Beverage and the Beach

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We are at the beach. It is my best time. It’s a time for arguing over departure times for half an hour before any move is made toward the door. It’s a time for too many cooks in the kitchen, a dozen (or two dozen) people at the table, endless chips and salsa, discussions of gluten allergies, paddleboard surfing, and when the looming storm will dissipate. It’s time for glasses of cold things, beer and interesting cocktails discovered in newspapers and wine constantly opened and served in whatever glasses are available.

Mostly at the beach we drink coffee, and water, and collectively as a massive family unit we seem to strive to invent better, different, and more efficient ways to carry those on and into our person. The water was in bottles first, then frozen bottles, then pouches to reuse. The coffee was in a pot used again and again in the mornings, and I usually arrived just as the first pot had baked long enough to taste more like it came from the corner diner than the boutique coffee shop. As the caffeinators grew in number, the coffee pot was left in the dust of a dozen teenagers and twenty-somethings and grown-ups clattering their empty mugs on the counter every morning, stumbling through a whirr of bleary-eyed muttering and spitting. One of those instant, brew-a-cup machines took its place and though the coffee is mediocre, and the method confounding, it has saved our mornings. The early risers rebounded conversationally to political debate and literary philosophy around the breakfast table.  

The first summer I worked at the wine shop, I decided I was in charge of providing libations to the masses at the Jersey Shore for our annual gathering of Callahans. I recall selecting bottles, a case, each one something both functional and interesting to talk about. Vinho Verde, for sure, some tasty Italian reds I was drinking plenty of myself, some inexpensive and not-Chardonnay whites for my ABC Aunt (that is, Anything But Chardonnay). I remember an afternoon with that aunt the previous year, nibbling nuts and cheese on the porch with a glass of cold Pinot Grigio thinking, “Is it five o’clock? Can I do this?” I wondered if, in fact, this was my destiny. This is GREAT, I thought.  

The following summer I pulled up to the beach house with five cases of wine in my car. Callahans don’t play. 

There’s a particular joy for me to sit on a porch as the afternoon stretches into evening and sip a glass of very cold wine. It’s not a luxury I can afford often these days; an afternoon on the porch looks more like chasing after those plastic stacking rings and trying to prevent head wounds and cup casualties courtesy of my tottering baby. But here, at the beach, time isn’t insisting on accomplishment or pace. We wake up when we wake up, coffee together, share time at the beach, wind down in the evening of lingering daylight and lingering meals. Now the meals come with their own entertainment and risk as the two tiny ones of the next generation experiment in chewing and swallowing. The wine flows more freely because we are older, and because my husband will often come to visit, too. 

Last summer, we brought scads of linguisa tomatoes, a variety that looks a little like a plum or roma but is meatier and the ideal tomato for pasta sauces. We slaughtered them all and anointed them with chile, salt, garlic, and honey. Barely warmed on the stove, the sauce was tossed in hot pasta with a mountain of basil and cheese at the ready. Two Rosso di Montalcinos were opened and set on the table. Somewhere between bottles four and five (where do they come from? What are these loaves and fishes?), the enormous bowl of pasta at least was dented and stories came from all sides. Remembering, sharing, looking for the next laugh—that’s what the beach is for. 

This year I brought just a humble case of everyday wines, good stuff but nothing fancy. We burn through it so quickly it seems foolish to have the amazing stuff all the time, and besides: if I’m honest, I prefer everyday wine to the fancy ones anyway. A treat is great every now and again, but when a wine you don’t feel guilty about drinking is also tasty and feels like a treat, I think you’ve won. Something. Won at life, maybe. Even now I’m sipping a fantastic Washington State Pinot Gris out of the first glass I found, which looks better suited to the Mad Men set than this faded denim couch in this giant old beach house. The treat is that the baby is asleep, my eyelids are drooping from a day well spent, and there is good wine in my glass. 

 Katie Callahan is a wine educator and former manager of Bin 201, a boutique wine store in Annapolis.

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