Don’t call Ben a sidekick. If Jason is the CEO, Ben is Chairman of the Board…or uh…Master and Commander. Captain Lieutenant…yeah, that’s it. Captain Lieutenant. Hailing from Bakersfield, Ben was born into Culture and Culture became him. He signed on for Jason’s wacky podcast idea back in 2013 and had soon established himself as the reason people tuned in. Jason might be the meat, but Ben is the sauce, and the pickles, and the cheese. Ben is most definitely the cheese. With his own experience in the comedy scene, Ben adds a slightly different perspective on the wine and cocktail world, having worked in almost every position a restaurant has to offer. When he’s not podcasting with Wine For Sophisticated Homies or managing his Newport Beach bar, Ben is traveling the globe and working grape harvests. You can find him acting as the life of the party, breaking hearts from coast to coast, and responsibly calling for an Uber at the end of the night. Moms love him, and so should you, but if you don’t, would you at least tell your Mom about him?
Who is Jason Booth? I am. What? That’s right. But aren’t bio’s supposed to written in third person? Maybe, but who’s to say this one isn’t? When Jason isn’t writing confusingly-hard-to-follow narrative points of view, I’m the creator and CEO of Wine For Sophisticated Homies. Raised upon the sprawling vistas of the High Desert, Jason cut his teeth on the comedy stages of the west coast in his early adulthood, before entering into the hallowed halls of wine service. While engaging heavily in vino education, he continued to bring laughter to the hearts and minds of California’s toughest humor critics, earning numerous verbal compliments along the way. When Jason isn’t writing witty pieces for the Wine for Sophisticated Homies’website or constructing podcast outlines for the long haul truckers of the world, he’s performing with Improv Shmimprov, a short-form, improv comedy team so hipster and cool, you probably haven’t even heard of them. Jason got into wine to impress girls and he stuck with wine after realizing that no matter how many girls rejected him, wine never would. Jason is a sommelier, comedian, loving husband, proud dog-owner, and my best friend. How is that possible, you ask? Because I am him…and you should always love yourself.
Proper wine service can be intimidating if you are unsure of the steps, and in many cases, the process has been overblown and overcomplicated. There is no reason for these MIT level instructions regarding something that should be so simple. And so, the Wine For Sophisticated Homies have broken down the process of opening wine into 6 Easy Steps. You’re welcome world.
Step 1: Present the label to the Guest, framed in a serviette.
Step 2: Keeping the label facing the guest, cut around the foil just under the first tier, removing it from the bottle and disposing of it discretely into a pocket.
Step 3: Undo the auger from its home base and twist into corkscrew 5 to 6 times. If the closure is Stelvin, this will involve a stronger push, but after breaking through the metal, zero twists.
Step 4: Using the human body as a fulcrum, slowly pull the cork from the bottle while keeping it in an upright position (the bottle and your body). If the cork resists or seems brittle…slow down, take it easy, grin assuredly at your table, creating a sense of safety and security, even if you are dealing with an incredibly stubborn cork. Assuage them with innocuous conversation about the menu or the weather.
Step 5: Once extracted, place the cork in front of the guest that has ordered the wine and allow them to smell. This is very important, as nothing will tell you more about the wine than the smell of a musty cork. It is also very important that, just as the last centimeter of the cork is about to come out of the bottle, you slow down and ease it out very gently, just as you would ease out a newborn baby that was similarly stuck in a wine bottle. They say that the noise created by the cork leaving the neck should sound like a nun’s fart. But, don’t feel too bad about this in the end. Remember, there are lots of nuns in the world, and some of them are bound to have very loud gas.
Step 6: Using your serviette, wipe the lip of the bottle to ensure that any untoward gunk and/or dirt is eliminated before the wine is poured.
Step 6A: Holding your serviette in one hand, pour a taste
for the host and immediately wipe the lip to avoid any drippage.
Step 6Aa: Frame the bottle of the wine with your serviette, label facing the host, as they temporarily forget or maybe didn’t even know in the first place, that they were supposed to taste the wine to make sure that they liked it.
Step 6Ab: Make subtle eye contact at the table with someone who understands why you’re standing there like an idiot waiting for them to realize what the hell is going on. Smile coyly, and if they don’t interrupt the host, wait a couple seconds longer before asking if perhaps they’d like to taste the wine to ensure that it is to their liking.
Step 6B: After the host has violently swirled the wine twelve to fourteen times, held the glass up to squint at the color, and followed that up finally by the tasting approval, proceed to pouring in listed order: ladies first, oldest to youngest, clockwise, and then finally finishing with the host.
Step 6B Addendum: If the table has anyone questioning their gender identity, or, a conjoined, opposite-sex twins, take careful consideration into the order of pouring. For gender identity, please ask the table to state their preferred sex. If anyone says “Yes please” proceed to high-five them. For conjoined twins, pour for the lady twin first, followed by the gentlemen. If they share a mouth, pour into the more feminine side of the mouth.
Step 6B Addendum A: If anyone at the table is suffering from Benjamin Button’s disease, or if the entire table is a support group of people suffering from the Disease, pour the wine youngest to oldest, in a counterclockwise manner.
