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Wine without Pretense: Must have read that elsewhere
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Two words glimmer like a lighthouse to me during February in Northeast Georgia — Florida Keys.

But since we won’t be there this year, I’ll have to cultivate some warmth from emails, letters and phone calls I’ve received from readers over the past few months.

One of those phone calls was like a brick to the forehead. It was from a woman in Dahlonega who literally yelled at me. "You dimwit!" she declared. "You wrote about red chardonnay and everybody who knows anything about wine knows there is no such thing as a red chardonnay."

She then accused me of having committed a biological impossibility, involving my head and, um, other regions of my body ... and hung up.

I was truly puzzled. I had never written about "red chardonnay," except in a column years ago for another newspaper when I interviewed a wine store clerk who gleefully told me about a customer who insisted he had seen a red chardonnay and wanted a case of it. The clerk subsequently sold him a case of merlot.

The mystery was solved several days later when the same woman called me back. She did not give her name, but was very contrite.

In that time-honored Southern tradition of good manners — which she had somehow misplaced during the original call — she apologized. She had read some reference to this nonexistent wine somewhere else, not in my column.

"I am so embarrassed," she murmured. Then she hung up again. And I went searching for a glass of amontillado sherry with which to celebrate.

Not all my communications with readers are that exciting, and I’m trotting out a few this month. Note: I do respond personally to each inquiry when it comes in, and squirrel them away for a future column.

Question: What makes sauvignon blanc from New Zealand so different from wines from the same grape from other parts of the world? I really enjoy the New Zealand style.

Answer:What is known as the New Zealand style has evolved over the past decade or so in a response to California winemakers loading up their sauvignon blanc — also known as fume blanc — with oak smells and tastes.

Also, while some West Coast vintners blend other grapes with their sauvignon blanc, New Zealanders do not. One of my favorite NZ sauvignon blancs is the current offering from Cloudy Bay. The 2011 edition is stellar.

Q: What is the difference between petite sirah and sirah? Is one just smaller than the other?

A:Petite sirah, however, is more closely related to the pinot noir grape, and produces, in its best iterations, red wines that are much softer in the mouth than a sirah, syrah, shiraz.Petite sirah (also petite syrah) and sirah (also syrah or shiraz) are very different grapes. Syrah is most popular in this country thanks to the Australians, who dissected the American palate and delivered a flood of juicy, fruity, mouth-filling red wines to our shores.

One of the best California petite sirahs comes from the legacy winery operated by the Foppiano family. It has been their trademark wine for decades. The 2009 vintage is a great winter red, snuggling up comfortably with hearty beef stews and roasts. We sampled ours with a venison roast and found it great. And the Foppiano version boasts a screwtop ... which allows me to segue into the next query.

Q: I thought only cheap, not-so-good wines used screwtops instead of cork. But lately I’m seeing more and more bottles with the screwtop. What gives?

A: If you don’t finish the bottle in one sitting the screwtop seals the bottle. And most screwtop bottles will accommodate a vacuum sealer, which pulls air from the bottle. Frankly, I love them. The verdict is still out, however, on how these tops will interact with wines given to long aging.

Screwtop = cheap is an equation I’ve been fighting for the last few years. The screwtop really is a great way to seal a bottle of wine ... unless that wine is intended to be stashed away for many years. It keeps oxygen out and flavors in. You don’t have to worry about finding your corkscrew, and you surely do not have to worry about cork taint.

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on


I agree with your preference. I, too, love the crisp, citrussy style of this white wine from Kiwi-land. Winemakers there like to let the fruit express itself. The overwhelming majority use no oak — not for fermenting, not for aging. This results in a wine that is very dry, unalloyed with distracting aromas and flavors imparted by oak barrels or other oak contact.