Wine for Slobs
A lot of folks find wine an intimidating beverage to get to know.
Most of us here in the South were probably raised with the idea that beer drinkers and wine drinkers are practically two entirely separate species of human. The classic image of wine as a beverage for snooty people who have created a whole entire branch of etiquette just to keep us out of the loop is not entirely accurate.
Oh sure, they are out there. There are plenty of people who will laugh or question your upbringing if the subject of wine arises and you mention that your favorite is Sutter Home white zinfandel, but the fact of the matter is there’s plenty of wine to go around and you don’t have be an expert on the patch of soil in a foreign country where the grapes were grown to enjoy a glass of wine.
The big difference between the mass market wines and the good stuff is that the mass market wines are blended from a lot of different wines to maintain a consistent flavor year in and year out. There really is no such thing as a “good year” for Sutter Home since in any given year their quality control folks are going to ensure that the wine comes out tasting as close as possible to the wine they put out the previous year.
With traditional vineyards, the quality of the wine can vary pretty widely from year to year, hence the occasional exceptional vintage, or the occasional off year.
What interests me is that as wine has become more popular and more widely distributed in the South, beer has been becoming more and more of a beverage for experts as well. If you think back, it just wasn’t that long ago that the idea of micro brews really was the bailiwick of a very small bunch of beer nerds. Now there are almost as many beer nerds as there are wine snobs. Quite apart from being separate species it seems beer drinkers and wine drinkers have come together to form some sort of pleasantly tipsy hybrid.
I personally attribute this to the introduction of micro brews to major league baseball stadiums in the 1990’s. It seems to me that in that atmosphere where there were a lot of just plain folks buying beer and no one was standing around making them feel dumb if they didn’t taste “hints of chocolate” or “caramel notes.”
They stumbled upon the micro brews and found a few that they really liked and didn’t examine it any more closely than to say “hey this stuff makes Budweiser taste like swill by comparison.” Well, they were probably a lot pithier than that, but you get the idea.
My point in all of this (and I do have one) is that one reason some folks like to stick with the tried and true consumer brands of wine (Beringer, Sutter Home, Kendall-Jackson) is that when you pick up a magazine full of wine ratings and read all of these exotic descriptions they set up a set of expectations that most wine can’t live up to. They rave about the exotic fruit flavors they find in the wine, but when you go buy a bottle of the same wine you’ve read these outrageous descriptions of, you open it and say to yourself, “I don’t taste banana, peach, or apricot. I sure as hell don’t taste bruised mango and lime. What I taste is Riesling.”
I think most of us, even most of us who drink a lot of wine and who pay attention to the little underlying flavors, know that most Cabernet tastes like Cabernet. Most Chardonnay tastes like Chardonnay. We can waste a whole lot of time splitting hairs about the aftertaste or the aroma and that is time that is better spent on the pleasures of a convivial evening among friends.
The other thing that I think is a stumbling block is that most wine publications that mention wine pairings always seem to focus on foods that a lot of us don’t eat on a daily basis. I mean, no one has to tell me that a Cabernet will go well with a grilled hunk of beef, or that a Pinot Gris will go well with a nice piece of fish, heck I can get that much information from the menu at Red Lobster. But when I pick up a magazine devoted to wine and it lists pairings to go with food like porchetta with a fennel gratinato, or Bay scallop gratin with corn, chorizo and tomato in a Manchego cheese fondue, I’m kind of at a loss as to whether or not that wine is going to be okay with fried catfish and coleslaw. And quite frankly, I ain’t eating anything called Manchego cheese fondue unless I know who has had their fingers in it.
To that end I thought what I would do is once in a while when I find a nice medium priced wine that I know goes well with actual Southern food, eaten in actual Southern homes, I’ll share it you. One of the first wines that I’d like to mention is a pretty mainstream, middle-of-the-road wine that is almost always under twenty dollars. Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages is a wine that I think of as a kind of bridge between the wine snob and the Sutter Home crowds.
I like going to a nice restaurant and letting the wine steward help me pick a wine with a fancy meal, but what I’ve found is that while the Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages is pretty often found in nice restaurants, it is equally at home in the backyard. I really like this wine with a grilled burger with all of the trimmings and it goes pretty well with a grilled hot dog too. It has a real soft feel to it with a lot of fruitiness so it kind of balances out the onion and mustard that I like on grilled hamburgers.
One thing you do have to watch though is, if you’re like me and you like to grill after you’ve been working in the yard, the alcohol can kind of sneak up on you. Most of the time when I grill during the summer it is a late afternoon activity and I sometimes make the mistake of not eating a whole lot during the morning since I know I’m going to grill and I don’t want to ruin my appetite. On occasions like that you really do need to put a little food in your stomach before you start savoring the wine.
So assuming I’ve been smart and had a light lunch and now I’m ready to grill, what I like to do is pour myself a glass of wine to drink while I clean the grill and get the charcoal lit. Then I just sit there watching the fire die down while the lighting bugs start to come out and relax. A lot of time gets good and wasted that way, but the way I see it is I can waste time or time can waste me — might as well have at it.
Edwin E. Smith is a poet, heckuva writer and all around swell guy. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit him on the Internet at edwinesmith.com