His work done, Tim moved to San Francisco. Years later, I told him my idea of a Gen-X, Gen-Y, millennial-generation-directed wine publication, something for people who were very bright and had a lot of taste, but who didn't understand wine jargon, who wouldn't pick up a copy of Wine Spectator, who were skeptical, thrifty, but knew a good thing when they tasted it. Tim told me I was a good kid, if dim, and to call him if it worked out.

Lo and behold, it did! It is to my utter delight that I get to introduce a wealth of Tim's critical picks of some of the best wines available in Minnesota. I couldn't be more pleased. Not only is Tim a brilliant drinker of wine—he has one of those super-memories for it that allows him to describe bottles he tasted once, years ago—he's also been everywhere and has a wicked bullshit detector, a rare combination of qualities. This year we got him to share with us his picks among Chardonnays, Zinfandels, Sauvignon Blancs, exotic whites, wines for Thanksgiving and for your boss, and wines from Spain, Chile, and Argentina. But if Tim is providing the critical picks, I had to ask, what is there for me to do?

I thought that this year I would go back and address all those Emperor's New Clothes issues that loomed so large for me before my lychee moment. (And my subsequent years of study, but let's gloss over that because it's not very attractive.) In any event, I called up my friends in food and wine both in Minnesota and around the country and asked, "What is it you've always wanted to know about wine, but have been afraid to ask? What is it wine publications fail to tell you?"

Details

Winner, 2007 James Beard Award for Journalism

These are all bright people who enjoy wine and have been dealing with the stuff on an all-but-daily basis for years, and they had questions that were often the very best kind: deceptively basic. Why is so much good cheap wine Australian? What happens to bad wine? Why do bottles with labels that say the same thing taste so different, and why do different bottles taste the same? Is there any way to cut through the palaver?

We like to think there is, and that this is it. As always, let us know what you think, and if we didn't pull it off this year, we'll try again for lucky number seven.

Dear Dara,

I have one question for you: Why is wine so goddamn hard? And why doesn't it ever get any easier?

If a beer says it's an IPA, even if I've never had it before, I know what I'm getting. If a steak is a ribeye, even if it's one individual cow that's unlike every other cow on earth, I know what I'm getting. But if a wine bottle says Chardonnay or if it says Marlborough, you don't know what's in there—it could be anything, and totally different from the last bottle you had that said Chardonnay or Marlborough. I've been drinking wine for 15 years and it still seems so hard.

I never seem to drink the same bottle of wine twice. Never. Ever. Unless it's something like Veuve Cliquot and that is so consistent it seems like a totally different thing. And if I do find something I like in the liquor store or on a wine list, by the time I go back it's vanished, it's totally different than it was, or I can't remember what it is because it sits there in the middle of half a dozen sound-alikes or look-alikes.

It doesn't help when you go into a liquor store. Why do they have 2,000 wines? There's no way they're selling all 2,000, is there? Wouldn't they do better if they had fewer wines, or if they were grouped differently? I go to the paper-towel aisle at Target and if I stick out my hand it comes back with paper towels, and they're more or less going to do what I need them to do and they more or less cost the same. I stick out my hand in any given wine aisle, and I could end up spending $100, or $4, or $30. I could end up with a headache or the best thing I've ever drank in my life, and it has nothing to do with price, or how the bottle looks, or anything.

Speaking of which, all the bottles look the same. All the labels read the same. It's as if when you went to the bookstore they packaged all the crappy mysteries the same as the classic literature, so instead of some books having a big bloody knife on them and others being Anna Karenina with a big black-and-white Tolstoy beard-face picture, they just all looked exactly, exactly the same. Every wine has a nice bottle, a beautiful label, a nice story on the back about some vineyard and some family, they all use the same words, "subtle explosions of soft fruit, notes of this and finish of that." You go into the bookstore, you pick up a copy of Anna Karenina, and it just about screams at you: This is literature, asshole! If you can't tell this is literature, go back to the bloody-knife section!

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