Popular wines, up and down the dial 

Churning out pithy wine descriptors for a regular column is no easy task. Some critics don't even do them since fashioning creative imageries 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 giggles, I could match up wine and music and see what happens:

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 hedonistic. Rapper 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 has had the ability to morph its sound to change with the times. From acidic, corrosive guitar sounds to a smooth, elegant groove, the band's 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, citrus-y, 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 radios, 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 reflect Johnny Cash, with his gruff, smoky vocals. Fruity Shiraz, delicate and sweeter, is more like John Mayer -- uncomplicated and appealing to everybody, every day.

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 their youthful days, of course.

Recommended Wines

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

Bogle 2002 Phantom (California) -- $22. Port-like in flavor, with hearty raisins and prunes, dark black cherries, and blackberries inching in. Big, beefy, and not for the faint of heart. Let breathe before drinking. A Nine Inch Nails kind of wine.


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