Peter Franus Zinfandel

I will freely admit that I am a wine ignoramus.

Okay, not completely. I read Wine For Dummies, which is quite a good introduction to the basics of wine. I particularly like it for its relaxed attitude toward the whole subject. Sure, wine can be complicated. There is a whole art and science to making wines, aging wines (if they can take aging), serving wines, pairing them with food, and so on. But the fact is that the vast bulk of the world drinks whatever wine happens to be made locally, doesn't freak out if someone feels like pairing red wine with fish, and serves up the stuff in juice glasses rather than fantastically expensive crystal stemware specially designed to bring out its flavors. The basic message of Wine for Dummies is: don't sweat it, drink what you like, and don't let anybody tell you that you're wrong.

Well, unless you like white Zinfandel. In which case, even the authors of Wine For Dummies will shower you with scorn.

So, anyway, for the most part, I've taken this lesson to heart. It was a great relief to realize that I could stop trying to make myself like Chardonnay. I didn't care when Merlot was the hip thing to drink, and I don't care now that the movie Sideways has come out, and all the hip kids are disdaining Merlot for Pinot Noir. I drink what I like.

The trick is, in order to drink what you like, you've got to figure out what you like. And this basically means trying a bunch of stuff. And I don't actually drink that much. And until relatively recently, Mr. Spaceling didn't drink wine at all. Which didn't leave very much scope for experimentation.

However, since Mr. Spaceling discovered a couple of wines he could enjoy, we've been making a practice of getting a bottle of something or other now and again, and trying to keep some kind of track of what we enjoy and don't enjoy, so as to be able to cope more effectively when we're out at dinner, and somebody suggests ordering a bottle of wine for the table.

And here's where I have to confess - ordering wine in restaurants is one place where my normal I-drink-what-I-want-and-I-don't-care-what-you-think attitude breaks down a bit. First, because you totally know the waiter is sizing you up based on what you order. Second, because if you pick something crappy, everybody at the table has to drink it, and they might never let you pick the wine again, and then you might have to drink Chardonnay when you'd rather have Pinot Grigio. Third, because there's the whole ritual of having the bottle presented to you, and tasting the wine, and approving it. Would I know if the wine was off? Would I have the balls to send it back if it was off?

So, yes, I know it's silly. But ordering a bottle of wine in a restaurant can be a bit scary.

Last night, I took Mr. Spaceling to Evvia, in Palo Alto, for his birthday. (And it was a wonderful meal, by the way.) And he requested that I order wine.

So, I started perusing the list. I noticed, to my delight, that they had half bottles, which provides a good solution to another restaurant wine ordering dilemma: that if it's just me and Mr. Spaceling, we're never gonna be able to finish an entire bottle. (I know, one could just order wine by the glass. But that's no fun.) This had the additional advantage of shortening the list I had to consider. I chose, more or less at random, a half bottle of a Peter Franus Zinfandel. (I should emphasize that this is a red Zinfandel, and not at all like the white Zinfandel that the authors of Wine For Dummies scorn. Same grape, totally different wine.)

The waiter seemed slightly surprised by my choice. This worried me a bit. Was it not a good wine? Was it totally gauche to pair red Zinfandel with grilled octopus? Or was he just expressing an ill-concealed astonishment that an obvious wine ignoramus had made such an excellent choice?

When he came back with the bottle, he announced, "I love this wine. It is a pity they only make it in half bottles." Okay. Either he knows how to butter up a customer, or we'll go with option 3 above. He handed me the cork, which I examined, but did not sniff, following waiterrant's excellent post How to Order Wine Without Looking Like an Asshole. Then he poured a bit into my glass, and I took a sniff.

Wow. I mean, just wow. Seriously, folks, this is the best-smelling wine ever. Being a wine ignoramus, I lack the vocabulary to properly describe it but, I'll try. Fruity. Like grapes, and raspberry, maybe a hint of cherry. But just lovely to smell.

When I sipped, the fruit was still there, but other flavors as well. Savory ones, tart ones. As I said, I am an ignoramus, and I'm not really sure what I was tasting. But yeah: seriously yummy wine. Mr. Spaceling concurred.

But really, the most incredible thing about it was the smell. Occasionally, I would pick up my glass just to have another sniff. Mmmmm.

Peter Franus has a website, from which you can order the wine. What we had was the 2002 Napa Valley Zinfandel, and I have a feeling we're going to be ordering some.

Posted by spaceling at January 7, 2006 03:09 PM

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