Holiday get-togethers are like a minefield of bad wines. A winefield, if you will. You are casually exchanging theories about The Last Jedi with your nephew when a well-intentioned relative hands you a glass of “red” because they know you like “red wine.” What on earth is in this glass? Don’t they know wine is so much more than just red or white? You are now in a live, active winefield. What do you do?
As most people know, when you’ve triggered (or been triggered by) a wine — don’t move! Stay still. Try to smile. Say “thank you.” Then, slowly bring the glass to your nose. Determine how dangerous the wine is by breathing in deeply. The smell will likely not kill you immediately. But if it smells like an explosion of fruit and/or turpentine, carefully and methodically move towards the nearest sink or toilet. Pretend you just caught food poisoning or a stomach bug. Time the pouring out of the beverage with your most realistic sounding upchucking. In some cultures this will be viewed as a compliment to the host. Sadly, not in America.
This holiday-related wine situation is all-too-common. You are likely to attend some function at the end of this year where there will be bad wines aplenty. How do you avoid this dangerous viticultural situation?
The best way to navigate the winefield is to seize control of the field itself. Commandeer all of the bottles. Act as holiday party sommelier. Take that wretched glass of Sutter Home Rosé of Moscato that tastes like liquefied candy cane to your great-aunt. Despite the fact that you know that particular bottle has been sitting in the fridge half-drunk for upwards of a month, you go and bring it to your aunt because you know she likes it. Don’t judge her. It’s the holidays. Being judgmental is God and Santa’s job. Now, silently judge her. But remember that it is settled law in the world of The Judge John Hodgman Podcast, on which I am a guest bailiff, that people like what they like. You know your aunt likes the Sutter Home. You go get it for her. You have made her holiday happier. And now, you are Sgt. Sommelier in control of the winefield.
While pouring your aunt’s first glass, you spot another open bottle in the fridge. Charles Shaw Wine. Better known as the dreaded “Two-Buck Chuck” from Trader Joe’s. A wine, less-affectionately and more appropriately, called Two-Buck Upchuck in certain snobby circles. Luckily, our Trader Joe’s on Route 9 is forbidden from selling the stuff. What’s worse about this Two-Buck Chuck in the fridge is it’s the Pinot Grigio. Pinot Grigio is the most boring of all grape varietals. Even your wife who mystifyingly PREFERS Pinot Grigio on most occasions admits that this one smells and tastes like rubbing alcohol. Too bad the alcohol by volume doesn’t reach those heights. It may have been its only redeeming quality. You taste the wine anyway. You think it tastes like desperation, blown holiday shopping budgets and oak. You suppress the notion at the back of your palette that “it’s not as bad as you remember.” Get your head back in the game!
Here is where you show your true holiday party prowess in maintaining control of the live winefield. You slip away to where you HID your OWN bottles!
When you walked in the door, you showed the host that you had brought several wines to the party. You are no freeloader at these festivities. As soon as the hosts acknowledged the bottles, you proceeded to hide them. Somewhere in the kitchen. But somewhere far enough away from the dangerously disgusting other offerings in the winefield.
Now, as quietly as possible, you open YOUR bottle of sparkling Gloria Ferrer Sonoma. No big New Year’s Eve style sparkling wine cork explosion tonight. Ease that cork-under-pressure out slowly and carefully lest you give away your position. You pour yourself a small glass, swish it all around your mouth and tongue and rinse the rubbing alcohol taste from the Two-Buck Chuck and the liquefied candy cane taste from the Sutter Home out of your piehole. Now, pour yourself a larger glass. Enjoy the rich and full mousse of this classic and affordable Pinot Noir-heavy sparkler, fermented in the Champagne-style in the bottle itself. Ahhhh. Enjoy this brief respite. Hide the bottle under your chair at the dinner table to sip on later.
Now, BACK TO IT! You are Sgt. Sommelier. You, perhaps foolishly, told your mother-in-law that Riesling is a classic pairing with the turkey dinner she will be serving. She happens to have a bottle of Riesling in the basement. Red alert! Riesling can be amazing. But Riesling is very dangerous-often far too sweet or has no acidic backbone. And sadly, this bottle of Chateau St. Michelle falls into the later category. When wines have no acidity, wine snobs call them “flabby.” And this Riesling tastes like what I’ll look like after dessert is served. At least it’s reasonably dry. Kudos to your mother-in-law. It could have been much worse. And then, what to your wondering eyes should appear? But a halfway decent Super Tuscan (meaning an Italian wine from Tuscany but made with more grapes than just Sangiovese) from Monte Antico. But it’s situated right next to the mother-of-all bad wines Two-Buck-Chuck WHITE ZINFANDEL! It may be tempting to try the Super Tuscan, but it’s just too close to the White Zin. It’s not worth it. ABORT!
Retreat to your 2016 Whole Cluster Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley Vineyards that you camouflaged near the plants by the window. Delicious fruit, fermented from uncrushed whole clusters of grapes; giving it that raw, fresh-fruit flavor. And only about $20. It’s your commendation, Sgt. Sommelier, for safely seizing control of this dangerous live active holiday winefield. You are proud that at this holiday get-together you have chosen your own wine adventure.
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