30 Second Wine Advisor: Wine: Drink it or think it?

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Wine maps, Metro style

De Long does it again with Dr. David Gissen's new Metro WIne Map of California, a follow-up to his critically acclaimed Metro Wine Map of France. It's a fun and informative way to look at the wine regions, laid out pictorially in the format of a Paris Metro or New York subway map. These quality 18 x 24 inch maps are $24.95, £20 or 20€. Click the links above or visit De Long Company online

Wine: Drink it or think it?

"You know you're a wine 'geek' if ..." This recent wine meme has been getting a lot of circulation on Facebook and in our WineLovers Discussion Group forums recently, with online wine enthusiasts happily exchanging one-liners that seek to distinguish tech-oriented wine "geeks" from old-school wine "enthusiasts" or even mere wine "snobs."

A lot of the responses have been both funny and true. "You always keep a wine glass stored in your trunk 'just in case'," for instance. Or "You grab the Wine List and you start referencing online sites to find the best value."

I like my contribution, "You spend dinner Googling for some obscure bit you spotted on the wine label," because I think it says something significant about those of us who don't just like to drink wine but to think about wine.

Take last night, please. What should have been the simple act of uncorking and enjoying a bottle of Gerard Bertrand 2008 Minervois turned into an excursion into geekery for a couple of reasons.

* Plug ugly, revisited: First, when I uncorked the bottle I realized that I wasn't un-"corking" it, I was pulling out one of those flesh-colored plastic plugs. Thinking, "Uh oh, I hope this 2008 has held up under this inferior stopper," I suddenly realized how much my thinking has changed over a decade.

Back when the cosmic clock was about to tick over into the 2000s, there was so much outrage over the unacceptable incidence of moldy, musty, mushroomy "cork taint" in quality wines that most of us were ready to embrace any alternative to tree-bark cork. Screw caps? Bring 'em on! Plastic plugs? Glass apothecary stoppers? Let's have 'em!

What ever happened to that controversy, anyway? Cork taint certainly still exists, but over a decade or more, the combination of alternative closures, new-technology cork-based closures like Diam, and ramped-up cork quality control by better producers has damped down the debate. I have rarely encountered corked wines in recent years, and - perhaps happily - it's no longer easier to ignite a noisy discussion among wine geeks by throwing a cork on the table.

I'm still delighted to see a wine under a sturdy Stelvin screw cap. But it occurred to me as I yanked this zombie-shaded plug that plastic stoppers don't impress me any more. They may be taint-free, but experience has demonstrated that they simply aren't effective at keeping wine free from oxidation, a fault that's just about as serious. I'd just as soon not see these stoppers any more.

* What's an AOP? My next geeky revelation had me scurrying for my iPad. Checking all the fine print on the label (doesn't everybody do that?), I suddenly noticed something strange. In place of the usual French "Appellation Minervois Controllee," signalling that the wine's origin within the legal bounds of Minervois was "controlled," it read "Appellation Minervois Protegee ("protected").

That may seem like a small change, but the French wine appellation laws have been enshrined in legal codes for almost a century, so even a trivial alteration asks questions, such as, "Why?" and "What's that about?"

It turns out that AOP is a new designation set up by the European Union, similar to the AOC but crossing national borders - we may start seeing "DOP/DOPG" supplanting "DOC" and "DOCG" in Italy, as well, and so on around the continent. Ditto for the lower-rank geographical designation, heretofore "Vin de Pays" ("Wine of the Country"), changing to "IGP" ("protected geographical indication").

The new designations cover not only wine but cheese, olives and other agricultural products considered as reflecting the "terroir" or sense of the specific location where they are grown. Although the new rules were passed in 2009, they allow ample time for implementation, and may not ever entirely replace the old rule, as producers approved for AOP may choose to continue using the AOC label instead.

European regulators reportedly hope to use the approval process to reduce Europe's wine "glut" by nudging producers considered substandard out of the market, offering their wines for commercial distillation into industrial alcohol.

And in a related move that may provide additional clarity for consumers of wines from Europe, all wine labels may now specify both the grape variety and vintage. In the past, a confusing patchwork of regulations has forbidden this practice in many cases.

It was a good wine-geek time spent exploring; a good dinner, and a very good wine, a fine Old World Syrah-Carignan blend at a reasonable toll. You'll find my tasting report below.

Today's Tasting Report

Gerard Bertrand 2008 Minervois ($13.99)

Gerard Bertrand

Blackish purple, dark and just faintly hazy, showing ruby glints against the light. Good ripe black-plum aromas with a gentle whiff of freshly ground black pepper. Simple but fresh and clean black fruit flavors on the palate, well structured by food-friendly acidity, rational 13.5% alcohol, and firm but palatable tannic astringency. A blend of Syrah and Carignan in equal proportions, it's a fine Old World Syrah blend at a reasonable toll; worth a try if only as a re-calibration against the in-your-face high alcohol and huge fruit and oak approach of so many modern New World Syrahs. U.S. importer: USA Wine West LLC, Sausalito, Calif. (May 3, 2012)

FOOD MATCH: Soufflé-style spinach cakes make a surprisingly good, if offbeat pairing; the wine label suggests more traditional matches with "beef, sausages or pasta with red sauce."

VALUE: The lower middle teens is a fair place for this good, balanced Old World red, and consistent with the $13 average price it shows on Wine-Searcher.com.

Minervois = "Mi-nehr-vwah"

This link will download the winery's tech sheet on Gerard Bertrand Minervois.

This wine should be fairly widely distributed, but unfortunately the free version of Wine-Searcher.com lists only a few vendors. Check with your local wine shops or try contacting USA Wine West, the importer, for information about sources near you.

Talk About Wine Online

If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about today's article or wine in general, you're always welcome to drop by our online WineLovers Discussion Group, the Internet's first and still the most civil online community. To find our forums, click:

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Once your registration has been approved, which usually happens quickly, you'll be able to participate in all our online wine, food and travel forums.

To contact me by E-mail, write wine@wineloverspage.com. I'll respond personally to the extent that time and volume permit.

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