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Century Club

by Jennifer Rosen

A picnic basket should be wicker with a red or blue gingham tablecloth spilling gaily out. Not like my Soviet box, solid as the case of an old Remington and packed with three steel cups and a confused assortment of openers, muddlers and other tools. But it’s beautiful to me because I won it in a blind tasting.

It wasn’t easy. I mustered all my training and experience, taking copious notes on color, smell, taste, mouth-feel and finish, and tapping into my knowledge of terroir and climate in the world’s wine regions. None of which did me the least amount of good. The multiple choice answers made it clear that I had never heard of any of the grapes. The wines might as well have come from Mars, for all I knew about them.

Ancient, SAT-honed strategies saved me in the end: when in doubt, choose #3 or a word that starts with S. That and pondering aloud while scrutinizing judges for that inadvertent flinch known to poker players as the “tell.”

This all took place at Lo Scalco, a wonderful new restaurant in New York, at the inaugural dinner of the Wine Century Club. New members were initiated with much ceremony and awarded an engraved diploma and silver tastevin on a neck-ribbon. To qualify, you had to have tasted at least 100 different grapes. An impressive feat, if not quite as daunting as the requirements for extreme organizations like the Polar Bears (nope, forget it) or the Mile High Club (yup, remember it).

The club is an outgrowth of Steve and Deborah DeLong’s Wine Grape Varietal Table, a charming marriage of art and geekery that organizes 180 grapes by weight, acidity, color, tannins and country. What began as a series of post-it notes on the wall, constantly shifting as experts and idiots weighed in with their opinions, is now a handsome, frame-worthy chart that all wine lovers should own.

The Delongs want to turn you on to new grapes. The movie Sideways may have halted the Merlot reflex plaguing our country for lo these many years, but it merely turned the herd and sent it stampeding off after Pinot Noir. While that path is being beaten to a pulp, the side roads bloom with gorgeous grapes you’ve never heard of.

Just as the acne-faced nerd leaves the toxic environment of high-school prom and finds studliness in the world of IT, so certain grapes, Malbec and Grenache for example, turn from the thankless role as blending grape to stardom in other soils. Others, even more obscure, are doing what they’ve always done, only better. Each of the following grapes deserves its own column, but a short intro will have to do for now.

Among whites: crisp, spanking Silvaner and Scheurebe from Germany; Languedoc’s “lip-stinging” Picpoul – the perfect picnic pour; Torrontes - Argentina’s fragrant, flowery alternative to Chardonnay; and dozens from Italy, including Campania’s nutty Fiano and flinty Greco di Tufo, the herbal, apply Erbaluce of Caluso and a trio of Vibrant V’s: Vernacchia, Verdiccio and Vermentino.

Reds you should shake hands with include the ancient, dark, peppery Pineau d’Aunis of the Loire; berry-fragrant Bonarda from Argentina: the plummy tobacco and leather of Lagrein from Trento-Alto Adige; Umbria’s cherry - spicy Sagrentino; and Sicily’s answer to Syrah, the rich, violet Nero D’Avola.

Don’t let the strange names spook you; no one else can pronounce them either. One up-and-comer, Hungary’s Cserszegi Fuszeres, is marketed as The Unpronounceable Grape.

Become an eno-explorer and before you know it, you, too, could be eligible for the Century Club. You’re probably closer than you think since so many wines are blends. Bordeaux and Port, for instance, commonly use five different grapes and Châteauneuf-du-Pape contains up to thirteen.

I’ll leave you with a pro’s tip for your next blind tasting: if it comes to a draw, fold your entry in accordion pleats. The pointy parts will stick up and make it more likely to be chosen. Hey, it worked for me.

© Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Jennifer Rosen - Jennifer Rosen, award-winning wine writer, educator and author of Waiter, There’s a Horse in My Wine, and The Cork Jester’s Guide to Wine, writes the weekly wine column for the Rocky Mountain News and articles for magazines around the world. Jennifer speaks French and Italian, mangles German, Spanish and Arabic, and works off the job perks with belly dance, tightrope and trapeze. Read her columns and sign up for her weekly newsletter at:

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