by Manu Berelli

The Greeks had it right. They made wine so strong, they had to cut it with water to make it palatable. They would guzzle it until they were screaming to Dionysus and falling down. I don't think they really cared about vintages too much. They just loved that Sweet Premium Wine.

I love cheap red wine. A $3 bottle from Trader Joe's does me just fine. But I also can enjoy the complexity of a well-vined grape. So, when my friend invited me to a wine tasting, I dutifully accepted.

Nouveau Beaujolais is the first wine of the season. The wine is only a couple months old, and by French Law it can only be sold after the third Thursday in November. The new wine has characteristics different from older wine, and it doesn't keep very well, so it's made with somewhat inferior grapes. But wine tasters go crazy on that fateful Thursday, because these wines are an indicator of what the "real" wine will be like once it's aged well. And that means the wealthy, snotty connoisseurs get down and dirty with a lot of cheap wine.

When I first arrived at the Beaujolais wine tasting, there were a few nervous-looking people milling around. This made me re-evaluate my own position. Was I nervous? Was I going to make an ass out of myself?

After everyone on the list arrived, the tasting was called to order. The tasters gathered around a nice spread of breads and cheeses selected by the resident cheese monger. Several bottles of wine sat near our hostess.

The first few wines went quickly. Our wine guide passed out a list of the wines we were going to be tasting, and encouraged us to take notes and give our opinions. When the first wine was tasted (a nouveau by Didier Germain), a few people judged it as "fruity," "tastes like banana," or "Kool-Aid." I knew then that I was in good company.

After a few more watery wines, the tasters began to relax. We were encouraged to eat the various cheeses between wines. The cheese was good, and well selected to compliment the wine, but really, I didn't care. I realized it had been a couple days since I had eaten, so I took the opportunity to protect my stomach and liver against the alcoholic onslaught it was beginning to experience. Although there was a bucket present, no one was encouraged to spit, which was good because I had already consumed about a half bottle of wine, and didn't want to give any of it up.

Eventually, the tasting started to slow down. I found myself staring into an empty glass, waiting for small talk to settle down so we could move on to another wine. They finally uncorked the fourth bottle, a George DuBoeuf nouveau. It was a nice change of pace. A somewhat thicker, meatier nouveau, it is supposedly more static because of its mass-produced, commercial nature. I thought it was comforting; not as watery, and easy to drink.

The tasting nearly ground to a stop at this point as people began to wander around and make chitchat. I took the opportunity to duck out the back door with the workers to smoke cigarettes. We brought a couple of bottles with us. Drinking from another bottle of G. DuBoeuf, I was a little disappointed to discover that the supposed consistency didn't hold up. The second bottle tasted different from the first and was really vinegary--but when you're drinking straight from the bottle, are you really in a position to complain?

Back inside, a woman standing next to me mentioned her dead father. "Well, if you want," I said, bottle in hand, "we could always go outside and pour some out for our dead homies." She walked away.

Eventually, the group finished tasting the last two wines. Both were good, moderate, less fruity Nouveaus.

Our hosts finished with a quick explanation of wine-tasting and Nouveau Beaujolais specifically. "This is the kind of wine you can drink at the table with a fine meal, or in front of the TV with a bowl of popcorn. It's really wine without rules!"

To that I say, "Wine Without Rules, Rulez!"

If you want to try a wine tasting of your own, here are a few wine bars and sellers around town that offer periodic wine tastings, some coming up in January and February.

750 ML, 224-1432, 232 NW 12th

Carpe Vinum, 232-1550, 4831 SE Division

Great Wine Buys, 287-2897, 1515 NE Broadway

Pastaworks, 232-1010, 3735 SE Hawthorne

Portland Wine Merchants, 234-4399, 1430 SE 35th (at Hawthorne)