Thursday, February 7, 2013

"Would You Like To See Our Wine List?"

Culture & Society

So imagine going to a restaurant with friends. The group is seated and at some point is asked about choice of  drink. Everyone feels like drinking wine. One of the more knowledgeable of the group asks about the choices available. The waiter then rattles off a flurry of french, Italian  and other foreign sounding names or offers a wine list with French, Italian,  and other foreign names. You listen to the waiter or look at the list and are lost. You have absolutely no clue. You might recognize Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, but that's it. Your friends are making choices and you simply tell the waiter that you will have that which the person closest to you is having, or the group (without your input  decides on one particular type for the table). After a few minutes, the waiter brings the bottle, opens it, and pours some in a glass. The knowledgeable friend then lifts the glass, gives the wine a couple of swirls, raises the glass to his or her nose and gives it a sniff or two, takes a sip, moves the wine around his or her mouth, swallows it, and gives the waiter a nod of approval. The waiter then pours for everyone around the table. And there you are wondering what the hell was all that, in awe at your friend's knowledge of fine wine, and bemoaning your own lack of knowledge of wine types and etiquette. 

Well, that was me about ten years ago, but I decided to do something about my lack of knowledge. I embarked on a serious study of wine culture. I came away with a wealth of knowledge about the wine industry, the almost infinite number of grape varietals available, the leading wine producing countries, wine etiquette,  and much much more. I also maintained, for about two or three years, a collection of each of the main red and white wine varietals, always immediately replacing each one used so as to maintain my collection. In addition to the preceding, I acquired the all-important wine vocabulary to help me to clearly describe each wine type encountered and to help me to converse more confidently with other wine enthusiasts. I even tried the more expensive wines, going as far as my budget could reasonably take me because I had to "know". The most I have ever spent on an individual bottle was $200, a far cry from the $20,000 plus bottles available for the really affluent. As I said, I just had to know. But more importantly, I learned that my red wine of choice are Malbec and Zinfandel, my white wine of choice are Chardonnay and Riesling, not to spend more than $20 for a bottle of wine, that after the first two glasses all wine are equal, that (in spite of the existence of wine experts) taste is individual and largely subjective, and that above all, that the emperor wears no clothes.

[Photographic Art by Ric Couchman]