I like wine. Not a lot, mind you - I like it much the way I like, say, sports cars. I'm glad they exist, and from time to time I enjoy partaking in one. They do good things for the economy. Other people derive great pleasure from them. But if they were to disappear, just like were wine to disappear, my life would not be seriously altered.
This is mostly because I have an insanely high alcohol tolerance, and thus wine does precisely zip for me as far as 'feeling good' goes. Which leaves me basing my oenological opinion solely on taste, and as far as taste goes, wine has a massive standard deviation. Some of it is quite yummy, most of it is unexciting, and some of it is downright unpleasant. Luckily, you rarely find yourself having to drink a lot of it (1) - rarely more than a glass - and after a while, you learn which sorts of wine are tasty and which are merely a cruel way to trick you into drinking solvent.
Given the above, you'd think that I'd be rather apathetic about wine, instead of being positive. There is a single reason this is not the case: beer. I don't like beer. (2) Happily, it's acceptable in most circles (well, most highbrow circles - you and your sports-watching, crotch-scratching, butt-grunting associates don't count) to not be a beer person if you are a wine person. It's much like being an an executive, where it's acceptable to not like golf if you instead play tennis.
Of course, if you play neither, then you never make the big deals, and wind up making loud, obscenity-based calls into your imaginary cell phone from your corner cardboard box.
I was therefore pleased to discover that there is, indeed, tasty wine out there. And, of the wine that is not tasty, most of it is at least drinkable in the amount of a glass or two. So I like wine. It lets me fit in at parties.
Of the two major sorts of wine, I prefer whites. This is largely because reds tend to be more acidic, more likely to give you that 'natural gas (CH4) in the sinuses' feeling after you've swallowed. But that's at best a generalization. There are many quite good reds out there, and the most prevalent of the whites, Chardonnay, is on my 'least favorite' list.
Some of this may be my heritage. Of the varietals, my particular favorite is Gewurztraminer. You can rely on a Gewurztraminer to err on the side of sweetness and taste, and veer away from the ambience of wood varnish that many reds embrace. If I'm not in the mood for a Gewurz, I'll often look for imported German whites - Riesling, etc - for the same reason. So there may be some residual German in my blood that influences my wine-buying.
I've also noticed that the relation between taste and price is a singularly loose one. Cheap wine - I mean really cheap, Night Train-type hooch - is remarkably bad. But one step above that, and you get wines that are quite drinkable. The Rieslings and what have you I like tend to be in the $4-8 range, and the better ones are $10-14 at most. Yet wines that cost over $15 a bottle have, in my experience, never proven themselves to be better than wines that cost less than that. (Note that these are liquor store prices; double the amount I mention for a bottle at a restaurant.)
I have heard that really, really expensive wines are truly exceptional. And I'm willing to believe that. Certainly, I've never had wine that cost over a hundred dollars a bottle. It's on my list of things to do once I am making scads of dough, just so that I can find out if super-hoity-toity wine actually is better. But I have had forty and sixty dollar bottles of wine, and they just didn't beat fourteen dollar bottles. Make of it what you will.
At any rate, I like wine. It ain't chocolate, but it is often just the right thing to have with your meal (3). So here's to palatable alcohol - long may it flow.
- Sun Ra
1) When I was in college, my roommate Duke (who did not have my alcohol tolerance, and thus loved the stuff) sent away for a fake I.D. from Mexico. The day he got said I.D. - and it was a good fake - he went to Safeway and purchased the maximum amount of alcohol he could for the least amount of money.
He came home with two bottles of Vermouth.
Admittedly, he didn't know ahead of time what Vermouth tasted like. We were all young and foolish in those days. So when he took his first swig of one, he made a face that looked like he had just taken a long pull from Satan's ringpiece. Vermouth is nasty, and even Duke immediately agreed on that point.
Of course, having done such a ridiculous thing, he had to drink them. He had just spent all his ready cash on these two bottles. And drink them he did. Both of them.
2) This is not strictly true. I like German beer, when in Germany. And I occasionally like a little Guinness. I can have about half a pint before I realize it actually tastes bitter and nasty. Other than that, however, I don't like beer. And don't think you know better, and I just haven't had the right beer. I don't like Sam Adams, I don't like imports, and I don't like whatever microbrew you are having right now. It's the hops. That bitter taste just leaves me puckering.
3) Wine also has the almost magical quality of being sippable. If I were to have, say, a Diet Coke with my meal, I'd drain the thing before I even got started, and have to order another. And another. (I'm a large, often thirsty man.) But a glass of wine will get me through the whole meal. It's somehow not quite a beverage, not like water or soda. You can't quench anything with it. But it lets you wash out your mouth between bites almost perfectly.
Columns by Sun Ra