Conversation Pieces 

A compendium of useless yet intriguing wine facts.

Holiday parties -- especially those with crappy food and drink -- can really suck. But, like a bird that strategically aims its business for a clean car, a carefully plopped comment can make anyone raise an eyebrow or chuckle. I've compiled a list of completely geeky, useless wine facts to drop on unsuspecting bores, if only to entertain yourself.

• Studies have shown that the more you know about wine, the better experience you will have with it. In brain experiments while consuming the juice, experts showed activity in the frontal cortex -- where memory and emotion are processed -- while the laymen did not. Moral: Drink more wine, and you too can have increased brain activity.

• Two out of three bottles of wine sold in the U.S. are from California. Take that, snobby French.

• There are over 3,500 wineries in the United States -- and apparently growing by the day in no-longer-so-scenic Napa Valley. Can anyone say Disneyland?

• Vineyard land in Napa Valley now goes for $100,000 acre, with prime locations selling for over $200,000.

• The next new trend out of Australia is wine in a can. Try to think of vending machines without shivering with anticipation.

• The United Kingdom is the largest importer of American wines, with other big markets including the Netherlands, Germany, France, Ireland, and Denmark. So the Brits do have taste after all.

• Costco is the country's leading retailer of wine, selling more than $598 million worth of wine in 2002.

• In 2004, red wine edged out white wine sales for the first time in recent history. The health-benefit report has been heard, ladies and gentlemen.

• Slovenia is purported to have the oldest grapevine in the world, at 400 years. The Zametovka vine still produces 77 to 121 pounds of grapes per year, enough to make 100 eight-ounce bottles.

• Lightly chilling a red wine will make it taste less astringent and tannic. If you serve it around 65 degrees -- the original "room temperature" -- the wine will taste more balanced than when served at 78 degrees, the current version of room temperature.

• Wine is produced in every state in the United States. It's not all drinkable, but it's available. The best wines that I've tried, outside of California and New York, can be found in New Mexico, Texas, North Carolina, and Virginia.

• The cork oak tree takes 40 to 45 years before a sapling can produce a stopper thick and consistent enough for wine. And, like a tourist, it prefers sunny, mild climates.

• The wire cage on a Champagne bottle is called a "muselet" and comes from the French word "to muzzle."

• White wine gets red wine stains out, if poured on the spot immediately after a spill. I've tried it. It works.

• My favorite drinking toasts:

"To lying, cheating, stealing, and drinking -- may you lie to save your brother, may you cheat death, may you steal someone's heart, and may you drink with me."

"Friendship's the wine of life. Let's drink of it and to it."

Happy partying.

Recommended Wines

Oberon 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) -- Smooth, elegant texture, black-pepper spicy, rich dark cherry, chocolaty, and most certainly decadent. Amazing deal on a very high-quality Cabernet from the famed Napa Valley. $19

Palandri 2004 Sauvignon Blanc Boundary Road SE (Australia) -- A simple, drinkable Sauv Blanc from down under with hints of green grass and lime. An everyday wine. $10

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