Step 6B Addendum B: If it is impossible to walk around the table in a clockwise manner due to an impediment such as a wall, or a booth, or your own revolutionary ideas on the relativity of time, or perhaps, most ironically, a large clock, then adhere to the remaining rules. If a wall is in the way, do not attempt to walk through the wall in order to maintain the clockwise instructions. This can be dangerous for both your own health, and the structural foundation of the restaurant.
Step 6C: After the wine has been poured, sigh frustratingly as you suddenly realize that you didn’t even offer to decant the wine. Ignore the sweat that is beading on your head as you reach around the corner to grab the decanter you had stationed there earlier. The guests will look at you perplexed as you do this. “Have any of you ever heard of Backwards Decanting?” You’ll say. When they tell you they haven’t, choose a European country that they won’t know much about. “In Luxembourg, revolutionary sommeliers are decanting their wine by pouring it into glasses, then pouring that wine back into the decanter, then pouring that wine back into the glasses. They call this method, the Luxembourg Switch.” Tell them all of this while performing great flourishes of hand motion and elegant airborne serviette maneuvers.
Step 6CA: Replace host’s glass with fresh glass before
performing Luxembourg Switch so as to avoid mixing
saliva/germs with rest of wine. Unless they’re still not
listening to you, in which case, psssshhhhhhhh, whatevs.
Step 6D: Ask the table if they would like the wine to be poured, or for it to breath on step 2 of the 3-step Luxembourg Switch decantation process. If the answer is positive to the latter, then ignore the former and pour left to right, female to male, age before beauty. If beauty and age collide in the female form, pour for the most beautiful old woman sitting at the table.
Step 6DA: If you work at an overly-progressive restaurant that recognizes the daily struggles and rights of men, then you can pour for the men first, in this case, pour for the oldest man at the table.
Step 6D Addendum: If you have two, older men
who you are having trouble differentiating the ages
of, pour for the Silver Fox first. To be clear, a ‘Silver
Fox’ is an attractive older man…think John Slattery
in Mad Men. If neither of the men are attractive, decide which one you would rather have as a grandfather and pour for them first. If both men seem like good grandfather material, then I think we’ve determined that the real problem here is your own inability to make a decision and stick with it. GOOD LORD!
Step 6D Addendum A: If the table has an ACTUAL silver fox waiting to be served wine,
and if that silver fox is not only a melanistic
form of a red fox, but an anthropomorphic woodland creature that has gained the ability of speech and is dining in your restaurant, serve the silver fox first, and then, look around the room for the presence of a nearby magical wardrobe, which, we must assume based on the facts presented, may contain a portal to Narnia.
Step 6D Addendum A1: Burn the
wardrobe. Nothing good can come from talking animals, we need to learn how to be better ourselves before we start a gateway of interspecies relations that will inherently change the very fabric of the way we live our lives. Let’s work on the human condition first.
Step 6E: After the wine has been poured, place the bottle in front of the guest and ask if they would like to keep the cork. If the guest says no, and asks why would they need a cork? Let them know the truth. That while you were going on and on about that clearly made-up Luxembourg Switch, what you were actually doing was placing an undetectable Amazonian Tree Frog Poison into each of their glasses that can only be activated by a Triple Decant.
Step 6EA: Now that you have their attention, peal back the incredibly realistic skin mask you’ve been wearing since the beginning of the encounter. Wait, a second, you’re not a sommelier at all! You’re Doctor Cobra Kensington Chaos, the most infamous sommelier in the world! Once a promising MS candidate, you were kicked out of the guild when they discovered you were using a previously undiscovered Sixth Sense gained from an accident while working a summer internship at a Two Buck Chuck Toxic Waste facility, which the court, after months of deliberation, decided was an unfair advantage in the blind-tasting process, and thusly banned you from the wine world, stripping you of all known sommelier certifications. At first, you were despondent, but then you realized you would turn your sadness into a lifelong quest for revenge against those who spurned you. You didn’t want this, but society turned you into the evil they now fear.
Step 6EAa: And who just so happens to be sitting at this very table? The Swiss banker controlling the accounts of some of the most well known MS and MW’s in the world.
What a devious plan!?!?!? You hand them a burner phone. They must call and transfer their money to an offshore account in the Cayman Islands if they want the cork back, which contains a rare Quercus Suber antidote to the poison. “The cork for the bank transfer”, you tell them as you stroke your silver fox— your most devious of henchman as it turns out (the animal, not the attractive older gentleman).
Step 6EAb: You read off the numbers as the nervous banker transfers the money over into your desired account, everyone at the table looking around nervously as they imagine the poison slowly moving through their blood stream, every second so important.
Step 6F: Now pull off the realistic mask of Doctor Cobra Kensington Chaos to reveal that, actually, you really were just that same sommelier all along…wearing TWO different masks. The money they just transferred? That went directly into an account the restaurant keeps for wine sales. Congratulations, you have just pulled off something we in the wine industry refer to as ‘The Long Con’. The owners will be very happy that you doubled your projected numbers for the month, and all it took was some diligent sales expertise, and creative outside-the-box thinking. The synergy here is really thriving.
Step 6FA: Let the table know that it was a humorous ruse and that there never was any poison, and then bring a round of Fernet shots on the house. And then say something like: “Man—what a crazy moment that was huh? Well, enjoy your Lafite!” They’ll all laugh heartily before fading into an uncomfortable silence with the realization that the real Dr. Cobra Kensington Chaos is still out there somewhere, scheming their downfall. Life, in all its fragility, seems so fleeting in this moment.
