Not Your Book Club's Chianti
Wine is Fine
Fruit of the Vine.
Plonk (if you’re British. More on this later).
Mama’s Little Helper.
No matter what you call it, wine is…well, fine.
All beer evidence to the contrary, I’m a big fan. Always have been. One of my favorite English ex-pat stories is when my kid’s private school told me that for “sports day” we should “bring a picnic lunch for ourselves and our kids.” Sports day is a day in which each house competes with the others in weird games like “rounders” (funky baseball), “netball” (kind of but not really basketball—only for girls, btw), and to my surprise games that were more or less PTO’d out of existence in the U.S. like Red Rover and Dodgeball.
“Cool,” I said. I packed accordingly. You know, string cheese, PB&J, apples, juice boxes all around and hooray for mom. **Remind me to tell you someday about by one of my least favorite ex-pat stories and the packed lunch inferiority complex I got in Japan.**
I get there. I spread out the blanket. I watch some of the bizarre-o games. I think my kids’ house wins (FWIW at least then, sibling were all in the same house). The kids show up and I open the super cute plastic picnic basket I got in Japan and pull out the juice boxes. Then I get that funny, tingly feeling. You know, the one you get when people are staring at you in horror-slash-sympathy. I slowly poked the straw into the top of the box and put my lips on it as I watched all the other (and I mean all) moms pull out bottles of white and rosé and champagne and pop those suckers open.
No lie. We are on school grounds. And boozing it up. Someone smiled and passed me a glass, while simultaneously plucking the offending juice box from my fingers and handing it to one of my kids.
I had found my people.
Wine is a great social lubricant at almost every event. It’s cheaper than hard liquor, and less gassy than beer. You can always find it at wedding receptions, art gallery openings, wakes, and, apparently, school picnics. There was a time when I sold wine and beer for a living. I’m almost (see: 89%) a legit expert on beer. As for wine, well…let’s say I’m an appreciator but had the advantage of living in Europe a while I got to experience really great French and Italian and Spanish wines in situ, as it were.
I put myself through a crash course in the stuff for that sales job, and had a fair bit of success taking over some restaurant menus from “house” to upscale. I also got plenty of insights into current trends. But honestly, I know what I like. Just like you do, I’m guessing. I drink wine according to my moods and, to some extent, the season. I learned this in (again) England—a country that averages four pubs per block. This is not an exaggeration. It’s the booziest country I’ve personally experienced. Work lunches almost always involve a beer or glass of wine.
At that same school, you know, the one with the white wine picnic, our Christmas Pageant included mulled wine punch. I guess you could say that I got into some…habits during my two years at trailing spouse, mom of three in my pink stucco house in Billericay, Essex. Habits that I only fully grasped once we’d repatriated for good at the behest of my oldest who said, at thirteen, that he was sick of being the only American kid at school.
My first reunion with friends was a lunch at – I will never forget this – Zingerman’s Roadhouse and the waitress asked for our order and I said without hesitation: “Bloody Mary.”
At eleven forty-five in the morning.
On a Wednesday.
The glances of “oh, so that’s how it is now, is it?” brought me crashing right back to U.S. soil I can tell you. Mind you, I didn’t get polluted on a regular basis in England. Drinking was simply more incorporated into the tapestry of society. A glass or two of wine was expected with dinner every night. Bloody Mary lunches with one or two of my fellow ex-pat wives were de regueur. It was what we did. It was what I got used to. It’s different here and the only way to understand that is to experience it first-hand.
Back on topic: Wine is fun, to be honest. Experimenting with different varietals and new-to-you blends is even more fun. I have a few suggestions to make, if you’ll indulge me. As we plunge headlong into Spring it’s time to make room on the wine shelf for some white wines. Those who know me best will be all “whoa, recommending whites much? Really?” And to them I say “Yep. Now pay attention. Take notes.”
Current trends indicate that the reds are on the upswing. When asked, I will always take a red wine over white. Cabernet or a big fat Italian Valpolicella or a spicy Zinfandel. Spring and summer, I’m reaching for a fruity Pinot Noir or smooth, perfumey Malbec. However, sometimes, I’m going for a grape-fruity Sauvignon Blanc or an un-oaked Chardonnay. I’ll rarely turn down a glass of bubbly prosecco and am recently into a few of the fruitier whites—even (yes, I’m saying this so just remain calm) a nice rosé.
I’m a total fan of a white blend from the Wagner family vineyards. “Conundrum” is a great name for it. It means riddle, puzzle, quandary, dilemma. And these blends (there’s a red one too) are just that—both perfect, and yet hard to pin down. The white blend is delicious, refreshing, perfect to pair with spicy foods or to sip with friends. It’s the most sublime blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscat Canelli and Viognier I’ve ever experienced. It’s fruity, but not sweet. It’s complex enough to make you say “wow” when you taste it but complex enough to be a puzzle, an enigma. I highly recommend it. You can find it at most wine shops. If not, just ask.
The “white Zin” trend has morphed into a “rosé” one that frankly, I welcome. Rosé wines provide a sort of cider-like, fruiter experience that’s more interesting than white zinfandel. And there are plenty of options these days. Some of the best Rosés come from France but I tried one that’s pinot noir based out of Oregon that if you can find it, you should snag it. Gran Moraine comes from an area famous for hops growing—the Willamette Valley that’s also famous for the heart break of pinot noir growing. I had the 2017 vintage. It was well balanced with the sort of dry finish I prefer. Ask your favorite wine shop to find it for you. You won’t be sorry.
Rieslings are enjoying a resurgence in popularity lately. The grapes are still grown mostly in the Old World as the wine snobs call Europe—primarily in Germany but also Austria and France’s Alsace region. Some New World-ers (a.k.a. New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Chile, and the Pacific Northwest U.S.) are becoming contenders, at least according to one of my go-to recommenders, Decanter. What’s interesting about the style is there’s a Riesling wine for most every palate. The one characteristic that strings together all Rieslings is its super high acidity. Beyond that, Riesling can be light or full, dry or sweet, delicate or powerful.
I’d recommend a New World to try first, Kung Fu Girl out of Washington State. If you’re going for a more traditional German version, see if you can get your mitts on a bottle of Dönnhoff Estate Riesling Trocken. It’s got a seriously dry bite with a sort of peach and citrus thing going on that is absolutely incredible with fish, chicken or, you know, by itself in a glass.
The bottom line with wine is, regardless of what the experts might tell you or what you read online, you should find a flavor profile that you like whether it’s a full-bodied, coat-your-tongue, Italian or Cabernet, or a sweet, acidic Sauv Blanc, wine isn’t about what you should or shouldn’t drink. It’s about what you like to drink. Sure, there are pairings that will highlight the various features of both food and the grape varietal. But one of my high level sommelier buds taught me to drink what you like.
Try something new every now and then to expand your horizons.
Then drink what you like.
I’m including a few shots of my time in Boston this weekend by way of a review and to say that Boston is a very cool, very hip, yet very old city. We got to visit with our son as we did a lot of the typical tourist stuff. AND spent some time eating our way through Little Italy plus tasted a few local brews. My fav place we spent some quality time at vis a vis beer was Trillium (the Fort Point location). My fav brews were the Big Sprang, a super unique (yes, that is a thing) “Kolsch inspired ale with Sauv hops” and the Secret Stairs, a “Boston Stout.” 4 stars for the beers. 5 for the cool location and experience. They’re one of those breweries that doesn’t bother with distribution so if you want any of the stuff you have to either come down and pick it up (and there was a long line for that the entire time we were there) or they can ship to a few states.