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WINE COMES OUT OF THE CLOSET

As someone with colleagues in both the world of wine and the world of computers, I can tell you that neither profession is likely to land one of its stars on the cover of GQ. Certainly wine geeks dress far better for their formal events than computer geeks do for theirs; most wine tastings feature far fewer Luke Skywalker costumes. But on a daily basis? Let's just say someone is going to get rich some day selling a plastic pocket protector that holds a corkscrew.

The problem is that the majority of experts in both fields are tone-deaf when it comes to style and have a complete lack of concern about their personal appearance -- they are, to use the technical term, "men." Obviously, to bridge the worlds of wine and fashion, we must turn to a woman.

Enter Leslie Sbrocco, wine columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and author of the book "Wine for Women: A Guide to Buying, Pairing and Sharing Wine." An award-winning writer about the worlds of wine, food and entertaining (think Martha Stewart without the rap sheet), she has written a book that, among other things, compares building a wine collection to building a wardrobe.

Sbrocco will tell you that chardonnay is the "basic black dress" of wine because it's popular, versatile and comes in many styles; sauvignon blanc is crisp and zesty like a freshly laundered cotton shirt, cabernet has the timeless appeal of a Chanel suit, and pinot noir is the silk dress of red wines because it is elegant and glamorous.

These are all fine analogies that speak directly to the style-conscious woman in a way few wine writers do. But for others with a less-refined sense of style (especially you "men"), these analogies do not go far enough. And that's why I'm here.

We start, of course, with white zinfandel, whose equivalent in the fashion world is the size 14 polyester stretch pants sold to size 18 Kmart shoppers. In many cases they're actually the same color. And both of them reveal a little more about you than you want other people to know. Guys, you're not off the hook either if you have anything white zinfandel-colored in your closet. Just because they've re-released "Miami Vice" on DVD, it doesn't mean Don Johnson's wardrobe is coming back in style.

With clothing as well as wines, labels matter -- and they cost you money. Armani is great, and so is Opus One, but you can do nearly as well, if not better, for a lot less money. Just don't take bargain hunting to the extreme; you wouldn't wear clothes that earn you the nickname "Two Buck Chuck," so why drink a wine that does the same?

Fashion isn't complete without accessories, and neither is wine. If you're the type of person who needs a different pair of shoes (or more) for each outfit, you'll want to have the right glass for each wine -- at least according to my distant relatives who make Riedel glassware (they never write, they never call, they never send free stuff). Now that I see the connection between wine glasses and shoes, I finally get Carrie on "Sex and the City."

And, just like you should clean out your closet every season, you should do the same with your wine rack.

A good Bordeaux can age as well as a vintage tuxedo, but that 25-year-old bottle of sauvignon blanc has "Fashion Emergency" written all over it. Overly aged white wines have an unnatural color, a musty odor and tell the world you haven't been paying attention for the past 20 years.

In other words, you're one band collar away from having a Members Only jacket.

Howard Riedel is a local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" on WBFO-FM and an evolving spirits pontificating franchise. His e-mail is hriedel@wbfo.org.

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