Step 6G: Slowly back away from the table, always keeping your chest to the host, and then, in a puff of smoke, dissolve away into thin air, leaving them to marvel at the mystery and wonder of the wine world—a kaleidoscope of the unknown that awaits the weary traveler inside of every bottle.
Step 6GA: DON’T FORGET TO SMILE!
Yes, there are some very important wine topics out there that deserve to be talked about like ‘Up-and-Coming Regions’ and ‘Interesting Varietals to Know This Summer!’ and scientific yadda yadda yadda yadda. SNOOZE. GUFFAW. HARUMPH.
You know what’s even more important? Knowing what it would be like if the wine world was Game of Thrones.
Alright, so clearly if we’re going to talk about Game of Thrones and wine, you have to be a little well versed in both. If you aren’t yet read and/or watching Game of Thrones and if you aren’t yet drinking wine, well, your life probably sucks a little bit. If you’re still enjoying The Big Bang Theory with a six pack of Blue Moon, this article will go over your head faster than the effective presence of a laugh track.
You might think that I’d begin with a list of corresponding characters, but it’s probably more suitable to start off geographically.
If we’re assuming that the world of wine is Westeros and Essos and we agree that our premier location in the wine world tends to be thought of as Bordeaux, then…
King’s Landing = Bordeaux
That’s right, the most fought over land in the Game of Thrones canon would most definitely be King’s Landing, which just so happens to be the location of the throne. Everyone wants to sit atop the power heap in Bordeaux. We all know the controversies that go all the way back to 1855. We’ve seen kings rise and fall here, but the major families have stayed the same. And if you really want an example of the power struggle, do some quick research on the delightfully devilish politics of recent Saint-Émilion classification clusterfucks. You know full well that some of the larger chateaus in the region would be more than happy to straight up Wildfire their competition in order to seize power in the next ranking. VISCIOUS doesn’t begin to describe what goes on behind those closed doors. But more than just that, Kings Landing sits right on the water (the Gironde). It is an industrial center, full of culture, wealth, and interesting people. And the rest of wine world centers around this throne. King’s Landing is our Bordeaux.
Winterfell = The Mosel
The parallels here should be somewhat obvious. On a map, Winterfell is north of King’s Landing. It’s colder there, but it’s also still a very important region and at times, it has warred with France (sometimes as the oppressed, sometimes as the oppressor). In that sense then, the Stark family is no doubt the Loosen’s and the Mad King is no doubt Napoleon I, but we’ll get to that in a bit. The Mosel works for a number of reasons. Those steep riverside vineyards? The blue Devonian slate? That shit is just SO Stark family. And let’s not forget, every child born into a winemaking family in the Mosel is gifted a Dire Wolf to help work on those steep, riverside vineyard rows.
Dorne = Spain and Portugal
This should be pretty obvious. On a map, Dorne sits below King’s Landing, and if our King’s Landing is Bordeaux then Spain and Portugal would OBVIOUSLY have to make up Dorne. Plus come on, check out those outfits. George R. R. Martin got all that Moorish inspiration from the south of Spain, so the wine parallel here is easy. Let’s think about rivalries for a smidge. Obviously those Sand Snakes hate the Lannisters and all of the uppity assholes of Kings Landing (Bordeaux). They consider their fighting style and territory to be just as great, if not better. Oberyn was basically smashed by Cersei’s Mountain that Rides, or, I dunno, Lynch-Bages smashes Marqués de Murrieta in pricing wars? If the metaphor is getting muddled then this article just isn’t for you. For those of you who have read the books, you’ll also know that Dornish wine is constantly mentioned for its quality. This sounds pretty accurate when we think of just how good Spanish and Portuguese wine has become in recent years. And one of these days, a Dornish Vintage Port is going to absolutely DESTROY a Casterly Rock botrytized offering. “Oh but guys, why would those two wines even be in the same category in a competition?” SHUT. UP. Do you have any idea the sheer amount of things we’ll have to give creative license to in order to make this analogy work? Just go with it.
The Wall = The 50th Parallel
The wine world constantly talks about the sweet spots for grape growing. Look on a map, and basically all of the world’s vineyards more or less take root between the 30th and 50th circles of latitude (yes, they’re circles, stop calling them lines…it’s been quite a while since we figured out the world isn’t flat). So if the wall in Game of Thrones was built to keep out a dangerous threat from the north…what is our wine world parallel? We don’t have a giant wall built towards the top of Europe (Thanks Reagan), but we do have our northernmost wineries that are starting to encroach upon the status quo of accepted winemaking regions. That is why, for the sake of argument, the vineyards of Denmark represent the Wildlings, while Europe attempts to maintain a wall that will keep out the encroaching White walkers…aka: Global Warming. I guess that would make the brave winemakers of Saale-Unstrut the residents of the Night’s Watch. Or if our hypothetical wall is of a similar length to the one from the story, then perhaps the Shadow Tower making up the western end of the Wall, could be manned by some lovely Cider producers from Normandy. Either way, global warming is a bitch and the wine world is terrified of the ramifications…or…in other words:
Westeros: “Winter is Coming”
WineWorld: “Summer is Coming.”
