Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. My last confession was, um…1975. Since that time I have hated wine countless times. That’s right, me, the guy who has the word “wino” on his business card, I have hated on wine.
The nuns that forced me to go to confession, until they lost the power to do so, probably wouldn’t consider that much of a sin. Then again, other than Sister Mary Urban teaching me how to Polka in 6th grade, also against my will, I can’t think of anything much useful that any nun ever taught me. For all the times my knuckles were rapped by a ruler-wielding psycho-penguin , or that I was lifted by my adolescent sideburns to tiptoes and perp-walked to the front of the class, I can’t for the life of me remember any of those offenses or the lessons that I was supposed to have learned. However, I can recall most of my wine hating sins quite vividly. Funny how that works.
As a fledgling wino I was a proud member of the ABC Club. For those of you who are unaware of this insidious organization, the ABC stands for Anything But Chardonnay and/or Anything But Cabernet. How does this group thrive in the world of wine? It uses a two-pronged approach to recruit new members. In this unflinching exposé AWB will take you inside this nefarious gang of hate-mongering viniferous thugs to show you how they do it.
Weddings and Happy Hours
Every gang needs a primary avenue for recruitment. For many gangs that would be the American prison system, or impoverished neighborhoods where they can offer the illusion of protection or a way out of a hopeless life. Wherever the recruitment takes place, there will be one commonality between all of them; an atmosphere of fear. Since many people never experience prison or brutal urban poverty, wedding receptions and corporate happy hours provide just the environment the ABC Club needs to expand their ranks. Despite the media trying to sell us fear in the form of home invasions, terrorist attacks and erectile dysfunction on a 24/7 basis, the real threats we face are more likely to come in the form of a desperate bridesmaid covered in Mary Kay and taffeta, or a khaki and polyester clad 40 year old guy with the same haircut he thought was cool when he pledged his frat.
Our natural inclination when faced with these predatory threats is to drink heavily. As we innocently head to the bar we might as well be moths heading for a blowtorch. We scan the free hooch offerings, wisely rejecting the whiskey, rum and vodka that most self-respecting liquor stores won’t even put on a bottom shelf and move onto the beer. Seeing that not only do they have mass-produced American swill, it is of the lite variety, we sigh and just grab a plastic cup of whatever wine is pre-poured and sitting in rows on the bar. This is when the ABC Club strikes.
Invariably, whatever was chosen will turn out to be Chardonnay or Cabernet of the worst sort. This is the stuff that was probably rejected by the box wine industry because it ate holes through the inner bag. If it doesn’t put the novice drinker off of wine completely there is a very good chance that they will soon be sporting the colors of the ABC Club.
Veteran winos may scoff at the notion that there is something elitist or snobby about drinking wine, but the truth of the matter is that it looks that way to the newbies among us. Wine seems so unfathomable and mysterious at first. So many varieties, so many descriptors, so many different types of glasses, so many rules and protocols…so much bullshit.
To the rookie all of this is terrifying and intimidating. What if they are seen drinking a Bordeaux out of a Burgundy glass? What if they are caught swirling counter-clockwise because they can’t remember which way is proper? Is it sniff with the left nostril for white and the right for red, or vice versa? Who can remember all that crap? The ABC club offers a simple and direct way out of this madness.
The novitiate stands to the side, hoping that his or her trembling hand doesn’t cause them to spill the mysterious liquid in their glass when they hear one of the confident wine swillers, probably some cougar in a little black dress, offer the following beacon of hope in their world of wine darkness: “Oh, I never drink Chardonnay! I’m a member of the ABC Club…you know, the Anything But Chardonnay Club!” This is then followed by the group enjoying a hearty and haughty laugh as they nod knowingly and move off. Who wouldn’t be seduced by such sophistication and savoir fare?
I confess, I certainly was.
Beat in, beat out!
ABC Club members tend to be easy to spot. Along with repeating the mantra elucidated above, they know all of the important rules required to be cool kids in the wine world: It is important that red wine goes in the big glass and white in the small, otherwise it is ruined. Red wine with meat, white with fish. If you’ve heard of it and it is expensive, it is the best. Always look down on any Philistine who breaks these rules*. There you have it, what else is there to know about wine? Some even go so far as to correct anyone who doesn’t pronounce Meritage like a proper French word!
How does one escape the clutches of such a widespread and well-organized gang like the ABC Club? It isn’t quite as difficult as you might imagine. The solution is rejected out of hand by most people because it seems too obvious and simple; start drinking more Chardonnay and Cabernet. The ABC Club will eventually just shun you until they forget about you. Eventually you’ll lose that fear of starting your own car and you won’t feel the need to slip a bit of paper in your door so you can be sure no one has entered while you were out. Life will eventually return to normal. Just get out early enough, otherwise you might get recruited to an even more elite group of desperadoes.
