Wine created to solve a marketing problem

It's the 4th century BC, and those charmingly acquisitive Romans are marching through Gaul, the latest captured territory. Along with catapults (a weapon of mass destruction) and syphilis (a weapon of personal destruction), the Romans also bring grape vines—which they happily plant throughout France. Among these vines are Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay—grape varieties the Romans believe will thrive in France. While it's impossible to know who made the first Cab or Chard, there is one wine whose pedigree is easily traceable. It started in the Napa Valley, with a winery owner lamenting the fact that it's difficult to get consumers interested in fine wines. People, it seems, are perfectly happy slurping down oceans of shitty pseudowines like Liebfraumilch and Annie Green Springs. The problem: How to convince the unwashed masses that fine wines really are, well, fine. The strategy: Develop an intermediate step—a wine that's more complex, yet still reminiscent of the swill—that will help people develop a taste for the good stuff. The tactic: white Zinfandel, a white (or rather, pink) wine made from red Zinfandel grapes, but with unfermented Zin juice added back to the wine to give it a semisweet flavor. Whether we like White Zinfandel or not, we have Sutter Home Winery to thank for bringing thousands of people into the world of fine wine. I'm not a white Zin fan today, but I have to acknowledge that it's what brought me and thousands of other people into the universe of good wine. Cleans like a white tornado Reluctant as I am to kiss a winery's ass twice, I have to admit that Cayuse is as proficient with white wines as they are with reds. After reviewing their blockbuster Syrah not long ago, I had a chance to try the '99 Cayuse Viognier (pronounced vee-ohn-YAY). This spectacular wine ($25) with flavors of banana and honeysuckle exposes Chardonnay for the lifeless bat urine that it is. If you can't find the Viognier, send e-mail to E-mail:

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