If you’re a wine connoisseur, I’m about to come across as a peasant or a barbarian.
Being of modest means in rural Pennsylvania in the 1950s and ‘60s, my family regarded wine as what the swanky people drank. Maybe just once or twice a year, my Dad would buy a gallon jug of the cheapest vino on the shelf. For a few days, we thought we were the Clampetts of Beverly Hills.
Wine has come a very long way from those days, or so it seems. I doubt my Dad ever read anything on the label but the price, let alone a copy of Wine Enthusiast magazine. If you had asked him to write a description of the brand we occasionally drank, it would have read like this: “Made from grapes gone bad but still tastes good. Comes in red or white. Goes well with food. Makes you dizzy.”
When I became an adult and all sophisticated, I graduated to the world of finer wines. A few years ago I read an article that said red was better for your heart than white so I switched. I was advised by a waiter that the “t” in Pinot Noir is silent, so that’s what I now order exclusively. I can do a pretty good impression of swankiness when I sniff the cork, swish the wine around in the glass and sip instead of guzzle. I don’t even look for the spittoon any more.
But I’m looking into a tastebud transplant. My poor palate doesn’t pick up a fraction of what today’s wine descriptions say it should.
On a flight to Brazil last November, I was upgraded to business class. The menu said the wine contained “notes of coffee, red licorice, honeysuckle, earthy truffles and leather.”
Leather? They’ve got to be kidding, I thought. Sure enough, the closest I came to tasting leather on that flight was when the passenger next to me took off his shoes. And no way was all that other stuff in that glass either.
I picked up a wine magazine expecting experts to tell me how ridiculous such descriptions are. To my surprise, it was loaded with more of the same, and worse. One wine was put forth as “succulent and supple, with a tense body (yes, tense, as if it had some nervous hang-up) of bright wild strawberry, dried lavender, Asian spice and crushed rock. Finishes in a gorgeous dabble of white pepper.” What does crushed rock taste like, and who in their right mind eats it?
For crying out loud, it may be tasty but it’s just rotting grapes—not an orgy or an orchard or a construction site!
Page after page broke me up in uncontrollable laughter. Wines were presented as oozing the “enticing” scents of “wood smoke,” “blackened toast,” “butter cookies,” “clarified butter” (not just regular old butter), “roasted beef in blackberry sauce,” “crushed chalk,” “a cigar box,” even a “barnyard.” If all that stuff is really in there, we really don’t need to eat or drink anything but wine.
Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy a glass of wine. But honestly, crushed chalk? I guess I’ll always be a peasant.
Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president of the Foundation for Economic Education. He writes about exceptional people, including many from his book, “Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character and Conviction.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org