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Wine By The Numbers
by Jonathon Alsop
October 2000


It seems sometimes like numbers rule the wine world: the price is a number, the score somebody gives the wine is a number, the vintage year, how many bottles go in a case, and the cell phone of that guy from Sonoma County I can never reach, all numbers.

Estimates vary as to the number of words in a typical person's vocabulary, but 20,000 is a number frequently kicked around. And if it takes a person 25 or 30 youthful and inquisitive years to acquire a 20,000-word vocabulary, there's little chance (or even time left) for anyone of legal drinking age to master the contents of a typical wine shop like Kappy's or Marty's, much less a mega-mart like Yankee Spirits.

A big but not gigantic wine shop like Marty's in Allston and Newton will have 5,000 to 10,000 different wines for sale over the course of a year, maybe more. At Kappy's in Sudbury, there are about 680 wines per rack, five or six racks total, plus a lot of wine not in racks. Conservatively, they've got 5,000 different wines on hand right now, and the inventory is changing all the time. If you've ever been to a gigantic place like Yankee Spirits in Sturbridge where it's wine as far as the eye can see, you know that Marty's and Kappy's -- expansive as their selections are -- only scratch the surface.

No wonder people can never remember the name of a wine they like once they get inside a wine shop. It's understandably overwhelming, like looking into the Grand Canyon and feeling inexpressibly small, only it's a Grand Canyon of words and wine.

For the average consumer, the answer to remembering wine is not in the world of wine, but in the world of memory. Before you invest in gingko biloba or a mail-order memory course, try this simple mnemonic device: sit down and make a list of your favorite wines and arrange them alphabetically.

Study the list in this form, and it will help you remember because you recall the wines better as a group than independently. The letter R, for instance, can remind you of Ravenswood which will remind you of Renwood and Rabbit Ridge and Rutherford Hill and on and on. When you go to buy wine, start remembering your favorite wines from anywhere in the alphabet, and you'll see how much more you remember.

Next time, we'll take a look at another wine number: those scores people give out and what, if anything, they might mean.

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