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Thursday, October 30, 2014
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Published: Tuesday, 7/19/2005

Try a sip of a hock or a sack

Some wine names are tongue twisters - gewurztraminer or Freixenet, for example (pronounced geh-VOORTS-truh-mee-nuhr and FRESH-uh-net, respectively).

To the contrary, "hock" is a snap. The origin is an elegant riesling from a district, the Rheingau, most of which lies along the right bank of the Rhein River.

The district's best wines are made from grapes of its finest vineyard and most prominent village, Hochheim; the wines and grapes are both named Hochheim, and the wines are said to have been favorites of British Queen Victoria. (Note that Hochheim is classified among the wines of the Rheingau even though village and vineyard are on the Main River, a few yards below the confluence with the Rhein.)

Also easy on the tongue, like "hock," is "sack," an ancient term often used for any sweet wine, though strictly speaking it is applied in the English market to sweet wines from Spain, Portugal, and the Canary Islands.

Finally in this short glossary is "claret." Once again, we must thank the English market, the principal point through which European wines first entered world commerce. Like hock, claret has an exact meaning. It refers to any red bordeaux - all of them dry.

NOW LOOK AT a proper wine word (not a nickname) about which many American wine lovers have at best an inexact sense: madeira (ma-DEAR-ah). Fewer still, it's my impression, have yet to enjoy a glass.

Madeira is an archipelago, anchored to its location in the Atlantic Ocean west of Portugal by a single mountain whose peak breaks through the ocean's surface. Due to the combination of waters and winds, the islands are commonly fog-shrouded; medieval sailors thought that the islands hid the edge of the world, and would not sail in close. Eventually some bold souls, urged on by a royal command, became the first inhabitants; today, they number about half a million.

Soil is scarce, and some distinctive grape varieties are cultivated wherever possible. Growing grapes - until recently crushed under foot - and making wine are labor-intensive, and this, coupled with the quality of the native wines, set high prices on madeiras.

There are four varieties of these white wines, ranging from the driest, sercial, to the sweetest, malmsey. Between these two poles are bual, medium sweet, and verdelho, which has a tangy but not sweet, semi-dry flavor that complements spicy foods.



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