The Iron Islands = Italy and Greece
While clearly we’re going to have to deviate a little on lifestyle for this one, when it comes to power and relative importance, the Iron Islands must be considered predominantly Italy, with some Mediterranean help thrown in for good measure. Theon Greyjoy once said “Where the North has its honor and the south has its chivalry, the Iron Islands has its strength”. I’d have to agree with the guy. There is real power in Nebbiolo, Brunello, and the occasional 100 percent Xinomavro. These could be the names of Iron Island ships for all we know. I’d bet you anything that Asha Greyjoy (‘Yara’ on the show), has a kickass Santorini cliff castle where she docks whatever ships are currently loyal to her. And you know she downs an entire bottle of piercingly acidic Santorini right before going into battle and rip’s people’s faces off in a similar manner. We can call Tuscany the Pyke to keep things even, if it helps. Now technically, the Iron Islands are located off the west coast of Westeros, which at first seems like a bad analogy of our wine world if we’ve assigned King’s Landing to Bordeaux, but for the sake of this highly scientific article, you’ll quickly understand that we’ll be repositioning the Narrow Sea for our new world regions. Just be patient ya’ snotty ragamuffin nerds.
Casterly Rock = Pauillac
This should be obvious by now. And if Casterly Rock is, no doubt, Pauillac, the richest AOC with certified growths popping out the Wazoo, then that would probably make the Rothschild Family the Lannisters. I won’t get too specific here. And I’m not saying the Rothschilds are bad people, however we’re going to have to assign the villains to wine world personalities, so don’t get your winemaker panties in a bunch, okay? This is all just an exercise in your willing suspension of disbelief. Casterly Rock sits on a goldmine in the book series, which is why the Lannisters are equal parts rich and equal parts unhappy (money doesn’t bring happiness Homies, just look at Cersei, rich and alone, the Mad Queen of the Gironde Estuary). This would no doubt make Tywin Lannister Baron Phillipe de Rothschild, and perhaps we’ll call Jaime Lannister, Éric de Rothschild (I realize we’re getting into different wineries here, but the family is related and most of Bordeaux is quite incestuous anyway and please don’t make me hit you over the head with this). You can probably throw your second through fifth growths into the Lannister bannermen category, but we’ll let you figure out where exactly the Léoville’s fit into the grand scheme of the Cleganes, Paynes, and Swyfts of the world.
Oldtown = The Growing World of Winemaker and Sommelier Certifications
In Westeros, Oldtown is where higher learning thrives. Besides being the location of the Citadel, it is also where braniacs like Samwell Tarly go to study the history of the world as it were. While it might be tempting to assign it a particular wine school or winemaking program or Sommelier training certification, it is far easier to give it ALL of these distinctions. So let’s just say that Oldtown, and specifically the Citadel, which is home to the Order of Maesters, is in our case home to the order of Masters, i.e.: Maester Pycelle to Master Fred Dame, Maester Aemon to Master Jancis Robinson (and yes I know, women aren’t allowed to be Maesters in Westeros, but clearly the wine world is a tad more progressive when it comes to scholarly acclaim). I guess Samwell might be Geoff Kruth, or maybe he’s someone even younger, some up and coming sommelier that will study wine so damn hard that he’ll discover something about the wine world that will change everything. Valerian Steel is the only thing that can save premox white burgundies. Dragon Glass is the only answer to cork taint. Etc etc. Similarly, different Maesters can become archmaesters wherein they specialize in different areas of expertise. Like Archmaester Peresten, who specialized in history, or ArchMaster Sommelier Doug Frost, who kicks serious ass in the study of spirits (though out of context, this might frighten other Maesters, as the study of spirits sounds eerily similar to the study of magic and the occult, which only one in a hundred hold a link for). Either way, Oldtown is where our smarty-pants reside, whether it be a physical university or a digital online community.
The Eyrie = Switzerland
If you think about the Eyrie’s ability to stay mostly out of conflict, and then you think about where it’s located, you have to give the nod to Switzerland. Other than briefly having to submit their fortified position to the Targaryen dragon’s during the reign of Aegon, they’ve mostly been left alone to admire their hillside Chasselas vineyards from the views of their Moon Door. But make no mistake about it, when called up, the Knights of the Valais and Vaud will ride to the assistance of John Snow, because as you all know, they love Snow in Switzerland. Just like the Eyrie, Switzerland is north of Bordeaux (King’s Landing) but still south of the Mosel (Winterfell). And with Petyr Baelish now pulling the strings (let’s call him, I dunno, Philippe Gex or something), Switzerland continues to find itself on the upswing. Something fun to remember here is that Switzerland, in keeping to itself, has also kept its wine to itself, as most of what is made is sold in-country. But now that the north is making a move (they have to, remember? Summer is coming), you can expect those Swiss Bannermen to join in on a more southern encroachment in order to sell their goods, neutrality be damned. ‘The North Remembers’ after all, and you can’t expect them to stay neutral forever, not with all those killer knives (sabres) they’ve been making all this time.
