Chardonnay and a saved marriage

My wife Vanessa, who appears frequently in this column, is my wine-snob governor. You, reader, have her to thank for saving you from prose honoring the natural beauty of open-tank fermentation and expletive-riddled rants about how producing higher-alcohol content Pinot Noirs to fake complexity should be treated as a felony. After reading my first draft each month, she endures an extended soliloquy during which I explain the importance of its esoteric subject and then politely pushes me toward more mainstream content. I begrudgingly accept the advice and return to my laptop with her
perspective in mind.

There have been a few times when I have acted less than professionally here in the home office, and emotionally defended a draft as something I was duty-bound to share with the world. Rather than being lured into a boring fight, Vanessa judiciously reserves what I respectfully refer to as her nuclear option: “Nobody cares about that,” she’ll say declaratively. “All we really want to hear about from you is good $12 Chardonnay.” Ouch.

I am pleased to note that this month marks the first anniversary of this column. Coincidentally, the “governor” is traveling and unable to perform her editorial duties before my rapidly approaching deadline. So forgive me as I use the occasion to share a few heartfelt observations I have been forced to keep bottled up (pardon the pun) over the past 11 months.

If you devoted more than one minute to selecting a wine and it cost at least $5, do yourself and the wine a favor and drink it from a proper wine glass. You don’t have to have hand-blown lead crystal. Any clear (tinted or decorated glasses may seem festive but they mask the color of wine, which is as important to observe and enjoy as the taste), clean (this seems obvious, but I don’t just mean rinsing out the remains of milk and cookies from the previous night. I’m talking washed with warm water, then cold, and free of odors, including soap or other wines), dry (I’ve seen people rinse a glass and leave several ounces of water in the bottom, pour wine on top and then complain that the wine didn’t have much flavor), glass (unless you prefer a hint of plastic or Styrofoam) with a bowl that tapers at the top (to capture the limitless fragrances wine offers) is adequate.

In my opinion, a stem (of any length) is required. You’ve probably seen the stemless glasses that are popular now. People like them because stems are delicate and often break, and the new glasses take up less space in the dishwasher. Beyond the visual aesthetic, stems exist to hold a chilled white so your hand doesn’t warm it. If you have turned to stemless glasses because you break traditional ones, you should give up wine and go with something that requires less grace to drink, like a pint of beer.

A more disturbing sign of the wine apocalypse is the popularity of national chain wine stores that market wines with ridiculous, overarching adjectives like “fresh,” “soft,” “luscious” or “fizzy.” When was wine shopping reduced to “The Dating Game”? “Wine Number One, if you had to describe yourself in one word, what would it be?”

And please don’t ever embarrass yourself by saying, “I don’t like Sauvignon Blancs, I prefer Fume Blancs.” They are the same grape with two different names. So are Shiraz and Syrah. Now you know.

I’m frequently asked for gift ideas for people who really like wine. Let me start by mentioning some items to avoid: T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like, “You had me at Merlot” (a riff on the line from “Jerry Maguire”); a kitchen apron that boasts “Vini.Vidi.Vino,” (I came. I saw. I drank wine); or an embroidered pillow bearing the platitude, “Life is too short to drink cheap wine.” Someone who may or may not have given birth to me might have given me such gifts, and should refrain from doing so in the future.

If you really want to give a wine-snob something they’ll appreciate, go to your local wine shop and ask the proprietor for something in the $25 range. Or save your money and simply indulge the person the next time they bore you with their passion for the grape. Thank you.