Wine: The basics

I really want to get into wine, but I always have the same problems. Whenever I go to the wine store, I have no idea what to buy. I try to ask the wine store owner if she could recommend me something nice, something refined, elegant, something just slightly pretentious enough that, if somebody came over my place and saw the bottle, they might look at the label and say, “Hmm … I’ve never heard of this type of wine,” and I could reply really nonchalantly something like, “Oh yeah, well, it’s from a really small vineyard not too well known around here.” And this person will make this kind of interested face, maybe waiting for me to offer to uncork it so we can both try a little, but I won’t. I’m not making the first move. If the person asks, then definitely, I’ll open it up, but I want to hear it asked first. I need to feel that person really wanting it. “Rob, would you mind … ?”

But the lady who owns the wine store is, I think, a total imposter. She doesn’t know anything about wine. She is just an opportunist, an entrepreneur. She saw a block with no liquor stores around it and set up shop. So every time I ask her, “Any suggestions?” she’s always just pushing whatever’s not selling fast enough. So instead of having people come over my house and check out my wine selection and say stuff like, “Ooooh!” they always wind up glancing at my bottles but then trying to avert their gaze, saying stuff like, “ooooh …” and then they ask me if I have any cold beers in the fridge, and I’ll say, “Help yourself,” and then I’ll get all bent out of shape worrying that my beer choices might not be all that diverse and, seeing as how I already botched the wine, well, you can understand why I’d be a little nervous.

And then every time I try to pop open the bottle I wind up, half of the time, ruining the cork and therefore ruining the whole bottle of wine. My parents gave me one of those automatic corkscrews for Christmas one year. And it’s great. But one time I was catering a party somewhere, and the waiter captain told me to bring a wine key. So I brought my automatic wine opener, which comes in a case, a big case, probably as big as a cookbook. But I didn’t know this wasn’t what he meant by wine key. So when I got to the reception, I asked where I could put my wine key case, and the captain just looked at me. That’s when I looked around at everyone else with these pocket-knife sized wine keys, but it’s not a knife, instead of a blade, there’s just a screw, something you have to turn in manually and then take out. Another waiter had an extra. I tried to pretend like I knew what I was doing. I watched the others twist in and pull out. It looked so easy. But when I did it, first of all, I had no idea how to get the foil off of the top, and when I finally got it off, the person who asked for the wine had already left for another waiter. I figured I’d open it anyway, get ready for the next wine drinker. But I botched it. I twisted the screw in and pulled, and a broken off top half of the cork came out. I have no idea how it happened. So I twisted in the screw to get the rest of it out but all I did was push the remainder of it inside the bottle, and it was stuck in there somewhere. I poured a glass to see if maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, but it was terrible, crumbs of cork floating around everywhere. I found a straw and tried to trap each piece of cork under the straw, and, if I got it, I put my finger on the top of the straw and pulled out the crumb. I thought it was a genius plan, but the captain saw me and sent me home. Looking back, it was a pretty stupid plan. I should have just found a new bottle and started over.

One time I saw a cooking show or a travel show (I can’t remember which) where the host went to a place and asked for a bottle of champagne. He told the camera that the easiest way to open a bottle of champagne was to take a big knife and, with the not-sharp side, slide it up the neck in a fast motion towards the cork. So one time I tried this, but the actual bottle broke off right below the cork, sending not just the cork flying, but a chunk of glass that it was attached to. Also, the champagne in the bottle must have gotten so agitated that it started foaming up and spilling all over the floor. My dad was so pissed. “I asked you if you knew how to open up a bottle of champagne and you said yes!” he said, “you insisted!” I did insist, I guess. I just saw things going so much better and smoother and cooler in my head.

One time I was drinking red wine at an office party and I thought I was making such a good impression and telling jokes and charming people and schmoozing and just being a great office-party guest. I imagined my bosses talking amongst themselves after I walked away to mingle with the other guests, saying stuff like, “That Rob is so well-mannered, such poise!” But then when I got home I went to the bathroom and saw that I must have been drinking the red wine wrong because I had red wine lips extending past my actual lips, giving the impression of a really creepy Joker like clown, and my teeth looked all grey and stained.

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