Highgarden = Burgundy
I really had to think about this one in relationship to the wine world. If Bordeaux is Kings Landing and we’re giving equal credence to the great wine regions of the world, then where does Burgundy fit in? On a map, if we were thinking geographically once more, it’d have to be to the south, though if we were being truly accurate, it would be to the southwest of Kings Landing. On a wine map, this would probably mean Provence, or the Languedoc, but then what to do about Burgundy? Some of you probably think Burgundy should’ve been made Casterly Rock, because if Pauillac is Casterly and Bordeaux is King’s Landing, how can Casterly Rock be IN King’s Landing #AmIright? But Bordeaux is big so it was easy to take one small area and think of it as Casterly, rather than to waste both Bordeaux AND Burgundy on the auspices of the Lannister ambitions. Instead, we can go against the georgraphy grain and think of Burgundy as our Highgarden. Which is why…
House Tyrell = House Leroy
This just all makes sense. The stubborn old Lalou Bize-Leroy is DEFINITELY Lady Olenna Tyrell, who you may or may not know was once Olenna Redwyne from the House Redwyne of The Arbor, a region known for producing the finest wines in the seven kingdoms. Sound familiar yet? Their house sigil is even a Burgundy grape cluster so I mean, come on, this is effing Burgundy here people. People can go all the gaga they want over Daenerys, but at the end of the day, it is hard to match the subtle sexiness of the Grand Cru that is Margaery Tyrell. Sure, Daenerys has that new world power, but don’t tell me you wouldn’t want to pour a big glass of Margaery Conti and let her open up over the course of the night? Sorry…got a little carried away there. Also, real talk for a second: House Tyrell, and Highgarden, is just known for being a very delicate place. Even Ser Loras is known as the knight of flowers. Do you know how difficult it is to be seen as one of the greatest knights in the kingdom while also being called the ‘Knight of Flowers’?! Respect son. Respect. There is also something inherently mysterious about House Tyrell. We never quite know what they’re up to. They poison kings, they trick religious figures, and there is something highly symbolic in that permanent smirk-smile that Margaery always seems to be wearing. Much like a GC Leroy, there are secrets being kept by the Tyrells…secrets that will open up in the glass (provided they aren’t destroyed by Wildfire)
ACROSS THE NARROW SEA WE SAIL!
Here’s where things get goofy. We know that on a map, the Narrow Sea would separate all of the regions we just described, more or less off to the west (Westeros) while across the narrow sea we would find our desert lands, full of dragons and free cities and little girls training to become assassins (Essos). For this to work with wine, we have to put our thing down, flip it and reverse it. Just switch your east and west and buckle up. Across the Atlantic Narrow Ocean Sea WE GO!!!
Essos = The New World
Braavos = Murica!!!
This should be stupidly obvious. What two places in the history of fiction and nonfiction brag about their “freedom” more than America and Braavos? It’s almost as if the slaves who overcame their Valyrian slave-lords immediately tossed their steel into the Ragman (Boston) Harbor. Braavos is also well known for it’s Iron Bank and this financial standard is followed by much of the world. The Lannisters might have a good amount of Euros in their bank and gold under their houses, but they still take out loans in US dollars. The Titan of Braavos is LITERALLY the Statue of Liberty, or something like that. The wine? Also very revolutionary. Think of California as the main city, where religious freedom and grape growing freedom is highly accepted. You want to do Pinot Noir in Temecula? Sure, go ahead. There aren’t any houses here that’ll try to stop you. Just make that money. Braavos is a mercantile society but with more of a free trade agreement in existence and the allowance of gold and silver to pay for things like, oh, you know, wine futures that shouldn’t cost that much to begin with but whatevs.
Pentos = The Central Coast
If Braavos is America, we can safely say that Napa and Sonoma and Oregon and Washington and Canada basically have the top of the continent covered. The Hills of Novos are probably just the vine-growing areas of the Columbia Valley, while the broad expanse of Braavos itself probably makes up San Francisco as it’s city center, with the rich surrounding areas including everything from wealthy winemakers to the rich merchants of the Silicone Valley. These people are so damn free…so yeah…there are a lot of millenials drinking Biodynamic wines in between their Water Dance sword fights. Make a deposit at an Iron Bank ATM and then head over to an Urban Winery to enjoy some Monteray Gewurz or Santa Maria Mondeuse. I actually met a winemaker at a Black and White party recently and I absolutely loved his Rosé, but when I asked him what his name was he told me that a man has no name. Ugh, typical hipster. In Pentos, we can travel down the coast a bit and find everything from killer Pinot and Chardonnay, with some outstanding Rhone varietals to boot. The Bay of Pentos is probably Santa Barbara. The red priests are also quite notable there, and you can bet your ass they’re burying some cow skulls full of manure out in those vineyards. In fact, don’t be surprised if one of these days, some winemaker out in Paso decides to burn his daughter at the stake in order to please the Lord of Light (I mean come on, it’s a drought). In fact, while we’re at it…let’s just get this out of the way now:
The Religion of R’hllor = Biodynamics
From Melisandre’s first crazy moments with Stannis, you had to know that the people from Demeter International were quite pleased. The Lord of Light, the God of Flame of Shadow, while mysterious and seemingly crazy, seems to get the job done. And while most of us don’t understand Preparations 500 thru 508 in their entirety, neither do these leaders really have a clue what the heck this religion is really up to…but results are results. It’s hard to argue when a wine kicks ass or when John Snow is brought back from the dead. It’s hard to be an atheist in the all-consuming power of grape resurrection. Across the Seven Kingdoms there are red priests and priestesses hard at work: Nicolas Joly (Benerro), or Randall Grahm (Thoros of Myr), or even Melisandre herself (Ted Lemon). This would also quite obviously make the Faith of the Seven: Regular Winemaking Techniques. If you like to use lots of synthetic chemicals and sulfites and bug sprays in order to ensure your wine and society is protected, then you’re probably a winemaker of the Faith Militant. Herbicides are still heavily used in King’s Landing, no matter how much that number might’ve gone down in recent years. You can bet your ass that the High Septon would like nothing more than to have all of the major chateaus burn his pest spray mark into their Double Guyot’s to ensure that the Faith of the Seven continues ever onward. This is Catholicism and Agnosticism at its heart. This is the old winemakers and the new winemakers figuring out which gods provide better results in the vineyards. It’s why the Red Priests and Priestesses are hitching a ride on the trains of whoever they think will end up being “The Prince Who Was Promised.” Who is Azor Ahai? Is it Chapoutier? Is it Alvaro Espinoza? Who will wield the Lightbringer and destroy the Whitewalkers forever? Phylloxera? Winemaking diseases? This is the religious battle being fought in the shadows of vine disease. Titillating isn’t it? And you can bet that as we speak, somewhere down in the dungeons, there’s a torturer tasked with taking revenge on Septa Unella through the use of drip irrigation on her forehead.
