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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Down with Wine Snobbery

This is how wine should be served! This is how it should be appreciated! This is how wine should be integrated into our lives, not as a show piece for signaling class status but a common drink for everyone.

“Never buy wine in a jug with a handle.”

A friend gave me this advice in my youth.

This is how wine should be integrated into our lives, not as a show piece for signaling class status but a common drink for everyone.It was the worst wine advice I ever received. It reinforced the culture of wine snobbery that has pillaged many generations of consumers.

Wine snobbery treats this drink as if it were always a serious undertaking requiring expertise, snootiness, and a high budget.

Have you been at a wine tasting held by a local aficionado? People stand around sipping and pretending to be experts. “I sense a hint of blueberry and saddle leather,” and everyone around agrees that this is true, no matter what. An air of fear hangs in the air, as everyone struggles mightily to avoid revealing their core working-class sensibilities.

Sure, I too went through a period of wine snobbery. I had a huge wine closet with special cooling technology. When I discovered a great vintage, I would buy by the case. I aspired to be a collector and subscribed to all the right magazines. I followed the cult of experts as they told me which to buy and appreciate. I spent thousands of dollars pursuing this preposterous hobby.

Then one day, I stumbled into a divey Italian restaurant in Arlington, Virginia. I sat down to one of the great meals I can remember having. Integral to it was a pitcher, made of pottery, filled with red wine. My group poured it from glass to glass. There was a feeling of abundance, casualness, and a merciful absence of snootiness.

This night was a revelation. This is how wine should be served! This is how it should be appreciated! This is how wine should be integrated into our lives, not as a show piece for signaling class status but a common drink for everyone.

Here are five wine truths that snobs try to hide from you:

1. Wine is a people’s drink, a staple of life for 10,000 years.

It makes an appearance in the lore of every culture on record, from ancient China, Greece, and Rome. The poor have long depended on it for purifying water. Proverbs 31:7 even advises wine for the poor: “Let him drink and forget his poverty and remember his trouble no more.”

It is not about unpronouncable names, cork sniffing, pretentious descriptions, and ghastly high prices. It is for the average table, a daily indulgence that has grown up alongside civilization itself, loved for how it purifies water, how yummy it is, and … how it causes an innocent inebriation.

Cheap wine, dirt cheap wine, is great wine for daily use. Sure, there is a role for a fancy bottle just as there is a time to dress in white tie and tails. But every day? We should rethink the way we regard this drink. It is a drink for everyone, not a precious ritual to be enjoyed only by a few.

The point of a wine like this is not to reach into your grab bag of adjectives and present a soliloquy about its subtle flavors. The point is not to think about it much at all. Just drink it as part of a life well lived.

2. Good Wine Is Affordable.

What was the brand served at my favorite Italian restaurant? It was Carlo Rossi. And, yes, it comes in a gallon jug with a handle. The maker has been around for years, and is commonly available at the local supermarket.

My favorite is the Burgundy. But there is also a Merlot, a Paisano, a Rose, a Chianti, a Cabernet, a Sangria, plus several varieties of wine that are all delicious.

But here’s the kicker: Carlo Rossi’s wonderful wines price out at $2.50 per bottle!

It turns out that Carlo Rossi has many fans in the real world. The company’s Facebook page has 125,000 likes! I’m certainly among them.

There are other brands that do the same. Yes, they come in boxes. Yay! They will run you $3-5 per bottle: Black Box reds, Franzia Cabernet, Yellow and Blue (marketed for green consciousness) and Bandit Cabernet are my favorites.

3. Technology Has Changed Everything

There was probably a time when things like vintage and country really mattered. Some wines were probably awful and others great. But now? As with everything else, technology has changed everything.

Irrigation techniques have changed. Grapes get exactly the amount of water they need and no longer have to depend on the exigencies of weather. Harvesting, storing, and bottling are all scientific and automated. The goal, as with all techno advance, is a better product. As a result, you can barely tell one year to the next (unless you are drinking wine from France, which regulates everything and forbids science being brought to the production process).

We don’t know what the wine tasted like at the Wedding Feast of Cana at which Jesus performed his first miracle. But I’m willing to bet that it was not as good as the worst wine you can get at the supermarket today. Huge improvements have brought great wine to the whole of the human race.

4. The Best Caterers Use Cheap Wine

It can take guts to buy cheap wine at a local wine store, where the up-sale is the whole ethos of the store. I asked for it in a fancy store in Atlanta, and the guy wrinkled up his nose, as if to say “oh, I didn’t know you were one of those!”

But then the woman behind the counter spoke up.

“Oh, we sell that to caterers! They buy it by the many dozens! It’s wonderful!”

See? Caterers know what they are doing. She went to the back room and proudly presented me with my special bottle of Carlo Rossi Burgundy.

Even the guy who dissed me changed his outlook. Now I’m known as the guy who buys super expensive liqueurs and super cheap wine.

5. Guests Love Abundance More Than Quality

It’s common for a host to ration wine for guests, imposing misery and deprivation where it is completely unnecessary. Guests have a sense that it would be rude to fill their glass on their own, so they sit there sipping politely and feel internally anxious.

This is no way to throw a party! It can stop completely if we get rid of wine snobbery. Buy cheap wine in abundance and serve it with pride.

How do you serve cheap wine for these guests? The key to doing this right is to transfer it into a pitcher (glass, pottery, pewter, whatever) or in a real wine carafe. This is such a wonderful thing to do because it removes the label bias from being part of the party.

This much is guaranteed: Someone will say that the wine is wonderful. Promise.

Or maybe you want to join me in taking down the phony, pillaging, snooty, pretentious, and insufferable culture that has grown up around wine drinking. Maybe you want to make your own contribution to this effort, and proclaim — loud and proud — your attachment to cheap, real-world wine.

In that case, dress up, make a great meal for friends, invite everyone over, and put that bottle of Rossi right in the middle of the table, as if this is just what people do.

If you do this right, you could be the trendsetter.