Shopping for a good bottle of wine one day, I suddenly wondered: what’s the criteria for “good”? Is “good” wine the spirit that behaves itself? Minds its manners out in public and plays well with the other bottles in the display crate; perhaps even complimenting (oh, I love the play) the food sitting next to it? Or is “good” wine the libation that promotes heart health, full of anti-oxidants and ultimately too beneficial to ignore? While I will concede that ‘good’ wine is not ranked or rated by its behavioral patterns, I am confident that ‘good’ wine knows better than to show up in a box. Any self-respecting wine worth its cork would elevate itself above that swill. Swill: identified by its presence in a) a box b) a mason jar from Grandpa’s basement or c) a bottle labeled “Boone’s Farm.” Answer? D. All of the above.
Into every girl’s life, a little swill drinking will come. College years are just such a time. In those halcyon days I would willingly drink swill for any number of reasons, but most usually, the goal of drinking, which was inebriation, and the cost of drinking, which needed to be kept to a minimum, justified my choice to drink the cheap stuff. But my college years have blissfully (and mercifully) passed; nowadays, inebriation seems a particularly foolish goal, and, wonder of wonders, I seem to be able to keep a few more dollars in my wallet. Even better, I like to think I’ve matured.
And with maturity comes a refined palette. I don’t eat mac and cheese from a blue box anymore – I certainly ought not to drink wine that ages in cardboard. My own aging process must surely be worth the higher price tag, French label and requisite time for the wine to breathe before serving. But when it’s time to purchase, I wander the aisles, perusing the ratings information (higher numbers do provide an indication of ‘good,’ right?) and facing my own ignorance about this wine business. (and it is a business, make no mistake) I examine the undertones of berries, licorice, or chocolate, and consider a strong ‘oak-y’ finish, thinking, “why should my wine taste like a tree?” Say what you will about Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, (and, believe me, I’ve said plenty) that little farm and bright red strawberry on the label reliably let me know that I’d taste some reasonable facsimile of the popular berry. I’m not sure I know what to do with a bottle of wine that might taste like a couple of my favorite candies (although, come to think of it, how ingenious!); worse, I’m afraid I’m just not that favorable toward anything I pour into a wine glass reminding me of a campfire.
I’m stuck. I don’t like the strawberry-soda-with-alcohol version of wine. Confession: I never did. But necessity is the mother of invention, and a close relative of college kids determined to save money while having a few drinks. I have discovered that some wines, replete with fancy French or Italian labels and impressive price tags, apparently need a really long time to breathe, and still are liable to make my mouth pucker. They might be ‘good,’ but I don’t always like them very much. If my wine is supposed to remind me of the barrel it was aged in, or leave me thinking that I’ve had a bit of chocolate when I know perfectly well I haven’t, then maybe I don’t yet have the refined palette I was hoping I’d have by now. And even though I do have a few more dollars in my wallet, I start to hyperventilate at the thought of paying $95 for a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that may or not fit my own definition of good, though the ratings (I’ve been doing my homework) tell me it’s an “excellent” choice. I’m still a bit worried about the oak thing. Maybe I should give that cardboard box in the wine aisle another look.