The Dothraki = South Africa
I realize once again that we’ll be breaking some rules regarding bodies of water here, but try to remember our world has more continents than theirs does. If we think about current levels of importance and badassery, South Africa has to be our Dothraki Sea. I know technically that Stellenbosch and Paarl are hardly desert climates, but there’s just something that sort of fits here. South Africa is still an up and coming region, but they have lots of land and lots of new potential. You see some some of these new POWERFUL Cabernets coming at you in blind tasting competitions and you’re instantly reminded of the power of the Dothraki calvary. Does that make Chris Mullineux, Khal Drogo? Or would Ken Forrester better fit that bill? Does Vergelegen know that the riders they helped establish now fight for a new Targaryen queen? South Africa is rising quickly, and now we find they’re wines riding across the narrow sea with new winemaking allies to battle the old world standards. Don’t be surprised if you see a Chenin Blanc going toe to toe with an Loire equivalent as the last battles of the Five Kings come to a close and the New Queens begin their engagements. Huzzah Pinotage! Huzzah Steen! Huzzah khalasar! This would make Cape Town Vaes Dothrak etc etc. You get the picture yeah?
Myr = Argentina
From here it becomes increasingly easy to fill in the remaining cities that make up our Game of Thrones wine world. Myr finds itself below Pentos which is below Braavos. Another free-thinking region, Myr specializes in very fine lace, or, in our case, Malbec. The city has not been overly involved in too much drama as of yet, but it’s steeped in colonial history much like its northern neighbors…sound familiar? Like many new world regions, Argentina/Myr was once a colony that eventually gained it’s independence and began to do whatever the hell it wanted when it came to its various industries, because the Valyrians/Europeans no longer controlled its winemaking outputs or what grapes it could grow. So they gave a giant middle finger to those who once enslaved them by reviving one of their own noble King’s Landing grapes and doing it better than anyone from the Red Keep could’ve ever dreamed. The best Lannister vacation homes down in Cahors only dreams of matching the recent spectacle of the Myriad of Myr Malbec Magic. The altitude of many Argentinian vineyards would actually be more in line with the Mountains of the Moon in the Vale of Arryn, but that’s okay, we mostly satisfied our outline. Go find a nice Torrontés and do some lace shopping. (Torrontés and Lace is the name of my new Silver Lake restaurant btw).
Volantis = Chile
Volantis, the first of the free cities, once overthrew it’s own bonds to become what it is today. Aegon’s dragons made sure that Volantis never teamed up with Argentina and Uruguay to make a Valyrian wine superpower, but they continue to be a force to be reckoned with in the wine world. In Season 1, the Vaes Dothrak marketplace features fine wines from Volantis, the Arbor, and Dorne. Volantis is the southernmost of the free cities, which works at least in a South American sense. Chile benefits from original rootstock in many areas, keeping those unexpected Carménère grapes tasting original as frick while you’re enjoying a slave prostitute on the Long Bridge with Ser Jorah Mormont. The interesting thing about Ser Jorah, is that he’s a lot like Carménère, suffering from Greyscale, most belive he will go extinct. But something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Jorah the Andal. I suspect that, much like the 6th Bordeaux grape, he’ll return to Daenerys when she needs him most, having found a cure for his Powdery Mildew. “I return to you now at the turn of the tide,” he’ll say to her, as he stands there in a gleaming white robe with his powerful staff. And she will look at him at him and cast her Patronus, which, as it turns out, was a Doe the entire time.
