Questions From My (Imaginary) Wine Advice Column

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I don’t have an advice column, partially because I’m pretty ill-equipped to solve other people’s problems, but also because an advice column on people with wine-related personal problems is a bit of a niche market. (That said, if anybody wants to send me wine-and-life related questions, by all means send them to me. I’ll try my darnedest. Email [email protected]) But if I did, my hope would be the questions would look something like this:

Dear Katie:

I’m trying desperately to impress a girl I’ve just started dating and I accidentally told her I was great at wine. Can you be great at wine? Can I be great at it? How can I pretend to be great at it without doing all the work?

Signed,
Hopeful

First, who lies about being good at wine? Where did that phrase even come from? Second, yeah, you can fake it, but the easiest way would be to sign up for some sort of Saturday afternoon wine 101 class like this and try not to act surprised when you realize the differences, nuances, and interesting parts of the basic wine world. 

Alternatively, go to a good wine shop and review their selection of wines that are typically both cost effective and delicious: think southern Italy (my current love affair), reds from Chile and the Languedoc in France, whites from Spain, maybe rosés from Provence (though we’re wandering out of that season now, aren’t we?). Compose a simple picnic based on the region from which the wine comes from. If you went with southern Italy, some good sheep’s milk cheese like Pecorino, some salami, country bread, olive oil, perhaps some honey and plums, and two jam jars for glasses. If you’re going with a Spanish white, maybe some cold roasted chicken, Manchego, apples, and some fresh vegetables. Find a pleasant location. Let your date bask in the glory of both y[our] thriftiness and ingenuity. 

Dear Katie:

My ex-husband just sent me a letter asking me to send money to help him pay off his disastrous life choices. I would love to, instead of sending him money, drink to the disaster that was our marriage. Recommendations? 

Signed,
Over It

Whoa. That’s a lot of feelings. 

My first thought is escapism, so I would find the most pleasant—preferably outdoor or near a window—corner of your living space. Then find a corner of your day, probably evening, and sit in your space with really any bottle of your choosing, something you love and that he never did, and sip it slowly with a favorite book or the rest of the season of Orange is the New Black you never got to. 

For me, the bottle would undoubtedly be Champagne, one of those bottles I have set aside for such occasions. Big, rich, luxuriously creamy and plump…I think that’s what I’d go with. Bollinger, or Gosset, or a very deep pink rosé like the one from Ruinart. The other option, I think, would be Burgundy…but not the sad, deeply self-involved subtle stuff. There’s a time and a place for that. Instead, opt for an exuberant 2008 from some little known commune that nobody pays attention to…something rich in fruit, but still relatively low in alcohol, sheer, and not encumbering. There are enough things trying to lean on and linger with you right now. Your wine doesn’t have to.  

Dear Katie:

I’ve just drunk far too much excellent Champagne at a really outstanding wedding. How can I come down from that mountaintop experience and make it back to my relatively mundane, day-to-day wine drinking experience?

Signed,
Good Problems

The only way to come down from that kind of experience is to not try to replicate it. That is, steer clear of the bubbles for a while—you will only be disappointed. In the event of an excellent-wine overload, you have two choices: drink nothing for a while, or opt for the opposite of wherever you just were. If you’re coming down from a lot of Champagne fancy times, choose the thing as far away from pretty, ethereal, and palate cleansing as possible. I’d go for something robust, red, and utterly tasty, not requiring too much consideration or meditation, just good ol’ fashioned toss-it-back red like a Primitivo, Zinfandel, Carménère, or other such regionally specific, sun-soaked gem. The thing about Champagne (really sparkling wine in general) for me is that I always end up coming back to it at some point, and it is as readily open-armed as it was the last time, no matter how far I’ve strayed. It’s the best (and oddest) kind of Prodigal Son metaphor. So I’d say run as far as you can in the opposite direction and then come back, not expecting the grandeur of your evening of excess, but the pleasant and familiar frothy arms of a well-loved comrade.  

Dear Katie:

My boyfriend is Greek, and I don’t want to disrespect his heritage, but I’m going to his parents’ for dinner tomorrow night and I’ve never had a Greek wine I’ve liked. What do I bring to dinner?

Signed,
Urgent

Good on you! Greek wine isn’t inherently bad, but a lot of what makes it over to the US isn’t that great. You can find them, but it may not be worth the effort simply because locating a specific Greek wine is a tough task in this environment. Instead, I’d advise you to research some of those Greek grapes that made their way to Italy way back when and find a bottle from there. In Campania, Calabria, Pulglia, and Basilicata are home to several such grapes. My favorites are Aglianico and Greco. 

Aglianico is sometimes called the Nebbiolo of the South, which, for nerds, means that the wine has the potential to be aromatic and elegant and age-worthy, all the stuff you take for granted with many wines from the north. It’s a big, hefty red with tons of tannin and heart, black sultry fruit, and because it’s often grown near volcanoes, it often translates that kind of minerality into the wine. Really interesting, really tasty stuff. Greco is a white, plump but crunchy fruit like a really pleasant white nectarine sprinkled with flowers and lime zest. It’s great with a lot of different food, but Mediterranean cuisine, unsurprisingly, is its forte. I don’t think you can go wrong, unless you start explaining the “Nebbiolo of the South” thing at the dinner table. Save that for later. 

Until next time, I remain your faithful correspondent and solver of beverage problems,

Katie 

Katie Callahan is a wine educator and the former manager of Bin 201 in Annapolis.



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