Wine column no. 56: If you're really looking for substance, just focus on the wine

There are wines. And then there are accessories. 

Who knew, for instance, that you could purchase overalls for your wine bottle, or that you could buy boxed wine packaged in a fashion handbag? There are owl-shaped corkscrews, wine glass covers that double as serving platters, decanters made from recycled windshields, life preserver wine bottle covers, sunglasses constructed from wine barrels, bicycle wine racks, and wine glass charms that exclaim, for all the J.D. Salinger fans out there, that “Holden Caulfield thinks you’re a phony.” 

There are digital wine thermometers shaped to wrap around the exterior of the bottle, bottle bags designed to look like Santa’s pants (milk and cookies not included), pirate-shaped bottle openers, wine weathervanes, wine glass cabinet knobs, actual cork stools, and something called a Koolatron, a portable wine bar on wheels that would have been perfect in that 1960s-era animated sitcom, The Jetsons.

I’m not even going to go into the saint and sinner wine bottle stoppers (one is shaped like the devil, the other like an angel), the wine bottles you can hide in a book, the red wine wipes to remove stains and protect your teeth, or the cork memory cards (just in case you somehow fall into a lake on your way to an important business meeting.)

While I love the ultra-meta, self-deprecating reference to “The Catcher in the Rye” (I think it does everyone some good to see yourself through Holden Caulfield’s eyes at least once in your life), I’m not really an accessory type of person. I long ago gave up on complicated bottle openers that seemed to have been artfully designed by Rube Goldberg yet in reality (and perhaps true to Goldberg’s genius) contributed nothing to the process beyond a maddening sense of inefficiency. 

Perhaps in protest, I now use a basic, dependable corkscrew that a former waiter gave me years ago and that has never failed me. My father has the same philosophy when it comes to drip catchers: He uses a simple, inexpensive scrunchie, which is easily washed and can stretch to fit any bottle’s neck size. 

Neither of these will win design awards. But they are practical, and as I have learned in general about those who take any hobby — running, painting, yoga, etc. — seriously, the real joy is in the hobby itself. The products can be artful and cute, kitschy and bizarre, and some are even useful. But after the fact, when the bottle is empty, and the odd-shaped Rube Goldberg contraption refuses to fit in the drawer, most of the accessories just end up in a pile of rubbish, expensive distractions that really had nothing to do with the wine in the first place. 

That’s not to say that winemakers themselves don’t adopt new ways of marketing, bottling, or making wines. Joel Gott, for instance, a fifth-generation vintner from California, decided to bottle Zinfandel in jugs under the Three Thieves label, which he founded along with Charles Bieler and Roger Scommegna. The trio considered themselves thieves because of the prices they were getting on wine, Gott told Laurie Daniel in the May 2011 issue of Wines & Vines. 

“We decided that a one-liter jug would be such an iconic package to sell Zinfandel in — as it had been done in the 1940s and 50s … There was a lot of nostalgia attached to the jug, but it had somehow lost its appeal in the modern age, so we decided to revive it. We were continually surprised at how well it took off ... Ultimately, we were making 100,000 cases per year. After about five years, we finally decided to discontinue it because the jugs had run their course.”

Gott may have jettisoned the jugs, but he kept the Zinfandel, producing it under his Joel Gott Wines label. I liked the 2011 vintage, which was a bit spicy, with flavors of cinnamon, brown sugar and cedar. This thin, light red was sourced from Lodi, Russian River, Dry Creek, Mendocino and Amador appellations in California, and it’s ideal for hot, summer months. 14.3 percent alcohol. The Fresh Market. $19.99.

Another Joel Gott creation is the 2010 Alakai California red wine. This Rhone-style blend of 77 percent Grenache, 17 percent Syrah, 4 percent Mourvèdre and 2 percent Petite Syrah came from select vineyards in Monterey County and Knight’s Valley, according to K&L Wine Merchants. As far as Rhone blends go, it’s less unraveled than some Cotes-du-Rhone I’m more familiar with. Those French wines often give you three things: red fruits, black pepper and a rough set of tannins. But Gott’s 2010 is what the French would call “bien équilibré,” or well balanced. 14.4 percent alcohol. Winetree East. $16.59.

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