Message on a (wine) bottle

The Baltimore Sun

I am no wine connoisseur. If blindfolded, however, I can easily discern a nice chardonnay from a cup of chilled rice vinegar, or a sangria from a Capri Sun fruit cooler. So clearly I have an above average "nose" when it comes to wine. I also have an above average nose when it comes to noses.

But, I will let you in on a secret. I don't read wine magazines or do any sort of wine research. Also, I rarely pay attention to what is supposed to pair with what. I figure, why should I take someone else's advice when I have seen many incongruous pairings in nature that appear to work well together? For example, John and Cindy McCain.

Finally, I don't even read the helpful notes or ratings on the shelf displays in the wine store. Again, these reviews are indicative of someone else's opinion, and I am more likely to take a friend's recommendation over an unknown's. And perhaps my advertising background comes into play here: I know how easy it is to make anything sound good. For example, "a selection of choice Iowan corn-fed beef, ground and blended with toasted seven-grain bread crumbs, delicate hand-picked herbs and farm-fresh eggs," is actually "meatloaf."

Yet with my avowed and determined ignorance of the standard methodology for wine selection, I have managed to introduce my friends to vintages that they insist are pretty good.

But when they ask me how I picked a particular wine, my moment of delight is over, and replaced with a genuine sense of embarrassment. Because I must reveal that I have no wine experience, knowledge, or system whatsoever. What's worse, the wines I bring as a gift when I'm invited to dinner are wines that I likely have never tasted before.

I only bought them because I liked the label.

One thing's for sure: selecting wines by the label does make the shopping experience less intimidating. When a salesperson approaches and asks, "Can I help you?" you can confidently answer, "No, thank you." Because you are not shopping for a wine; you are shopping for a funny or beautiful or lively label, and only you will know it when you see it.

I found a wine called "Three Sisters" that is just perfect for the obvious gathering of sisters at a wedding or baby shower, or any three women who are good friends. "Red Truck" is the ideal wine for anyone who drives one of any color. "L'ecole #41 Recess Red" is excellent for retired teachers. Church potluck? "Cardinal Zin" would have to be my recommendation there.

Cotes du Rhone wines - any numbers of varieties of reds or whites from a specific region in France - are generally fine wines with pedigrees and labels that feature a lot of curlicue lettering and etchings of chateaux. You can't go wrong. But "Goats do Roam" is a South African red that sells for about $9 a bottle, and always gets a laugh as a hostess gift. "Marilyn Merlot" is a great birthday-gift wine, especially when accompanied by your hoarse, sultry rendition of "Happy Birthday."

Obviously, I have many absurd, uneducated wine suggestions for you. So let's cut this column short and go immediately to the Janet's World Q&A; section, "Ask the Label Lady."

Dear Label Lady: At what temperature should wine be when you bring it to a dinner party? - Name withheld, Ellicott City.

It should be the exact temperature of the trunk of your vehicle.

Dear Label Lady: Isn't picking a wine solely by its label kind of risky? Isn't it possible the wine will not live up to its label? Why would anyone in his right mind use your method? - Name Withheld, Fort Meade.

Yup. Uh-huh. I dunno.

Dear Label Lady: What kinds of wines have you purchased for yourself, based on your label system? - Name Withheld, Bel Air.

"Van Rouge" fits my lifestyle. "Therapy" is as good as any, in my opinion. And "Mad Housewife" is always, always apropos.

Contact Janet at janet@janetgilbert.net

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