If you’re anything like me, your first experience with wine was smacking the shit out of a plastic bag of fortified grape juice after sucking out its contents like you’d been wandering in the wilderness for 40 days. Slapping the bag may have been one of the less barbaric mechanisms for intoxication practiced amongst our world’s best and brightest university students, but future post-robot-zombie-gluten apocalypse anthropologists, upon uncovering Facebook’s treasure trove of cultural artifacts some eons from now, will undoubtedly stand perplexed at this bizarre Bacchic ritual.
At some point in my life, I discovered that this bagged concoction is sometimes sold in bottles, and given that slap-the-bottle has a nasty tendency to surprise us with a lightning round of squeeze-the-severed-artery, I tended to avoid bottled wine until I discovered a subculture of society that practices drinking in moderation and sans theatrics. O brave new world, that has such people in’t.
For most of my life I’ve considered myself a whiskey drinker, and for even longer than that I have suffered from a mild affliction of social anxiety. While some things pair well with whiskey, social anxiety is not one of them; I developed a social tick of taking a drink in between sentences, alcohol content of my beverage be damned. Speak, sip, repeat. This did wonders for my anxiety; on particularly effective nights it would disappear almost as rapidly as my pants. Naked, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son. In its place would materialize the trifecta of temporary substance-induced amnesia: regret, debilitating hangovers, and unexplainable contusions.
After a few too many nights of accidental brain damage (both chemical and physical), I decided to expand my horizons and rid myself of the delusion that I needed to stick to the same beverage, I suppose in what I thought was a symbol of personal identity. This process of trying out new things was facilitated by the explosive growth of the craft beer revolution and eventually lingered into the world of wine. After a few years of dabbling in the wine aisle, I’m glad I ventured into this oft-misunderstood world, for the following reasons.
First, in my experience, I don’t find whiskey (or other liquors) to be particularly conducive to good conversation, especially at a nice dinner and even moreso on a date. In my opinion, nothing beats a good single-malt scotch, but after a few of them I’m either ready to either throw cheap bourbon down my gullet or throw in the towel for the evening; words start to get slurred and Taco Bell starts to look appetizing. And the date I mentioned? If it goes well, I definitely don’t want to be fighting a belly full of whiskey. On the other hand, I’ve found that sipping wine all night tends to provide an amount of relaxation that might flirt with intoxication but is more likely to promote enjoyable conversations and good humor. Additionally, unlike beer, wine doesn’t go flat if you take your time savoring it, and since it’s served at a warmer temperature (with the exception of white wine which is generally served chilled) one doesn’t risk needing to begrudgingly gulp down a poorly tempered drink.
Second, I prefer eating with wine to eating with any other beverage. Liquor dulls my tastebuds, and I personally find beer to overpower the food I’m eating, though I don’t have the culinary knowledge to assign blame to the cold temperature, the carbonation, or other. (Your experience may differ; beer pairing is obviously a big thing right now and I don’t dispute that a good beer can enhance your meal just as well as a good wine, if done correctly. De gustibus non est disputandum.) A good wine enhances the flavor of your food just like the spices used in the kitchen; and experimenting with varying combinations makes going out to dinner more of an experience than merely swallowing what’s on your plate. What about other options? Let’s just say I’d rather sit on my couch eating Hot Pockets than wash down a $75 filet with cola or water.
Finally, I like variety and I like learning about new things. The best way to appreciate the abundance of variety available to you is to learn and experiment. Three years ago I knew virtually nothing about wine. I still wouldn’t say I know a great deal more than the average person, but trying out a new bottle or two a week has allowed me to accumulate a knowledge base which I’ve been able to use as a framework for appreciating the different nuances and dimensions that go into the craft.
I would like to emphasize this last point.
You can appreciate wine just fine without any knowledge of it
Sometimes on a rough Sunday I’ll down a bottle of two buck chuck without taking a breath (despite all evidence to the contrary I’m still hoping the hair of the dog remedy comes through for me someday). But as a knowledge of literary devices, allusions, and historical context allows one to more fully appreciate a piece of literature (you do know that Animal Farm isn’t just about a bunch of talking animals, right?), a knowledge of wine can assist in building the perceptual infrastructure helpful in comparing, contrasting, and grasping the multitude of options available to the aspiring oenophile. And you can do this without being a wine snob! Really, the main difference between a wine lover and a wine snob is that the snob doesn’t crave knowledge and experience but rather affirmation and adoration.
If you consider your knowledge less-than-adequate and would like to improve it, the best way (like anything) is through exposure. While you can definitely peruse the wine aisle at your local grocery store, joining a wine club is an excellent way to acquire a customized and informed assortment that you can use to inform your palate and identify your preferences.
In particular, we at PRSUIT were treated to a trial run with Club W, who sends you three bottles based on a taste questionnaire that doesn’t assume a preexisting knowledge base of wine. By answering questions about what kinds of foods and flavors you like, Club W develops your own preference profile and sends you wine (along with related information such as tasting guidance) based on that profile. It’s a great and tasty way to introduce yourself to the world of wine appreciation.
Whatever your circumstances are, wine can be enjoyed and appreciated without a robust knowledge base, but above all else, it is best enjoyed in good company. Whether reminiscing with old friends or easing yourself into a new romantic endeavor, wine is appreciated the most when it is shared.
I can’t tell you the name of the best wine I’ve ever had, its vintage, or even its varietal (though it was probably red), but I can tell you where I was and who I was with and what we were talking about. In the end, that’s all that really matters.