Monday, January 12, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey Wines

It’s the “literally” that got me.

I was shopping for Riesling the other day. In the wine store I frequent, the Rieslings are shelved next to the American white blends, and my attention was snagged by a “Fifty Shades of Grey” label.

I’m sure you’re at least aware of the “Fifty Shades” books by E.L. James. This trilogy of beach-ready…I guess you’d call it “BDSM-lite erotica” was all the rage a couple of years ago amongst some broad swaths of the population. I was not covered by one of those swaths, and those books had receded from my mind except for a brief conversation with a co-worker disappointed because Charlie Hunnam was no longer playing Christian Grey in the upcoming film adaptations of the books, with the first due in theaters around Valentine’s Day. 

According to the website, the wines are designed by James herself. The bottles and corks both bear the slogan “You. Are. Mine.” – a sentiment somewhat central to the trilogy’s ostensible plot. I discovered a passage in the novel centering on the protagonist, Anastasia Steele, receiving a punishment if she spilled wine. That particular passage begins like this:

”He reaches down, and from his pants pocket, he takes out his silver grey silk tie… that silver grey woven tie that leaves small impressions of its weave on my skin. He moves so quickly, sitting astride me as he fastens my wrists together, but this time, he ties the other end of the tie to one of the spokes of my white iron headboard. He pulls at my binding, checking it’s secure. I’m not going anywhere. I’m tied, literally, to my bed, and I’m so aroused.”

The recovering English major in me thought, "Gah! What’s that word doing there? How else would she be tied to her bed? Figuratively? Tangentially? Is Anastasia Steele somehow related to Chris Traeger, Rob Lowe’s character on Parks & Recreation?"

The scene goes on from there, eventually arriving at Anastasia’s proclamation of herself as “just one ball of sexual, tense, need.” Anais Nin or D.H. Lawrence this isn’t. Heck, from my perspective, it’s barely Cinemax.

But I digress. We’re not here to discuss the ins and outs of Anastasia and Christian’s adventures. We’re here to talk about what’s under the cork. There are two Fifty Shades wines created by ol’ E.L. herself – a red and a white, both blends. 

The first I tried was the White Silk White. White Silk is a mischievous little blend of Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc. I found it intensely floral and tropical on the nose – strong enough that the bouquet comes through right out of the fridge like a chilled, overripe lychee nut. (An overly-cold wine usually loses much of its bouquet.) The main flavors are the tropical fruits – pineapple especially – from the Sauvignon Blanc. The finish is slightly sweet and lasting. There’s also just a little sting of pepper at the end from the Gewurz. I found it relatively decent. On the website, it lists for $18, but the retail in my wine shop was $16.

Next came the Red Satin Red. “What would I do,” I mused, “If I were trying to appeal to fans of these books who often, in my experience, start oenological conversations with ‘I don’t like dry red wine.’ What sorts of sensual stimulations would I layer to tease, to tempt, to make them raise that scarlet-filled glass, hesitantly of course, to their lips? What would E.L. James do? I think I’d make a wine that smelled like dark, sumptuous red fruit – cherries and plums. I’d need some chocolate flavors, but there definitely can’t be a lot of tannin. The wine would need to go down as easily as one of Christian’s concubines and finish with just a little dryness to make it a little naughty to a palate not used to tannin. In short, a straightforward inexpensive California merlot.” 

When I cracked the bottle, I discovered that the wine reflected my little tasting note fantasy to a T. However, instead of merlot, the Red Satin is a “blend of primarily Petit Sirah and Syrah.” 

“Primarily,” of course, can mean a lot of things. In this case, they’ve taken two intensely flavored grapes and blended them with some unnamed varietals to tone them down. The Red Satin is a perfectly drinkable wine, but overpriced at $18. If you’re looking for a wine that begs for chocolate and a trashy novel, I’d still suggest that sluggable merlot for about $7-8 less.

As I was trying to get the Fifty Shades wines out of the store without drawing too much attention, I also noticed few other bottles with entendre-laden monikers, which I also snagged -- for comparison’s sake, of course:

PromisQous (NV) California White Table Wine – This white is a blend of primarily Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer, with a few “other white varietals.” It’s crafted with the same flavor idea as the White Silk – Gewurztraminer provides strong floral notes and lychee flavors, but since it’s a chardonnay-based blend instead of sauvignon blanc, it’s got more creaminess and the flavors run closer to melon than citrus. There’s a little acidic zip from some added chenin blanc balancing the residual sweetness. I thought it was another easy drinking wine, but with a little more structure and backbone than the Fifty Shades. It’s also a few dollars cheaper at $10-12.

Now, its darker complement, the PromisQous (NV) California Red Table Wine, did not fare so well. Simply, this was a $9 red wine that tastes like…well…a $9 red wine. Honestly, there’s nothing really outstanding to distinguish this plonky plonk plonk. One of my friends in the wine biz describes wines like this as “pop tart wines,” meaning it’s more or less indistinguishable from other similar, inexpensive wines -- the way you can't really tell a flavor difference between the various types of Pop-Tarts. I wouldn’t suggest spending your shekels on something so generic.

Folie a Deux (NV) “Menage a Trois” White Wine – This naughty sounding number is another floral-scented blend, this one a mix of Chardonnay, Moscato, and Chenin Blanc. This simple quaffer is lighter-bodied than both of the other whites. I found some good flavors of melon and peach on the palate, with a very light, tangeriney finish. Of the three whites, I think this one was probably my favorite, because it didn’t have that residual sugar “thickness” and  was a little more harmonious and restrained (since we’re focused on restraints) than the other two. Good value at around $10.

As for the Folie a Deux (NV) Menage a Trois Red, the best I can say is that it wasn’t quite as plonky as the PromisQous. There was a hint of vanilla lurking somewhere in the mix and a wee bit of tannin at the end. Another $9-10 entry. Take it for what it’s worth…literally.

P.S. This remains my favorite interpretation of the novels. And yes, NSFW:

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