How Dry You Are

Party your way to an unshakable understanding of what "dry" wine really is



1. Guinness, in the pub-can;

Jane Sherman

2. Another really dry beer, like Japanese Asahi Dry or Sapporo, an extra-dry Pilsner like Pilsner Urquell or Staropramen, or a dry Abbey beer, like Chimay "Cinq Cents" (the white cap).



1. A dry cracker, like Carr's plain old water crackers, or plain matzoh, or some other cracker on those dry lines;

2. A buttery cracker, like Carr's croissant crackers, or Club crackers, or what have you.



1. A dry cheese, such as pecorino Romano, the aged sheep's-milk cheese, or any of the dry Sicilian, Sardinian, or southern Italian hard sheep's-milk cheeses;

2. Mascarpone, that lightest, sweetest, most barely-a-cheese veil of sweet cream.



1. Grapes, both green table grapes and the sweetest red or black ones you can find;

2. A green Granny Smith apple;

3. Some ripe something or other, like cantaloupe, mango, or strawberry.


You'll also need at least two wine glasses per taster, and two juice glasses or shot glasses for the beer. Got 'em? Now we are off and running.

Sit on down. Pour everyone two little tastes of beer. The Guinness, the other. Try them. What do you notice about the different smells of the two things? What about the finish, the sensations you have in your mouth, palate, and head after you swallowed the stuff? Isn't it funny that we're thinking about a quality of "dry" as regards to things that are, quite literally, wet? Discuss.

Everyone should now eat a dry cracker, and then a buttery one. Have some dry cheese; notice the parch and tang it creates? Now, have some mascarpone. Isn't mascarpone grand?

Oops, I now realize that we forgot to gather one thing. You'll also need a number of thoughts about bananas.

Are you thinking about bananas? Really thinking about them?

First, get out your thoughts about green, underripe bananas. They're hard, they taste kind of chalky, what else? Okay, now, get out your thoughts about a big, ripe, yellow banana. It's ripe, it smells fruity, it's sweet and just totally ultra-banana, right? Okay. Now, conjure from your internal mists the thought of an overripe banana covered with brown spots. Maybe your mom is trying to convince you it's perfectly fine and you should take it in your lunchbox. I don't know. In any event, that banana is overripe. Now we have grappled with the three ages of fruit: not fully ripe, ripe, and overripe. Ripe, full, sweet, plush, and fruity are the opposite of dry.

Some of the driest wines in the world are made with just those green bananas. Well, of course they're not, but I wanted to get your attention. Now that I've got it, picture yourself as a Chardonnay grape. You're a fruit; you like the sun. Except, cruel fate has seen fit to plant you in the dark, gray, cold world of the Champagne area of France. (Champagne is the Seattle of France, except with a little less rain and a lot fewer kayaking shoes worn to black-tie events.) You sit there, in the cold Seattle of France, with the chill winds of the Atlantic constantly driving black clouds above your head, and you think of dying. Then you think you won't. You think you might just order in some Thai and warm up. Then you remember you're a grapevine, and you think about dying some more. At the end of the growing season all you have been able to produce is a few smallish, none-too-ripe grape clusters. A Frenchman twirling his moustache harvests your grape clusters, takes them to his chateau, and turns them into one of the driest wines there is: Blanc de Blancs Champagne.

So, it's time to pop the cork on your real French Champagne and pour everyone a glass. See how dry it is? Like the dry beer and the dry cheese, it makes your mouth feel parched and zingy. Blanc de Blancs means sparkling wine made solely with the white grape varietal Chardonnay. (Every wine we will be tasting tonight is made only with the Chardonnay grape, because I wanted you all to be able to compare apples to apples.)

Okay, while you were tasting the Champagne, did you forget you're a Chardonnay grape? Well, it's time to go back to being a grape, and remember your dear, dear grape sister, from whom you were cruelly torn at birth.

She grew up in a happy, sunny field in happy, sunny Australia--or possibly happy, sunny California, she can't actually tell, because she's a grape. Anyhoo, every day the sun shines and warm breezes soothe her happy vines. She grows. She thrives. She is so happy and growing so fast that she toys with the idea of growing all the way to the sun. Her main problem is that every time she tries to do this, some Australian or Californian dude whistling either "Waltzing Matilda" or "Good Vibrations" comes by and trims off her far vines, to force her to focus her energy into her grape clusters. (This is the grape-growing equivalent of turning off the television to force your sixth-grader to do her homework.) The sun shines, the warm winds waft. At the end of the year, she presents a number of grape clusters that are so colorful, so bright, so fruity and wonderful that they smell like a million bucks run through a rainbow. They are robust. So, the Australian or Californian throws them into his rucksack or Jeep and turns them into something fruity, ripe, and robust.

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