Wine-related resolutions for 2001
By Bob Johnson
IT’S THAT TIME of year when people resolve to get into better shape, eat healthier, quit smoking, and spend more time with family. Of course, by around Jan. 15, every one of those resolutions will have been broken. To avoid self-humiliation, I’m suggesting a few wine-related resolutions for others to embrace.
Resolve to think differently about wine. Too many people associate wine with special occasions. Then they go to Europe, immerse themselves in the culture, and come away thinking all Germans, Italians, and Parisians are candidates for the Betty Ford Clinic. Europeans know that a glass of wine a day does not a gutter-hugging drunk make. Study after study has shown that moderate consumption of alcohol–especially wine, and more specifically, red wine–contributes to a more healthful lifestyle for most people. The special occasion Europeans choose for drinking wine is known as “life.”
Resolve to share a bottle of red wine with your significant other. Yes, this is a not-so-veiled reference to Valentine’s Day. Let’s face it, women love romance, and what color do we most commonly associate with that pursuit? You got it: red. Toss in a few candles, some soft music, and a decent meal, and you have the makings of a memorable evening . . . that may well extend into the morning, if you play your cards right.
Resolve to hold your wine glass any damn way you please. All right, I admit it: Like every other chronicler of wine at one time or another, I have written about the importance of holding a wine glass by its stem. The reasoning behind this advice is that if you hold the bowl part of the glass, you’ll alter the temperature of the wine, making it warmer than is recommended. Two things: (1) There isn’t a restaurant in the world that serves every bottle of wine at exactly the “correct” temperature; (2) if your hand is throwing off enough heat to significantly alter the wine’s temp, you should be in the emergency room, not a dining room.
Resolve to host a wine summit. Have you been feuding with a formerly close friend or someone in your family? Someone has to bury the hatchet, so it may as well be you. Invite your antagonist to a public place, order a bottle of wine, and start talking. Wine brings people together, and it’s also the world’s most effective truth serum. By the time you’re draining your last glass, you’ll either be back on good terms or sharing a paddy wagon.
Resolve to adapt an ABC attitude. We’re referring not to the American Broadcasting Company, nor the American Bowling Congress, nor the Alcoholic Beverage Control spies . . . er, representatives. This ABC stands for “Anything But Chardonnay,” and it’s an attitude, should you choose to adapt it, that could open the door to some eye-opening and palate-pleasing wine experiences. Just as some beer drinkers always order a particular brand, many wine drinkers find it easy to get into a chardonnay rut. If variety truly is the spice of life, you can have some spicy times ahead if you occasionally think “ABC” when ordering wine. P.S.: The “C” can also stand for cabernet.
Resolve to break the food-and-wine pairing rules. Ever since Red Wine with Fish? hit the shelves at Barnes & Noble, food and wine writers have been questioning the “traditional” guidelines that urged red wine with (red) meat, and white wine with fish. While that’s still good basic advice, the problem is that it’s limiting; it precludes way too many sublime chow-and-vino possibilities. For instance: broiled salmon with pinot noir . . . a thick steak grilled in melted butter with a well-oaked chardonnay . . . spicy beef and broccoli with Gewürztraminer. Didn’t someone once say that rules were meant to be broken?
Resolve to refer to California sparkling wine as champagne. For generations, French winemakers have argued that only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France should be referred to as “champagne.” Some have even initiated legal proceedings to eliminate use of the word by “interlopers.” I’ve played along with this silliness for way too long, and this is the year I’m putting my foot down. If it looks like champagne . . . if it smells like champagne . . . if it bubbles like champagne . . . dammit, it’s champagne! (Do they still check passports in France?)
Resolve to embrace, rather than eschew, the wines of summer. The boys of summer were the old Brooklyn Dodgers. The wines of summer are chilled roses and lighter whites like chenin blanc, Riesling, pinot blanc, and Gewürztraminer. What do baseball and wine have to do with each other? Well, the Disney dynasty owns the Anaheim Angels as well as the soon-to-open California Adventure next door to Disneyland, and that new theme park will include a wine-themed attraction sponsored by Robert Mondavi. And if there’s anything better than a cold beer at a ball game, it’s . . . peanuts and pinot noir? . . . Cracker Jack and cabernet? . . . ice cream and ice wine? . . . OK, so there isn’t anything better than a cold beer and a hot dog. But you can’t spend all your time at the ballpark, so learn to love the aforementioned wines of summer and make some room in the refrigerator.
Resolve to trust your own palate. Don’t get suckered by the $100-and-up price tags on a (disturbingly) growing number of wines these days. Those prices have more to do with our proximity to the nouveaux riches in Silicon Valley, combined with somewhat limited supplies, than with quality. You name a hundred-buck bottle, and I’ll name five that are every bit as enjoyable for a third of the price. We all can indulge our champagne tastes on a Budweiser budget simply by learning what we, as individuals, like. Even if most of the wine you drink comes out of a box, that wine is good–to you. And when it comes to drinking wine, you’re the only person who counts.
Resolve to cook with wine . . . and even use some in your recipes. OK, it’s an old joke, but adding wine to certain sauces and stews can truly enhance and expand the flavor spectrum. Numerous books have been written on the subject, and many cookbooks include recipes that call for a splash or two of wine. It’s also a good way to kill off a bottle that has been open for a few days.
Resolve to mix it up on Turkey Day. Don’t pull your hair out trying to find the “perfect” wine match for your holiday turkey or ham. Perfection cannot be attained . . . unless you’re serving turkey or ham and nothing else. It’s all those other dishes on the Thanksgiving table that create the matching havoc, so the best way to handle the situation is to offer several different kinds of wine and put at least a couple wine glasses at each place setting. Your guests will figure out what they like on their own.
Resolve to learn the proper way to open a bottle of champagne (yes, including California sparkling wine that you’ve been calling champagne for eight months now). Uncorking a champagne bottle as they do in the movies is a good way to lose an eye–yours or someone else’s. To avoid possible catastrophe, slowly remove the “cage” surrounding the cork, then get a firm grip on the cork itself. Slowly–repeat: slowly–turn the cork until it emerges from the neck with a muted “pop” sound. The bubbles will be just as, well, bubbly with a muted pop, plus you won’t spill (i.e., waste) any of the wine via cascading spillage. If you simply must experience the sound of a loud pop, tune in a Lawrence Welk rerun on PBS.
From the January 4-10, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.