Felix Salmon has a nice piece on enjoying good — not expensive — wine that includes this:
What’s missing is any sense of fun, or of simple pleasures: a bottle of screw-top rose can be cheaper, more appropriate, and much more delicious at a summer picnic than a six-pack of beer. And it would prove more versatile, too, if only people felt comfortable adding some seltzer water or cooling it down with a couple of ice cubes.
I, personally, think people worry too much about wine being snooty. Knowledge and discernment are good, but are hardly the point of wine. Wine is a social rather than competitive experience, and should be in both the drinking and the acquisition.
I was in Chicago over the weekend, staying with worldly and accomplished friends who like wine but are insecure. The husband, Phil, took me to a wine store near his house that he’d never been into. The store had a median bottle price of about $175 and a double magnum of 1995 d’Ychem on display. The point of the journey, for Phil, was to give me something to do on a slow, hot Saturday afternoon. The point for me was to get Phil over the hump of going into a shop that clearly intimidated him.
The shop was on the ground floor of what is surely one of the ugliest suburban office buildings ever built. It had, essentially, no sign. It was small, 250 square feet of public space that was more like a cellar than a retail outlet. The whole store was climate controlled, and the attendant wore an insulated vest to protect against the chill. He introduced himself as Brian.
Brian, Phil and I were the only people in the store. Phil, who is normally outgoing, was silent. I asked about the general layout — French over here, New World over here — and Brian followed at a discreet distance. offering information about bottles in an easy and informative conversation.
I picked out a Rioja I’d never seen before and a 2005 St. Joseph. I mentioned a Pinot Grigio I’d tasted that had been left on the skins to absorb color and give the wine some tannic presense, and Brian brought out a distinctly orange Italian Pinot Grigio that he said had the same qualities. I bought that, too.
That was, I think, as high-end a wine store as most people are ever likely to be in. The cheapest bottle I saw was about $30. It wasn’t the kind of place most wine drinkers should bother with, and to me it was as much a museum as a store. I knew as soon as I walked in that it was out of my league, and I suspect Brian knew it, too. The wines offered had been carefully chosen, and Brian liked talking about them. I liked listening. I spent all of about 20 minutes there, and it was less shopping than it was a nice, relaxed conversation.
By the time I was done, Phil was peppering Brian with questions about the wine, the store, his background. Phil, who had been afraid to go in, who knows almost nothing about wine, at least knows how to talk with people, and once he found out he wasn’t being judged he started asking about the significance of things he had noticed in the store. Brian, who sits down in the private tasting room with people who are stocking 3,000 bottle cellars from scratch, answered as casually as if he had been standing in a driveway talking with a neighbor.
That, to me, is the wine buying experience. As much as people worry about sommeliers and waiters and wine retailers looking down on them, I think the fear is largely self-generated. I don’t see a lot of condescension at the points of contact between the wine business and the wine consumer. Unless you go in a pompous and pedantic jackass, at good wine stores and restaurants you will likely be greeted as an interested friend.
Because wine, as Salmon pointed out, needs to have an element of fun, and there is nothing more fun than good conversation.
That night, just for the record, at an outdoor party with friends from long ago and far away, I drank my Sauvignon Blanc out of a red plastic cup, on ice with soda and a twist. It was 90 degrees and oppressively humid, and not one person looked at me as if I had done something awful. Not one.