In Vino Gravitas: Thoughts On Drinking Wine Without Commentary

Font Size:

I have but three wishes before I take the dirt nap.

First, that Hollywood make an epic war film with an actual geopolitical enemy rather than some sinister global corporation. If audiences are international so to do this would be a bridge too far, then at least pick on a new industry. No more Finance, Pharma or Military Industrial – anyone can write that — and the more random, the better. Big Herring, for instance. A tale of global maleficence planned by a consortium of Scandinavian fish importers. The screenwriter who pulls this off has made good on his Haverford English degree.

Second, that when I go to restaurants waitresses stop saying to me if you need anything at all, my name is Brittany. I am sure she means well, but it leaves me not knowing what to call her before I need anything. Until I decide that yes, I do have a taste for El Diablo Buffalo Wings with extra Firewater sauce, does she float in a nameless state of suspended animation? It’s a heavy burden to lay on someone who just came in to catch the Rangers game.

And third, that once in my life I can simply enjoy a glass of wine without feeling pressure immediately afterward to provide commentary. Why is the rule here no unspoken thoughts? Even if my opinion on the subject were worth sharing – and FYI, in my opinion Dumb and Dumber got shafted when it didn’t win Best Picture – I just swallowed the stuff. How can I possibly rank where it fits in the cosmic order of the universe? As far as I know we don’t do this with any other food or drink. Have you ever overheard this at Ben & Jerry’s:

Man: Darling, is this not the best cherry walnut ever? Ambrosial, simply ambrosial.

Woman: Sublime, with a hint of worldliness. But best ever, dear? Need I remind you of 2011 Mackinac Island Farmers Reserve?

Man: Well that goes without saying.

Of course you haven’t. So why is everyone expected to be an expert when it comes to wine? Imagine Shakespeare facing so many theatre critics on opening night of The Taming of the Shrew. He might have followed his brother-in-law into commercial real estate. It’s the same sense of uneasiness I feel whenever I visit my eye-doctor, where after a barrage of is it clearer in this lens or that lens questions I realize that I’m essentially writing my own prescription. I don’t know, you’re the professional — should I like small and clear or bigger but slightly fuzzy?

I recall when I first learned this lesson, the expectation of immediate editorial. It was at a wine tasting years ago. My friend John had told me there was a special place he wanted to take me, for oenophiles only. As soon as I realized that the word didn’t mean what I’d thought it meant, I smoothed out John’s jacket lapel and resigned myself to attending the tasting with him. The setting was fairly typical — subterranean lair, fitted black shirts, exposed brick, background jazz that reminds you to buy khakis. I was third to taste, and noticed that nobody before me got away with a polite head nod, mmmmm, tasty or honey, did we have something like this at the Metallica concert? In fact, the first two patrons stole my ideas, with phoned-in observations about the wine’s oakiness and buttery goodness. Thankfully, I was able to crack the editorial pattern  – [adjective] with a hint of [noun] – so to keep it interesting, I went with zesty, with a hint of back-sass.

I should note that this tasting was the last time I socialized with John, but I’m fine with that. Anyone who says something like “2005 was a good year for the grapes” probably isn’t long to be my friend. Step away from the Almanac, Poor Richard. I don’t have to know a single thing about vinification to know that any year is a bad year for grapes. For you’re a grape, and not only that, one that in that very year got crushed, bottled and ultimately imbibed.

The way I see it, wine should be grateful for its vaunted status in polite society and just leave it at that. Bring a nice cab – not the best, not the worst, but nice – as a dinner party guest and expect a future invitation. Bring gin in a brown bag and expect an intervention. So you’ve won, wine, you’ve won. No need to spike the football.