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Sex in a Glass

What is it that makes wine sexy?

What is it that makes wine sexy? Certainly nothing that viticulturists or oenologists can identify, and there is nothing on the normal shopping list of flavours that wine judges apply to trophy-winning wines that could be designated as the "sexy" character. In fact, what makes wine sexy is pretty much the same as what makes people sexy, an indefinable something that simply turns you on.

So it is impossible to describe, but you know it when you see it – or in this case when you drink it, and drinking is part of the point. Tasting doesn't usually do it for sexy wines, because the naturally obsessive behaviour of wine tasting focuses on the little details and nuances of wine craft, rather than the area of general impressions in which sexy roams. Tasting also obliges you to employ the mean-spirited little tasting glasses that resemble laboratory equipment and concentrate your attention on wines' bad points. Hardly sexy.

The interesting thing is that sexy wines tend to come from certain grape varieties and winegrowing areas. Riesling, for example, is hardly ever sexy – beautiful without doubt, but never sexy. Chardonnay, on the other hand, can be very sexy indeed, in a wholesome, next-door-neighbour sort of way.

Sauvignon blanc is also on the hardly-ever-sexy list, even though it can manage to be exciting at times. Sadly, for it is a true aristocrat, cabernet sauvignon only raises the heat when it has been lying around in a dusty cellar for at least 10 years, probably much longer.

Champagne certainly has enough sex appeal for every possible situation, which may have something to do with its creamy-feeling bubbles, or with the high proportion of pinot grapes that it contains. Pinot noir is particularly fecund, and in

recognising this we are perhaps getting close to some sort of identification of the source of vinous sex appeal.

First, there is an earthy, almost wild characteristic about it, along with plenty of warmth and richness of flavour, all invariably delivered with elegance. Syrah, when it is grown in cooler climates, also has these characteristics, as do those ravishing Italians nebbiolo and sangiovese: a blend of grace, virility and sensuality that can seduce your palate and body parts that other wines can never reach before they send them to sleep.

Whether all this has something to do with winemaking attitudes in France and Italy is hard to say, but the sexiness of pinot noir and syrah is also apparent in New Zealand's best wines from these varieties. Not Australian shiraz, though – same grape, different attitudes. Drinking shiraz can be sexual, rather than sexy, too egocentric to be seductive.

The truth is, the best way to know for sure what works is to run your own trials.
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Try This Two Paddocks 2001 Pinot Noir

Smells alluring, slightly racy and earthy but lush with fruit, and it tastes similar, with a slightly feral wildness laced with cherries and dabs of beetroot, a splash of spice: tasty and bright. Certainly virile, with a warm, almost cuddly tone, but is it sexy? Absolutely, if only for its silky texture, which makes your voice go husky when its mingled with such earthy flavour tones. What happens next is up to you.
PRICE : $42.
AVAILABLE: momentarily

© Copyright 2003, the New Zealand Listener. Posted with the permission of the publisher.

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