Like a plague of locusts descending upon crops, a peculiar modern pestilence assaults my email inbox: pesky missives from public relations firms, touting the latest and supposedly greatest in food and drink.
In a perfect world, these words would be custom-tailored to suit my journalistic needs. Publicists, tell me about restaurants, craft beers, cocktail bars and spirits! This helps me divine trends, allowing me to make judgments and disseminate pertinent info to readers—a filter in our data-clogged days. But for each relevant email, dozens more tidal wave into my inbox, breathlessly announcing news I find as off-putting as Glee. It’s marketing by machine gun: Spray the message wildly and hope to hit a few targets. Recent misses include luxury spas, health-food restaurants and wine. Wine! Allow me to whine.
Over the last decade on the booze beat, I’ve been as clear as vodka concerning my liquid passions. I adore craft beer and distilled spirits, from China’s fiery bai jiu to oaky, warming bourbon. As for wine, I avoid writing about grape juice. This is partly due to economics. When I first started down this drunken writing road, I was busted broke. I could scarcely afford to order from the McDonald’s value menu, much less buy decent wine. (This predated the arrival of Trader Joe’s Two-Buck Chuck, bringing quality, Night Train–cheap wine to the masses.) I fell under the thrall of affordable craft beer such as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Brooklyn Lager, which sold for less than $10 a six-pack. Flavor and quality: What more could I crave?
Wine was, and remains to me, a costly, confusing crapshoot. With seasonal variations in yields and quality, the wine you loved this year may be vinegar the next. Keeping track is a full-time gig, and the wine field is filled with men and women eager to use adjectives like “wet slate,” “pencil shavings” and “cat pee”— it’s an arms race of adjectives to describe a varietal. Wine writing is sprinkled with heaping tablespoons of pretension; I grew up in suburban Ohio, where pompousness was seen as a character defect. Beer won. Wine lost.
But last Sunday, I was forced to come face to face with a beer lover’s greatest fear: spending an entire day drinking wine. My friend Emily was turning 30, and her greatest wish was to visit Long Island’s North Fork wineries. “What could be better?” she asked. Wisely, I kept my yap shut. Over the ensuing weeks, the outing was planned. Emily assumed we were traveling in a busted-up van. (Last summer, we ventured to New Jersey’s Seaside Heights in a van that had disconcertingly damp seats and a scent best described as “mildew strip club.”) Yet a 30th birthday only occurs once.
Thus, the attendees rented a stretch SUV limo—you know, the sort where prom-going teens stick their heads out the sunroof and scream. The vehicle pulled in front of Emily’s apartment, looking like a beached whale. “Oh, no—really?” she said, agape. Like clowns climbing into a circus car, we stuffed ourselves inside, arranging ourselves on smooth leather seats. Bloody Marys were mixed. Screwdrivers were distributed. The new Girl Talk album was cranked to 11. “I always thought that driving around in one of these would be douchey,” one friend said. “But I certainly don’t feel like a douchebag.”
As the city’s buildings diminished in the distance, we alighted toward Southold, home to the northern location of Duck Walk Vineyards. In the sunny facility, which was flanked by rows of grape vines, we bellied up to the bar to sample a buttery chardonnay, crisp and strawberry-like rosé and a smoky pinot meunier.
“It’s as close as you’ll get to Scotch or beer,” the sommelier said, pouring me a toot. I took a taste. It was masculine and campfire-esque, but it was as close to beer or booze as a Gardenburger is to beef. When a musician broke out a saxophone to serenade us with muzak, we took it as our cue to skedaddle.
Our driver shuttled us down the road to Pindar Vineyards. In the tasting room, we tippled the full-bodied, blended red wine Pythagoras and the nearly tropical Sauvignon Blanc. But better yet was the sparkling, wildly effervescent Premier Cuvée, which we bought bottles of to glug al fresco in the backyard. Across the tables we spread cheese and meats. Corks were released, exploding like popcorn. This was a moment of celebration, a time where beer and booze had no home. Sipping wine in the sunshine, this was a Great Gatsby moment—well, with less suicide and murder.
“More bubbles!” Emily shouted, her glee so infectious that, despite my wine-averse ways, I couldn’t help but extend my cup too.