Thurston: Advice for brain surgeons, white wine from red grapes, crocopotamus vino, Parker points, Pinotage & more

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By Jim Boyce

During eight-plus years of writing about wine in China, I have learned much from winery owners, winemakers, vineyard managers, importers, distributors, retailers, academics, trade representatives and, notably, fellow consumers. I haven’t done so well with wine educators.

Always the optimist, I decided to find an educator for the blog who can help me and other vino misfits. This inaugural post, which first appeared in my free newsletter last week (subscribe here), comes from the author’s radio show and covers everything from making white wines with red grapes to mixing wine education with brain surgery, from Parker points to Pinotage. I hope you enjoy it.


[Sound of a popping cork, pouring wine and then an announcer]

Why does Champagne have bubbles? What happens if I eat a cork? Will mixing 95-point and 85-point wines give me a wine worth 90 points?

These are the kinds of questions covered by ‘Get Your Thirst On with Thurston‘. While everyone else in the wine trade talks about consumers, Thurston talks to them, and quenches their burning desire for knowledge. Here he is!

Hello, I’m wine educator Thurston H. Freude-Schaden. Welcome to — [sigh] -– ‘Get Your Thirst On with Thurston’.

A warning: my wife ‘accidentally’ drank my last bottle of ’61 Margaux last night, my subscription to ran out this morning and my dog Vouvray just chewed the latest issue of The World of Fine Wine to bits. Things are not going well.

Let’s turn to today’s callers.

– Hi, it’s Perry from New Zealand.

What is your question, Perry?

– My mate said Sauvignon Blanc usually smells like cat’s pee and gave me a glass that stank worse than a portaloo. It tasted like piss, too. Turns out he made his cat leak in the wine as a joke.

Fascinating, Perry. No doubt film producers are frantically seeking screenwriters to immortalize this tale. Do you have a question?

– Yeah. Are there any health risks?

What brand of wine?

Cloudy Bay.

No obvious ones spring to mind although your friend is in danger of boring himself to death with such a pedestrian choice. Next time, suggest Springfield Estate from South Africa, St. Supery from California or Greywacke from New Zealand.

– I don’t know. He really likes his Cloudy Bay.

Then inform him those other wines are more urine-absorbent. Next caller.

– Hello, it’s Alexis in New York.

Alexis, how might I help?

– I don’t have much time to learn about wine, so–

A common refrain. What is your profession?

– I’m a brain surgeon. And I manage an institute focused on curing cancer. And in my spare time I run a shelter for homeless pets that have cancer and need brain surgery.

And you claim there is not much time for wine?

– Yes, but–

Count your blessings, Alexis. Operating room lighting is ideal for judging wine. The next time you finish surgery, simply go from asking for a scalpel to asking for a glass.

– Yes, but–

Take several vintages of your favorite wine and do a vertical tasting. Or take a handful of wines from the same vintage and do a horizontal tasting.

– Yes, but–

Trust me, a blind tasting of five or six wines will both relieve the stress of performing a lobotomy and boost your wine knowledge. You could easily taste 30 wines a day.

– Yes, but–

Next caller.

– It’s Tom from South Africa. I’m ready to ‘get my thirst on’.


– Here’s my question and I think it’s a good one. If I take a 95-point Parker wine and an 85-point Parker wine and I mix them together, does that give me a 90-point Parker wine?

I’ll make this culturally relevant for you, Tom from South Africa. If I smash you in the face 95 times with a crocodile, then smash you in the face 85 times with a hippopotamus, does that mean I smashed you in the face 90 times with an crocopotamus?

– I think it means you’re bloody strong.

It’s apples and oranges, Tom. Round hole, square peg. Burgundy bottle, Champagne cork. Next caller.

– Hi, it’s Sunny from Shanghai. One of my friends claims you can make white wine from red grapes. Is that true?

Let me ask you a question, Sunny. Have you ever mistakenly stuck a red shirt into the laundry with the whites?

– No, but I did it once with a pair of red panties.

Oh. Uh, let’s imagine a shirt instead, shall we?

– Okay.

The juice from red grapes is clear — think of it as those whites in your laundry. But the skin of the grapes is like that red shirt. Add it to the whites and they become red. Leave it out and they stay white.

– So… is my friend right?

As surely as my cellar is missing a ’61 Margaux.

– So… is my friend right?

Yes. Red grapes, white wine, entirely possible. Next caller.

– Hi, I’m Sue, in Seattle.

Greetings, Seattle Sue.

– Well, everyone calls me Cabernet Suevignon, like Cabernet Sauvignon, since I love wine so much. When I can’t get any, I call myself Suevignon-less in Seattle, after that movie with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, and everyone cracks up and…

Why not call yourself Suener Veltliner?

– Because. Because. What do you mean?

Gruner Veltliner is a grape associated with Austria. I simply changed ‘Gruner’ to ‘Suener’ to indulge your attempt to gain acceptance through light-hearted humor.

– ‘Sue-ner-less in Seattle’ doesn’t have the same ring.

You could try Pinot Suenier, a play on Pinot Meunier, one of three main grapes used in Champagne. Or Sueperavi, a play on Saperavi, a grape linked to Georgia — the nation, not the U.S. state.

– I kind of like Suevignon. Anyway, my question–

Trust me. My examples are far more exotic. And you can get a thousand more by buying the book Wine Grapes. Sue long! Next caller.

– Hi, it’s Bob from Hong Kong.

What is your question, Bob.

– A salesman at my local wine shop says the difference between Pinot Noir and Pinotage is that Pinotage is an older grape. That’s why it has ‘age‘ at the end. Personally, I think he is full of…

Allow me stop you there, Bob. Your instincts are correct. Pinotage is a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault and is thus a newer variety. It also tends to divide wine critics, although some drinkers – certainly not you – wolf down this often game-y plonk by the one-liter tetrapak.

– So why would he claim that–

Let me put it this way. Imagine that salesman is a grape. He is a cross between a dumb grape and a dumber grape and thus acquired the characteristics that lead a person to make ridiculous claims. It’s science, Bob. Next caller.

– Hi, it’s Neil calling from New Zealand.

What is your question, Neil from New Zealand?

– I was at this house party last night where a guy made his cat pee in a bottle of Cloudy Bay and…

Neil from New Zealand, are you familiar with Perry from New Zealand?

– Well, sure. Old Per’ and I go way back.

He already called about this fascinating episode. I suggest you talk to him. By the way, did you enjoy the wine?

– I wouldn’t pay money for it but I wouldn’t turn down a free glass.

Then get to know that cat.

– Actually, I don’t–

And that is all of the time we have for today. My gratitude to those callers who made it possible for a wine educator like me to talk to ordinary people like them, so we can all – [sigh] – get our thirst on.

[Announcer] Got a question or comment for Thurston, the wine educator who talks to consumers? Email him c/o grapewallofchina (at)

(Note: Thanks to JennyHat, Swoffy, ET and GWS for suggestions.)

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