En Vino Veritas…it’s a nice little Latin expression meaning “In wine there is truth.” Now whether that truth is you telling your boss how his wife and the VP seem to be getting along swimmingly in the coat check room after your fifth glass of Merlot. Or while at your friend’s annual Christmas party asking your wife if the 25 yr old blonde in the mini-skirt might make a suitable replacement for her over several glasses of Pinot Gris… “I mean, Heaven forbid something should happen to you my little cupcake.” Some bad things can come out of wine driven truth, but at least it’s truthful. Not sure how you’ll feel about my thoughts on wine, but here they are anyway…
It was Christmas of 1971 or 1972, and I was three or four years old. Santa had just rocked mine and my brother’s world with yet another bumper crop of toys that over the next twelve months would be tested to their precious end. These were toys that manufacturers didn’t mind putting steel into, and sharp edges on. Ask any adult who is perhaps forty years of age or older which will dent first, a Tonka Truck or a head and I’m sure we’d reach a consensus. As far as choking hazards were concerned anything that didn’t kill you made you stronger, or at least scared the shit out of you until you were old enough to chew them properly.
These were different times people and children were thought to be tougher than they are generally considered to be today. This is why there were never any little plastic covers on each outlet or little plastic thingy’s to make sure drawers and kitchen cabinets were to remain closed. How else is a child supposed to figure out raw wire shouldn’t be stuffed into an electrical socket, or no matter how lemony Pledge might actually smell, its taste differs significantly.
The same values held true for alcohol consumption. I remember sitting at the table that Christmas and everything seemed right for a holiday table, over cooked turkey, Bells stuffing inside the turkey, canned cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potato, peas, so on and so forth…. But then there was something I hadn’t remembered seeing on the table in the form of a square bottle. I couldn’t read at the time so I’m not sure even what it was but then my father did something odd. He took a teaspoon and added a few drops of the dark red liquid to mine and my brother’s water until it was barely changed in color…he then said a few words to all at the table and everybody clinked glasses and drank.
Quite honestly I don’t remember much about the taste that day but in subsequent years a few drops would become a few teaspoons and finally I got my own little cordial glass with some wine in the bottom about the time I was seven or so. Well now might be a good time to clarify what I mean by wine. The wine of my formative years was Manischewitz Concord Grape. This will have my wine snob friends cringing and other’s shrugging and looking confused. For you in the confused camp I also don’t know how a Roman Catholic family ended up drinking Orthodox Jewish wine on Christmas. Suffice it to say I remember liking the sweetness of it but after a few years, we moved on to greener pastures.
About the same time “ Judgment of Paris” was happening my family entered the Cold Duck era. If you don’t feel like clicking on the link let me break Judgment of Paris down for you real quick. There was a tasting of French and American wines, where the American wines won, and the French were pissed….the end. Now Cold Duck comes from the illustrious wine region of…. Detroit, Michigan…um…yeah. It was first created by a German man Harold Borgman. By combining one part of what I’m sure was high end California “red” with two parts of New York’s finest Sparkling to end up with something that was supposed to be called Kaltes Ende which is German for Cold End, but was switched I’m assuming as a joke to” Kalte Ente” German for Cold Duck.
I remembered Cold Duck as being fun, bubbly and sweet, much different than Manischewitz in what can only be described as “a good way”. Keep in mind this is the seventies wine era when probably 90% of Americans couldn’t give a full 100% shit about wine anyway. So there was no shame in drinking Cold Duck or any stigma attached to anything but the lowliest of wines such as MD 20/20 and Wild Irish Rose. Cold Duck was the taste of the toasts at holiday meals until I was perhaps thirteen or so and then my parents went positively high end and switched to Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante.
I have seen reviews and tasting notes that have described Asti Spumante as “…tangerine peel, honeysuckle, vanilla, creamery butter and honeyed notes…” I’m not sure about that, but in my mid teens until I left home it tasted like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Those were the only times my parents would have alcohol in the house, well then or whenever my Uncle Jack was going to come for a visit. Trust me when I tell you Uncle Jack was not an Asti Spumante man, but rather Pabst Blue Ribbon (before PBR was cool) and Miller were his libations of choice.
So with my youth setting a not so high bar for wine, I set out to discover what the world had to offer in the ways of the grape.
I was twenty-seven and on a date at a restaurant that I knew would cost me north of a hundred dollars. This was the first time in my life I was going to spend that kind of cabbage on dinner and I knew the drink of choice had to be wine. I’d seen all the movies and knew that no woman was going to be impressed enough to drop her….uh, sensibilities at the end of the night because of a nice Chateaubriand and a can of Schlitz.
I knew this was going to take a little something more in the beverage department. I asked the sommelier to recommend a wine to accompany the meal we had chosen and she came up with a pinot noir of some sort. I did all the right things and stared at the bottle when presented, swirled the glass, sniffed, swished, gargled, pulled in air and chewed. I did all this despite I had no idea what the hell I was doing it for. I bought that same wine on every occasion I could after that, convinced it was the answer to the successful outcome of the
evening meal and made it so much more enjoyable.
On occasion I would go to friends’ houses and like most people in their 30’s, they all seemed to turn into classical music/ wine aficionado’s. We drank everything from Boones Farm Strawberry listening to Wagner to some very pricey French and Italian wines to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” with only one criterion to consider. Does this taste like gorilla ass? If the answer was no, yes of course I’ll have another glass. If the answer was yes then, yes of course I’ll have another glass. After all this was free alcohol that friends were providing, who was I to turn a cold shoulder to an education in fine wine and classical music. Yes please, crank the Tchaikovsky and keep pouring that fine white Zin!
While in culinary school we had a week of wine classes learning about varietals with where and how they’re grown to produce different products. We learned how to do pairings and which wines went with which foods to produce the optimum meal experience. How to taste and how to write notes on it and which characteristics were desirable and which were not. Now after all that education and years later having had really good wines paired with really good food all I have to say is this…WHY ALL THE FUSS?
You people with your chill to this temp, and don’t serve this with that, and oh my god let me tell you my thoughts on screw top versus synthetic cork versus real cork versus box. This wine will suck if it doesn’t breathe, this wine should really be hyperdecanted and whatever you do don’t drink this wine from this year and stay away from this vineyard as their wines are particularly precocious and naughty.
Look, to all my wine drinking friends, I love you dearly but you really are putting far too much thought and grief into something that shouldn’t be so tough. I mean after all Romans had lead decanters designed to hold wine and release the flavors of the lead which they called “sugar of lead” that they would then drink and enjoy to the point of getting lead poisoning….I mean these people literally went F’CKING NUTS for wine and didn’t make distinctions between which year was better 5BC or 6 AD. I’m also fairly certain you would have gotten some coliseum game time with your Lion friends had you asked for your bottle to be hyperdecanted.
So please do us all a favor and enjoy your wine. Share your favorites with others and extoll its virtues to anybody you come across. But don’t be a snob. Don’t tell us which years should be avoided at all costs. Don’t be the person who passes out when a friend starts drinking before the glass has had “enough” time to breathe. Don’t have a solid gold cow if someone likes to keep their red in the fridge or throws a chunk of ice in their chardonnay. The only question needed to be answered with regards to wine…Is it good or bad? Or in my case…Does it taste like gorilla ass? If your answer is no, smile and take a sip…. If the answer is yes… maybe only pour half a glass. It’ll make you appreciate the glass you have when you get home a lot more.