ASTAPOR = AUSTRALIA
Ahh yes, so we’ve come to the three great city-states of Slaver’s Bay (Though it should be noted that the Wine Homies neither support slavery, or the idea that it was ever great). Now technically Australia was known more for it’s penal colony system than slavery, though that did exist too. Great Britain, the grand colonizer of the world, sent their ‘Unsullied’ as it were, to Australia to work for their prison sentences. Those early vineyards definitely had some unintended flying winemakers tilling the fields and pruning the vines. Now obviously James Busby wasn’t castrating any of his staff along the way (that we know of) but we can at least have a little fun in the comparison. The Son’s of the Harpy, who wreck so much havoc for Danny and Tyrion, are no doubt a group of unhappy Aboriginal’s who are pissed off because duh, they’re the aboriginal inhabitants and they’re none too pleased with these effing European winemakers taking all the glory away from their home country…err…ya know…something like that. With the freedom to make good wine, came the freedom to overreach on their style, and Australia, much like Astapor, faced this terrible surplus a couple of years back, when they were forced to destroy hundreds of thousands of gallons of wine. They must learn restraint and grape yield much like the freed people’s of these cities must learn restraint in order to stay afloat in this crazy wine world. Astapor is also known for a fine red dust that seems to be everywhere, which should remind us all of course of the Terra Rossa soil of Coonawarra. The Henschke Hill of Grace is no doubt prized by the Good Masters and there’s probably a bottle of Grange being downed at the tops of every pyramid. But also, you must know that Yellowtail sells like banana’s at every concession stand down at the Fighting Pits. Have you come to see a girl take on a bull? Or to bet on which child covered in honey a bear will eat first? Well then, purchase a box seat and ask to see the Treasury List. Ahh, Astapor, a complicated place with amazing wines.
Yunkai = China
Okay I know this might seem confusing, but look, one of these cities has to be China. We can’t just ignore the wine elephant in the room. Do you remember way back to some of our original podcasts? We did one on China. Why? Oh maybe because it’s all the way up to Number 6 in the world. You can’t just ignore that. Yunkai is on the Eastern Coast of Slaver’s Bay, which at least helps us satisfy that geographical element. Plus, the culture of Yunkai is very Middle East meets Far East. The Masters there are called the Wise Masters, which, once again, sounds pretty Chinese to us. How many wise masters from China have we seen in movies, TV shows, and books? Tell me you don’t think of Kill Bill’s Pai Mei when you hear the phrase Wise Master? You know there’s some vigneron at Great Wall or Grace (Chinese wineries) using the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique to trim their vines. In Yunkai, you could call it, “The Way of the Seven Sighs”, although we think that might actually have something to do with sex…but isn’t wine really all about sex in the end, anyway?
Mereen = New Zealand
The last of the three great cities of Slaver’s Bay will take the form of New Zealand on our wine map. If the Age of Valyria saw the great Valyrian Freehold span the continent, then our once great British Empire might stand in for Valyria itself, but perhaps it would make even more sense to think of Valyria as the Roman Empire, which would explain how winegrowing spread all over Essos before eventually being stopped by a dude with some dragons or, ya know, lions…whichever national flag mascot you adhere to best. Look, my metaphors are really becoming muddled here, so I really just need you to understand what I’m saying without me having to explain myself fully. Meereen, much like New Zealand, is once again, coastal, and you just get the feeling that after a long day of night-killings, the Sons of the Harpy like to relax with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. If you’ve seen the masks worn by the Sons of the Harpy and the facial tattoos of some of the greatest Maori warriors, you’ll understand why they get so intense during some of those hakas. If a foreign lady with dragons took your city over and changed your economic structure (Queen Victoria anybody? Seriously, she even named everything after herself), you’d get Central Otago drunk and dance-shout too.
Qarth = Uhh…Tasmania?
I’ll be honest, I’m running out of places. So let’s just say that Xaro Xhoan Daxos is uhh, Kreglinger and Pyat Pree is umm, oh, Sue Bell I guess. Look, we’re running out of regions that will actually correlate here people. Tasmania is Qarth and they’re protected by the red waste which I guess is, let’s say that stretch of land that protects them from the Dothraki of Victoria? Yeah? I’m happy with that.
Characters of Note:
Daenerys Targaryen = Helen Turley
There are many women who could take up the mantle of the mother of dragons…but her babies burn brighter than all the rest. Check out some of her dragons: Marcassin, Bryant, Colgin…the list goes on.
John Snow = Christian Moueix
It would be tempting to say that Snow would be some flying winemaker from Batard-Montrachet, or to cast him as some rebellious new world winemaker…but we need someone with a Targyaren connection, and Moueix, while making one of the most famous wines in the world, still receives no Napoleonic credit for this. He’s building a wine army though, and remember, he’s got allies he doesn’t even know about yet over in Essos (the new world), though currently they’re sailing for Europe (Westeros)…perhaps his Dominus Estate, which as you know he started with original Valyrian rootstock, will play a big part in supplying a defense against the Whitewalkers of phylloxera.
Ned Stark = Ernst Loosen
Tyrion Lannister = Robert Mondavi
Catlyn Stark = Jancis Robinson
Ellaria Sand = Laura Catena
Stannis Baratheon = Jean-Rémy Moët
The Various unassigned Stark and Targaryen Extended Family = The Various Mondavi/Rothschild extended family
Podrick Payne = My boy Anthony Mueller up in Napa, Shoutout boyeee! Congrats on the Advanced ya heard!?
Ygritte = Kay Simon
Brienne of Tarth = Heidi Barrett
Bran Stark = Wine Futures
Tormund Giantsbane = Jackson-Triggs
Theon Greyjoy = Beaujolais Nouveau
Ramsay Bolton = That Sommelier Who Made That Wine List That Doesn’t Tell You The Grapes, the Color, the Price, Or Any Information Beyond Some Random Artwork They Used To Describe The Wines Themselves.
