When I was in college, I saw a student at a frat party sitting all alone in a corner drinking wine directly from the bottle. Now it is not particularly surprising to see someone drinking straight from the bottle at a fraternity party, nor would it be thought unusual, at least at the University of Chicago where I went to school, to see a student drinking alone in a corner. It is kind of unusual to see these two things happening at once. Drinking from the bottle at a party is an attention-getting action, with a cocky little ha-ha quality that seems to fit the setting. Perhaps the guy wanted to make sure that we saw him there all alone, but I didn’t want to believe in that kind of false despondency, so I made up a story for him.
I am sure that I told the story with the kind of derision that makes people laugh when they’ve been drinking, and I recall it getting rather intricate. I don’t remember the entire arc, but here’s the gist of it: another economist from the Chicago Law School had just been awarded the Nobel Prize, so with this on everyone’s lips, I theorized that this guy was a frustrated would-be Nobel laureate who just couldn’t get it together because his work failed to present any seminal ideas or solutions. He began to blame every Nobel laureate at Chicago (which at the time was, I believe, eight), and he plotted their demise straight from a bottle of Mouton-Cadet. At the time, I didn’t know that Mouton-Cadet was available everywhere Budweiser was sold, so I gave him some credit for at least drinking fine wine.
Whether Mouton-Cadet is fine wine or not (it’s fruity and potable, which is better than some) is immaterial. The story illustrates one of the great double-edged swords any product can have: mystique. Mystique doesn’t often translate into sales, but it piques curiosity, has great sex appeal, and it once offered me a chance to make up a belittling, melodramatic story. This air of mystery surrounding wine is also the big hurdle for most people who might otherwise delve deeper into it.
It is apparent to anyone, without much investigation, that the wine world is vast and complicated, and getting into it takes both time and money. Just pick up a bottle of Barolo and try to decipher what all the nomenclature denotes without speaking Italian or knowing anything about the region in advance: it’s not easy, but with a little guidance, it becomes accessible.
In Europe and western Asia, wine is a normal part of everyone’s diet, and is seen as special only in specific circumstances with exceptional wines. Maybe one day we reach this point in the United States, because wine is meant for everyone. Of course, not every wine is for everyone, but the category as a whole should not be so elusive. Beer is seen as the alcoholic drink for everyone, but with the glut of microbrews available, even beer is becoming more fractured and complicated.
Wine is not as inscrutable as it seems, and I suppose that is one of my general themes. Wine cannot, without substantial damage to its fun factor (and therefore should not), be demystified, and it does such a good job of spreading joy.
And speaking of joy--excuse me while I go open a bottle of Rosé...I'm thirsty!
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