“Here’s to the corkscrew – a useful key to unlock the storehouse of wit, the treasury of laughter, the front door of fellowship, and the gate of pleasant folly.”
(From the wine list of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, LA courtesy of John McDonald, Dallas, TX)
I begin with such a quote because, as you shall see, it is appropriate, both to my life and to the subject at hand.
I was so fortunate last weekend as to spend some time with my dear friend Karen. She has recently moved to San Diego but still travels every other month to the SF Bay Area for Book Club. That, my friends, is dedication and a damn fine reason to open a bottle of the good wine. Which brings me to the reason we’re all here (well, virtually). Karen looked at me and said, “I’ve been meaning to tell you. You should do a blog on wine. I’ve been wanting to tell you that for weeks.”
I have had two columns on the back burner forever. One is on the death penalty and one is on the oil companies’ record (yes, again) profits. I’ve done a ton of research yet somehow, that work keeps being shunted to one side. Oh well, it’s the holidays. Serious minded writing perhaps does not have a place at the moment.
As soon as Karen said I should do a piece on wine, something clicked. I mean, come on, you all know Eric and I have already done the research. And it is perfect for this time of year when parties and hospitality seem to be everywhere. Besides, it would be fun. As she was speaking I had an inspiration. I would do six blogs! I know, right? Overkill much? Still, work with me, people, I thought one intro piece (welcome to the intro piece, my friends) and five follow-ups; one for each sense.
Niceties being thus dispensed… ready?
When approaching the subject of wine I feel it is imperative to dismiss certain myths. I am constantly amazed at the number of friends and acquaintances who are laboring under the misapprehension that one needs to be an expert, perhaps a member of a select society and otherwise a complete snob, even a total tool, to enjoy/know about wine. C’mon people, at the end of the day it’s just spoiled grape juice.
Well, really yummy spoiled grape juice.
Five Things Everyone Needs to Know About Wine (or Five Myths to Debunk):
1.) There’s no accounting for taste. You like what you like. Just as in sixth grade you had the crush on some boy or girl and your friends looked at you like you were crazy, “You like WHO???” Hey, you were right to pick your own crushes then and it’s still true today. If YOU like a wine then it’s a good wine. If someone else spits it out, that’s their opinion (and for heaven’s sake grab their glass before they dump your new favorite down the sink). Remember, some people love sushi, others not so much. Likewise, you get to decide which wines you like. Ignore the “experts”.
2.) Another myth (or delusion) is that if you smell a cork after your server has opened your bottle of wine at the restaurant you can tell if the wine has spoiled. Err, not likely. A cork smells, umm, like cork. Smell the wine. This will tell you if there is a potential problem. Does the smell of the wine make you want to dive into the glass? Excellent. Do you think you smell vinegar? Ugh, we may have a problem. However, honestly, the odds in any reputable restaurant of a truly bad wine are slim to none. What you really want to do when you look at the cork your server or sommelier just handed you is check and see if the cork matches the bottle that you actually ordered, particularly if you’ve splurged on a more expensive bottle. (Buyer beware.) Look for the name or the logo. If it is a higher quality wine, check to see that the date stamped on the cork matches the vintage you’ve ordered. While fraud is not widespread, it is something you can catch.
3.) Older wines are better. If only. Actually, most wines do NOT get better with age. Almost all whites wines are meant to be enjoyed now or in the coming year. I say almost, there are some winemakers who have been getting jiggy with their whites. So if YOUR winemaker says “Drink in three years”, go for it. However in general, drink your whites. Reds have the reputation as the wines to lie down. That’s sort of true. Actually, only a few reds have the structure to age for several years. Trust me, Eric and I learned that lesson. You’ve got a stellar Zin the winemaker said was only going to get better? Great, drink it in five. Do NOT wait for ten. A good Cabernet, a Mouvedre you may be in business. Just be careful. There’s nothing worse than dumping a bottle that you know used to be delicious down the sink. Talk about money down the drain. Buy what you are going to drink and be careful what you lay down. (So true in so many venues, yes?)
4.) Myth number four: open the bottle and let the wine breathe. Are you kidding me? It’s true, when a wine reacts to the oxygen, good things happen. Tastes blossom. That being said, you open a bottle, it has this narrow little neck and somehow that’s supposed to be enough surface area reacting with the air to open your wine up? PLU-leeze. Decant that bad boy. A good decanter doesn’t have to be expensive. You can get them at the Wine Steward on Main Street (shameless plug for a great local business http://thewinesteward.com/ ). Don’t have a decanter? (I smell a Christmas List idea.) No problem. Pour your wine from up really high like the waiters in Italy. It’s messy and splashes a bit, but it’s a quick and cheap way to decant your wine. Yum. You’re welcome.
5.) Many people believe they are not wine drinkers. Why? Because they tried wine and started right in with Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. Or worse yet, for the girls in the audience, you tasted what your boyfriend or husband told you to try (to be fair, maybe it was vice versa). Here’s a great reason for female/male emancipation (and one place where the homosexual couples have it up on the heteros). Your palate and your significant other’s are so very, very, very different. Eric and I sometimes enjoy the same wines but almost never for the same reasons. Men and women process flavors and experience tastes differently. Neither is better or worse, just completely different. So, try your own wine picks and see what you like (see Rule/Myth #1). Oh, and why is starting with Chardonnay or Cabernet a problem? It’s sort of like getting into math, trying calculus and saying, “Wow, I suck at math.” Of course you do. You needed to begin with arithmetic and work your way up. Typically Chardonnay and Cab Sauv tend to be the heavy hitters in the wine universe. You needed, forgive the simile, a gateway wine. For whites begin with a Pinot Grigio or a Chenin Blanc, something more accessible and food friendly. With reds try a fruit forward Malbec or a peppery Chianti. No need to break out the big boys on your first rodeo. Baby steps, my friends, baby steps.
Most of all, wine, like so many other things in life, is about fun and friends, good food and conversation. It’s the whole enchilada. So take a big bite, make sure you get some sauce and dive in to enjoy. Happy Thanksgiving, my dear ones!!!!