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Wine without pretense: Readers ask about aerators, terms, picnic wine
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Wine of the month

The wine: Dashe Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2008

The grapes: 93 percent zinfandel, 5 percent petite sirah, 2 percent carignane

The source: Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California

The verdict: This big beauty widened some eyes in my Brenau University wine class recently. This is classic zinfandel, redolent of spicy, herby flavors wrapped around lots of dark fruit tastes - black cherries, plums. I detected a hint of coffee in the nose, too. Most folks liked this wine because it is big and muscular. Others disliked it for the same reason. Dashe is plunk in the middle of prime zinfandel country, and this wine shows its pedigree. This is my kind of sipping wine, but it will mate well with hearty fare - grilled steaks, roasts, lamb, etc. Remember: Chill it slightly before serving, about 15 minutes in the fridge. And it should age well for another five years or so.

The price: About $24

In last month's column, the second installment taking us around the world seeking signature grapes in countries and regions, I mentioned getting feedback from readers. All three of them called or emailed.

I get phone calls, emails and the occasional low-tech note with questions and observations. I pack them away in the electronic squirrel cage I call a computer (it's the world's only coal-powered PC) and dig them up once or twice a year to share them with others.

If you have a question about wine, just drop me a note. My email address is under my photo and at the end of this column, or send a letter via The Times. Remember that there is no such thing as a dumb question ... except the one you don't ask.

Q: I've been reading about wine aerators. A friend has one and he swears by it. Just what are they and do they work?

A: Wine aerators are little bits of wildly overpriced plastic that pass extra air through the wine as it's being poured from the bottle into the glass. As a First Class Luddite, I have viewed them with skepticism, just another gadget to separate wine drinkers from their money.

I'm having second thoughts, however. What aerators are supposed to do is similar to what the process of decanting does, without the decanter. You plug one of these gizmos into the top of the wine bottle and pour. Air is sucked into the gurgling wine driving extra oxygen into it.

I've read critiques of them and, while these reviews have been mixed, they have been largely positive. So I tried one. I poured an inexpensive Australian shiraz directly into a glass, swirled it and tasted it. Then I plugged in the aerator and poured the wine through it. The difference was noticeable; the fruit was brighter, and the wine tasted a bit more mature.

I may invest in one, and I may not. I'm not only a Luddite, I'm cheap.

Q: I often see the terms "estate bottled" and "reserve" on American wines. What do those terms mean?

A: The first reference actually has some legal clout behind it. "Estate bottled" is a term that, under federal regulations, indicates that either all or nearly all the fruit that went into making the wine must have been grown on the estate of the producer. It generally indicates this wine is of above-average quality.

"Reserve," however, has no legal standing, in this country. Some wine producers actually do offer a better quality wine and slap a "reserve" on the label. Others, however, just use the word to dress up the bottle.

In theory, "reserve" should mean a wine made in smaller quantities than "regular" bottlings, using higher grade fruit with more tender loving care in the grape-growing and wine-making processes.

Q: I'm giving a casual picnic in mid-June for about 10-12 friends. It won't be anything fancy, burgers and sausages on the grill with the usual picnic accompaniments. I want to serve a fun wine, nothing too expensive, but something cold to go nicely with a warm June day and picnic food. Any suggestions?

A: Yes! The bride and I gathered recently one night in May around a neighbor's chiminea. It was dark and crisply cool with a roaring fire throwing off furnace-like heat. Almost like a June day in Georgia, without the sun.

One of the wines I provided was a big hit, Barefoot Bubbly Rose Cuvee, a bargain bin "champagne." It's loaded with bubbles, light, fruity but not sweet, and it's a lovely pink - that, unfortunately, nobody could see at night.

This is a good, fun picnic wine and you should be able to find it in most wine stores and supermarkets. Serve it very cold and avoid agitating the bottles before opening them. For 10-12 people, I'd get three bottles and keep them in ice water, opening only one bottle at a time. At about $12, it's priced right. Enjoy!

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