The other ABC Club
Here is my final confession of this post: There is another wine that makes me wrinkle my nose in disgust before I even give it a sniff. It has a much smaller, lesser known gang that goes by the name of the Anti-Beaujolais Club. Like a gang leader who goes to prison and finds Jesus, I am really trying to get out for good, but it’s not always easy.
All it takes to get out of the other ABC clubs is to keep tasting it until you hit the good stuff. While there are a number of good Cabs and Chards that won’t break the bank, the truth is that much of the good stuff ain’t cheap. Usually a glass or two of the primo juice, particularly if paired well with some food, is all that it takes for a wine drinker to have that come-to-Jesus moment. It worked that way for me, at least.
My Beaujolais rehab involves much of the same type of therapy, but it is much more complicated than that. Beaujolais is made from the Gamay grape, which generally has a flavor profile that I do not care for. Beaujolais is packed with flavor, most of it juicy. mouth-watering fruit. Unfortunately for me, one of those fruits happens to be banana. Now I have no real problems with bananas. They taste pretty good for that short period when they are ripe but haven’t gone overripe, they are great sources of fiber and potassium, and they make boring cereal taste better. No, other than the fact that, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 27% of all reported traffic accidents are caused by pretty women eating bananas in view of traffic**, I have nothing against bananas. What I hate are banana flavored things that aren’t bananas.
I don’t know what gives bubblegum its flavor, but I do know that Gamay oftentimes gives Beaujolais the flavor of bubblegum. I hear the word Beaujolais and a tightness begins to spread across my forehead akin to what occurs when I hear any recent Black Eyed Peas release, and it is entirely due to the anticipation of the cloying combination of bubblegum and bananas. Pile on some violets, and I’m getting queasy just thinking about it.
Is that really a fair representation of Beaujolais? Am I justified in my continuing, albeit sometimes reluctant, membership in this particular ABC gang? Not really. Don’t get me wrong, that characterization does cover a lot of the wine from the region, particularly at the lower end, but those also have their admirers, and can work with the right food. Even so, there are many beautifully made Beaujolais. That doesn’t mean that I love the stuff, but I can respectfully admire it, and even enjoy it on occasion.
As I stated earlier, escaping an ABC gang requires tasting the good stuff. As simple as that sounds, it really goes against human nature to do so. Think about it, if the average consumer pay $20 for a bottle of wine and finds it truly unpleasant***, how do you convince them that if only they follow that lost 20 bucks with 50 more they will find out that they really like it? Good luck with that! This is one area where Beaujolais has it all over Cabernet and Chardonnay. Let’s put aside the outliers and go with gross generalizations and say that great Chardonnays start at around $40 and great Cabernet Sauvignons at about $50****. Consider that some very good Cru Juliénas can be had in the $15 to $20 range, tasting the good stuff doesn’t have to hurt.
The key to my rehabilitation, as incomplete and halting as it is, will be food. Just tasting better wine isn’t going to be enough, and I will probably never just sit and drink it by itself like I do with other types of wine, but some of the reasons for that are the same reason that it can pair so beautifully with food. A lot Beaujolais is low on tannins and most is acidic, this isn’t a combination that I associate with a good structured red wine, especially given my proclivity towards big, bold, structured reds, but really when you come down to it isn’t it exactly the combination that makes so many white wines fruit friendly?
One of my favorite things about food and wine is the culinary magic that happens when tannin meets fat. But not everything has to cause my eyes to roll back in my head while I make piggy noises, does it? Wait, I’m thinking. Okay, I’m pretty sure that’s accurate to at least some degree. I think. Anyway, the high acidity and low tannins can make all that fruit in Beaujolais taste sweet. Often what we think of as sweetness in a wine isn’t really sweet, it is just fruit as opposed to residual sugar, but we perceive fruit flavors as sweet so we think the same when we taste those notes in our wine. Think about how good a Coke can taste with a burger, or a frosty mug of root beer with pizza, and I think you might see where I’m going here.
Apparently where I am going is on and on, so I will try and wrap this all up. If I’ve made it sound like there is something wrong with Beaujolais, I sincerely apologize. It just isn’t among my favorite types of wine, but I keep tasting it anyway. Doing so has caused me to go from hating it to having an uneasy truce that may someday produce a deeper bond. Quit laughing Ward, it could happen! We all have our preferences, but hate is a very strong thing that should be reserved for things that have truly earned it; Auto-Tune, Matt Millen, Fox News, Kenny G, tea room sandwiches, Thomas Kinkade, American Idol, etc. Wine? Not so much. Don’t be a hater.
*Each of these statements is untrue to some degree or another. [Where was I?]
**I so made that shit up. [Where was I?]
***For our regular readers, translation: Tastes like shit! [Where was I?]
****Did you miss where I admitted that was a gross generalization? Quit being so freakin’ anal! [Where was I?]