Since when does a Python worry about what kind of wine to have with a meal?
Monty Python comedy veteran John Cleese decided to crush his grapes of ignorance and explore just what all the gourmet magazines and wine experts are talking about.
“I felt it was a shame that something that is such a source of pleasure should have become restricted by all this snobbery,” Cleese told The Associated Press in a phone interview from his Santa Barbara, Calif. home — which is nestled close to the state’s wine country.
The result: a new Food Network special “John Cleese’s Wine for the Confused” (Sunday, 10 p.m. ET) which explores everything from what words to use to describe flavor to how to take the wind out of a snooty restaurant sommelier.
What’s a sommelier? That’s the server in a fancy restaurant who tries to guide customers toward a selection of a dining drink. Cleese points out that this choice is often a source of anxiety and embarrassment for those who don’t see much shade in their reds and whites.
“If someone starts telling you what sort of wine you should buy without finding out first what kind of wine you actually like I think you should — in a shop — walk out and in a restaurant say something very snotty, like, ‘Well, that may be a wine YOU would like, but is it necessarily a wine I would like?”’ Cleese said, laughing.
The purpose of “Wine for the Confused” is to give a sort of shorthand sophistication to novice wine lovers.
Wonderful words of wine
The first step, the comic actor-writer said, is for people to learn how to speak: find the right words to express the intangible subtlety of flavors that help identify the kind of wines you like.
“The purpose in doing the program was to simply inform myself better. I realized I would have the wonderful opportunity to talk to sommeliers and the winemakers and discuss wines, and through the process of sipping a wine with them say, ’Now there’s a funny taste in there. What is that?’ And then they suggest a word and sometimes it means nothing, but sometimes you say, ’Yes! That’s exactly the word.”’
Pineapple, cream, butter, smoky, oak, plum — all are words sometimes used to describe the sensation of various wines on the tongue and throat. There are none of those substances in the wine — but Cleese found people using the terms because various wines reminded them of those flavors.
“Some of the words ring the bell and some of them don’t. (The term) ’tobacco’ in wine mystifies me,” he said. “But I remember sipping a pinot noir once and somebody said it had taste of pencil lead and remember thinking, ‘Yes, that’s right.’ It doesn’t sound (delicious) but it meant something to me.”
How do you know what you like? In this case, there literally is no accounting for taste, Cleese said. Don’t be afraid to say what you like, regardless of what wine experts say.
For instance, Cleese said he prefers California wines to French ones.
“I know that the great wine experts will throw their hands up and I say, ‘Oh, I’m so awfully sorry but these are the wines that make me happy,”’ he said.
Cleese explores how weather, the soil, location, other vegetation, the mashing, the fermentation process and how long the wine bottle is open before serving all contribute to the taste.
“When you’ve got all these factors moving around and connecting in these different ways,” Cleese said, “it becomes an art.”