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Michael Amsler

Grape expectations: Who says education has to be uninspiring? Our recommendation: Skip right to a glass of zin.

Wine primer: A-to-Z guide for fledgling oenologists

By Bob Johnson

KIDS are back in the swing of things at school, moms and dads are sipping vino for pure pleasure rather than parental escape ... so what better time to take an educational A-to-Z swing through the wonderful world of wine? Sonoma County-style, of course ...

Armida--A winery on Westside Road in Healdsburg that is perhaps the county's best-kept secret. Its hillside location provides a breathtaking view. Its mascot, a friendly mutt aptly named Wino, greets all visitors in the parking area and escorts them to the tasting room (assuming he's not snoozing). A friendly staff is happy to either educate or entertain. And the wines ... well, let's just say that for across-the-board quality, Armida is tough to beat.

Bordeaux--A word that, when printed on a wine label, typically adds several dollars to the price.

Cooperage--A fancy name for the oak barrels in which many wines are aged. Can also add several dollars to the price.

Dry--Describes a wine with no perceptible sweetness. You'll never see "dry" and "white zinfandel" in the same sentence. Add the word Creek, and you're describing one of the great places on earth for growing grapes to make "real" zinfandel.

Everett Ridge--The Healdsburg winery formerly known as Bellerose. (Not to be confused with the artist formerly known as Prince.)

Fighting Varietals--Low-priced supermarket wines generally made in huge quantities by huge wineries.

Geyser Peak--In its early years, this winery in Geyserville was affectionately referred to as "Geyser Plonk" by wine snobs. Then came the Aussie winemaker invasion of Daryl Groom, followed a few years later by Mick Schroeter, and everything changed. The wines got better and better, and several of the bottlings attained "world-class" status. This created considerable congestion in Geyser Peak's tiny tasting room. Now, even that minor annoyance has been addressed with the opening of the winery's brand-new, sparkling, 4,000-square-foot hospitality center. Visit. Sample. Then try to keep your wallet in your pocket or purse.

Harvest--A magical time of year (delayed several weeks this year by El Niño) when the world's entire population of fruit flies descends upon the world's vineyards. The Capistrano swallows have nothin' on these guys.

Isinglass--Like sturgeon? Good. This is a protein derived from sturgeon bladders that chemically reacts with excess tannins to help clarify, or "uncloud," a wine. As Paul Harvey would say at a time like this, "Now you know the rest of the story!"

Johnson's Alexander Valley Wines (no relation to the writer--Ed.)--Even if you don't like wine, a visit to this Healdsburg winery is worthwhile just to view the gorgeous Robert Morton theater pipe organ that's on display. Not sure whether 1925 was a great year for Sonoma County wines, but it certainly was a marvelous vintage for organs.

Kenwood--A winery in the town of the same name that this year is celebrating the 20th anniversary release of its acclaimed Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon. The 1994 bottling features the latest collectible Artist Series label, of course, and the juice inside ain't bad, either.

Lauscha--A community in Germany that currently is housing what is believed to be the world's largest champagne bottle. In just a few weeks, the 4-foot-6, 350-pound behemoth will arrive at the headquarters of Korbel Champagne Cellars in Guerneville. From there, this "millennium bottle," as the winery has dubbed it, will embark on a nationwide tour. In case you're wondering, the bottle is 120 times the size of a standard, 750-ml. wine bottle, and could serve 1,000 glasses of bubbly. Do the folks at Korbel know how to party or what?

Must--The mixture of juice, skins, seeds, pulp, and stem fragments produced when grapes are first crushed.

Napa--A word spoken in hushed, reverent tones by wine lovers who don't reside in Sonoma County.

Oenology--The study of wine. (Also a favorite word of wine scribes compiling A-to-Z lists.)

Punt--The indentation found in the bottom of some wine bottles, where the thumb is placed when pouring the wine. (Also a good thing to do on fourth-and-long when you're deep in your own territory. Hey, football fans drink wine, too!)

Quivira--Like zinfandel? Like Rhone-style wines? You'll love this Healdsburg winery.

Residual sugar--Unfermented sugars in a finished wine that add sweetness to the flavor. You'll almost always find a residual sugar listing--usually abbreviated "R.S."--on white zinfandel bottlings.

Stainless steel--Another material, like oak, used for making enclosures for aging wine. Unlike oak barrels, stainless steel tanks add no flavor components to the wine; they are said to be "neutral."

Terroir--A French term that describes the total environment associated with any grape-growing site (soil, weather, etc.).

Ull de Llebre--Catalonian name for the tempranillo grape.

Valley of the Moon Winery--After being closed for a few years, this winery in Glen Ellen is back and better than ever. For proof, try its first release of sangiovese, which will be unveiled this Saturday at the winery's "Festa Italiana." (For info on the festival, call 996-6941.)

Wein--German word for wine, pronounced "vine." (Use "terroir," "ull de llebre," and "wein" in the same sentence at your next wine party and impress your friends!)

Xeres--Another favorite among A-to-Z compilers, this is the French name for sherry.

Yield--The quantity of grapes in tonnage, or wine in gallons, that a vineyard or harvest produces. Because of the weather extremes created by El Niño, this year's yield is expected to be short by anywhere from 10 to 50 percent, depending on the vineyard.

Zinfandel--Perhaps the most versatile of all grapes because it can be made into so many different styles of wine. See: Dry.

Thanks for your attention. Class dismissed.

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From the October 22-28, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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