It was recently brought to my attention that I have a significant high school reunion coming up, and because I served as class president, it is my official duty to plan said reunion, negotiate the where and how our tiny, well-dispersed class can reconvene and judge each other’s successes over the past decade. Actually, I’m not so cynical about the whole thing, I’m really looking forward to seeing faces I haven’t seen in a very long time, opening those letters we wrote to ourselves as high school seniors, and digging up yearbooks…which I love. No, seriously. I love yearbooks. I love the earnestness of Sharpie’d messages scrawled across inside covers, upside down, in circles, around photos, I love that we always meant “keep in touch” and “stay sweet” and every other generic thing we wrote.
One thing about those yearbooks, though, we never got to have those elections, you know? The ones where somebody is the Class Clown, or Leader of the Pack, or Most Likely to be Caught Under the Bleachers with the Chemistry Teacher, things like that. Mostly I think that has to do with our class size, 28 women strong, a number most likely requiring the divvying out of some kind of “award” to each student rather than just a small set (perhaps a repeat of what I recall of my preschool graduation, my four-year-old self baffled by a classmate’s receiving of the “Yellowest Award” due to her fascination for coloring only with a yellow crayon). Still, I feel like I missed something back then, so I’m going to make up for it now combining past and current fascinations. I give you the Yearbook Elections for Wine.
Most Likely to Succeed: Young Bordeaux
What’s sleek, robust, tightly wound, and literally designed to rule the wine world? Why, Young Bordeaux, of course! Step aside, easy-drinkers: these wines really do have something to prove. Long considered a sparkling gem in the viticultural kingdom, Bordeaux, a region tucked into France’s west coast, produces certainly some of the most collectable, most sought after, and most prestigious (read: expensive) wines in the world. Sure, wines designated as “first growths” in the 1855 classification are now astronomically expensive (like set aside two months of rent for a bottle kind of costly), but there are plenty of little growers and negociants who find high quality stuff, and though you may not know their name off the bat, a little digging gives you a good picture of what you’ll be getting into. Sit down, California Cab. You may have the spotlight for the next few years, but this guy’s going to go far, and has already been doing it for centuries.
Best Dressed: Champagne
Elegant, lacy, powerful, making statements all over the place—Champagne has to be the World’s Classiest Beverage, head-to-toe finesse and shine. We’re not talking about labels here…this lady’s got so much style, it starts inside the bottle. Certainly some of the most carefully crafted and difficult wines to make, Champagne only ever contains three grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Munier. A base wine is made and bottled, just like you’d make any other wine, but then it’s topped off with a mixture of yeast and sugar called a dosage. Then, fermentation starts again and the byproduct is a host of fine, tiny bubbles. With colors like sheer gold, vibrant honey, salmon, or deep rose, Champagne has something to match every occasion, brunches, graduations, bridal showers, new job, new baby, new shoes—they’re always prettier with a glass of Champagne.
Most Athletic: Barolo
This wine will be the first to tell you that being powerful isn’t all about brawn. Hailing from the northwestern Italian region of Piedmont, this wine is always one hundred percent Nebbiolo, a grape native to the region that packs major punch. Because of its thin skin, the wines produced from Nebbiolo are often lighter in color than wine we typically dub burly (think of an inky purple Aussie Shiraz), but sneaky tannins and powerful acid swing and deliver a phenomenal one-two punch. Not only does Barolo have the nickname “King of Wines” in its region, it also has a softer side. Aromas of rose petals, fresh or dried, mix with dark, biting cherry and almost always reveal a deep earthy minerality as well. It’s well balanced, can be explosive, but has great endurance, and if you think it’s good now, just wait ten years.
Party Animal: Cava
Sometimes wines just wanna have fun. Cava, Spain’s most popular version of sparkling wine, can be made of almost any grape and be from almost anywhere in the country, but is most often found in the Penedes region on the eastern mountainous side. While Champagne may take the cake for Classiest Beverage and though winemakers use the same “traditional method” as Champagne growers, Cava brings the fun to the party with a little less austerity. Not all Cavas are created equal, sure, but for the most part, price-to-quality ratio is out of this world. You don’t even have to feel bad about mixing some of the less expensive versions with OJ or topping off sangria.
Cutest Couple: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
Brangelina, you can get in line: this couple’s been hanging out for centuries and it’s not likely to stop now. Where you find one, you often find the other, most famously from the gorgeous slopes of Burgundy in France where they’re known, in general terms, as Red Burgundy (always Pinot Noir) and White Burgundy (always Chardonnay). But the two don’t stop there. Road tripping across American climates similar to Burgundy’s, like the Willamette Valley in Oregon and parts of California (especially Carneros), this pair thrives together, always picking up little souvenirs—flavors and aromas—from where they’ve been. They even feature prominently blended in Champagne. And even though Chardonnay is a read-to-roll, will-grow-about-anywhere kind of grape and Pinot Noir is more finicky and affectionately known as the Heartbreak Grape, the two prove opposites can attract in brilliant ways.
A brief caveat, for the geeks out there: these are the broadest of brushstrokes for general genres of wine and there are loads of exceptions to these crude renderings. I appreciate your patience and suspension of specificity for the sake of fun.
Katie Callahan is a wine educator and former manager of Bin 201 Wine Sellers in Annapolis.
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