Jorah Mormont = Paul Hobbs
Elio Altare = Syrio Forel (I just really think they’re the same person).
Grey Worm = Grey Rot
Benjen Stark = Carménère! (You’re Alive?!?!)
House Tully of Riverrun = The Cider Producers of Normandy
Daario Naharis = Chateau D’Yquem (seriously though, ya know how people call D’Yquem “Liquid Sex”. Well, check out Daario when you get a chance. Hot damn. D’Yquem and Daario are both WOKE BAES.)
The High Septon = Robert M. Parker, Jr.
Grand Maester Pycelle = Tom Stevenson
Lord Varys = Michael Broadbent
The Red Wedding = The 1976 Judgment of Paris
Davos Seaworth = Paul Draper
Jaime Lannister = Michel Rolland
Maester Aemon = Émile Peynaud
Petyr Baelish = Hardy Rodenstock
Dragonglass = Riedel Glassware (Powerful, and yet, so fragile)
Shae = Ben Draper, Wine for Sophisticated Homies
Master Qyburn = Enologix
So that just about covers it. If you found any mistakes, please, let us know, it’s very important that we get this right. If you have any additions, go ahead and leave them in the comment box for our consideration. If you have any subtractions, I think now you’re just doing math.
On a final note, for those of you who work in high-end, fine-dining restaurants, I’ve got some advice. If you ever feel intimidated or stressed or unable to face the three-piece suits and metal credit cards of high-end conventions and business dinners…if you ever lack confidence in the face of a great battle or under siege…if you ever falter at the gates…just hum the Game of Thrones theme song in your mind. That song has helped me sell a lot of bottles from our Cult/Reserve section. In other words—Be the Bastard. Let your house flags fly from the parapets you sexy mother-fucking sommelier you.
In the Game of Wines…there can only be one person sitting on that giant throne made out of wine keys.
Will it be you?
John wrote letters to Abigail, and Frida Khalo? She penned hers to Diego Rivera. They spoke love in words about things like revolutions and affection more expansive than untrimmed eyebrows.
Lovers torn asunder reach out across the paper plains and send their love painstakingly like paper planes meandering through the air to say the things that must be said, of what is and what remains.
And so too must a sommelier write sonnets on the long-necked Hock Bottles of daring beverages racing with the biting crisp of lips, tongue—dripping with the poison of a magical elixir.
I don’t claim to know it all, but I know you. I saw you in the darkest halls with bowls of ramen stew.
You smiled at me with my Vietnamese like lovers ought to do.
I knew you not for many years, or perhaps I thought I did. The younger me knew only that you were a tad too much—so sugary, so innocent, no bite, so sweet.
But I don’t mince words like I mince meat.
I met you again in college—you a German exchange student and me, an idiot already too drunk to see you. We were ships passing in the frat house night, who brought you there? What was your story?
And then again, the fates collided, changing palates, changing stories. You paired up with a crudo and you made me stop talking. No one forgets their first real moment with you—wiping the slate clean to taste the slate anew.
A kabinett full of surprises—you made me stop mid-speech as, like firecracker pop rocks, you spoke to me. And I looked around that day wanting everyone to know what it was I was experiencing, the absolute joy that comes from a wine made from a grape known as Riesling.
And that’d be one thing, if it was just a one-time thing, if you only blew my mind like a backseat fling, but you showed me over time that you are even more divine in the racy, chilling French variety, tickling up my spine.
Oh Trimbach, when I met you, I was merely but a boy…but deliverance from boredom, understated joy!
You apple-honeysuckled me, you paired my pear, you spiced. Ginger Lady, CardaMommy, petrol gripping me so nice.
With age you’ve learned a thing or two, you laid down lady. You make pescatarians swoon when you come in the room—a snapper caper, pork-loin engager—boom-chicken-boom-boom.
I met Clare the other day and her Mojito style carried me away and I’ve Dr. Loosened up my morals with a Thai Green Chili Sauce, but my morels I save for alcohol, Alsatian me, I’m at a loss.
For words? You won’t need them. Riesling supercedes them. You spin me right round baby right round. I’m acid-trippingingly on the tongue, describing you in fantastical hyperbole, preceding to become virtuously undone.
I drape your white flowers over bedspreads of Choucroute. I don’t shoot first or ask questions later, I simply ask them now and blast away. I savor layers of the sickeningly wonderful because after this sip is gone the longing returns until I’m met with the glass at my lips once more.
And like lovers I can leave this Strasbourg café and walk along the waterway with bottle in hand reciting poetry late into the night, while drinking of your beauty, paraffin, and candlelight.
Your citrus appeal, tart youth, marzipanned age, bottled truth.
You encapsulate me, captivate me, capture, enrapture, and navigate me. I’m trapped amongst your quince, your apricot.
I see you open up, for what you are…for what you’re not.
You take my barbecues, you hear my bass,
You bring wonder to the pairings that inhabit my every space.
Pork and bacon, sweet Papaya, mustard-laced utensils…all pushing me on, prehensile. All forming a song: elemental.
My love for you is jealous and most don’t understand, they live in missionary style, Chardonnaked Land.
But we’ve got something deeper, something mystically mythical, mysteriously untypical, ridiculously inimitable, and a history of chimerical.
Riesling, darling, oh for you, my love is evermore.