As I read professional wine blogs, one thing is starting to strike me as a theme. Is so much of wine culture really lifestyle? The lifestyle of wealth? This is especially noticeable when it comes to dining:
The experiences in so many professional wine blogs – maybe wine journalism in general – seems unattainable to me. It’s fine to blog from restaurants across Tuscany, or France, or some hidden little bistro in Greece that only the locals know about, but how does that help me, a guy who lives in Skokie? Or talking about grabbing some dinner at some New York hot spot with a great wine list, only to complain about the service. Wine journalists will mention a $25 or $30 bottle as an outstanding value. To me, that much money is an investment.
So I can’t afford these wine culture experiences. I don’t mean to simply complain I’m very lucky to experience a lot of amazing wines and cuisine because of my involvement in this industry. But what if I didn’t sell wine? How disconnected would I be?
I had this on my mind last weekend, when my fiancé and I (by the way, we got engaged) met some friends in a distant Chicago neighborhood that I rarely get to. We walked around until we found a nice Italian place they like. It was good one of those classy Italian joints where they have empties of Opus One and Banfi Brunello di Montalcino above the windows, mingling with decorative olive oil tins and wicker baskets with bunches of realistic plastic grapes. The food looked good (so much oil and garlic!), and I ordered some dish in Italian that amounts to cheese and spinach ravioli in brown butter with sage. It was excellent. I mean, it was amazing.
The one problem: the wine list. I couldn’t find a single bottle that was worth the asking price. The wine was so expensive (and in most cases, expensive yet uninspiring) that I simply couldn’t bring myself to purchase wine. This was a shame, of course, because the oil and fat in the food coated my palate I was practically begging for an acidic white to cut through all that oil. I just couldn’t bring myself to pay $45 for something we sell at Binny’s for $8.99.
I also had the expensive nature of wine culture on my mind when a friend and I were hanging out a couple weekends ago. Neither of us are fabulously well-to-do, so we ordered carry-out from a nearby Mediterranean place. He got the Combination Feast Entree, which as it turns out is a big pile of meat on some rice. I got the Vegetarian Combination Plate, full of good stuff like falafel, hummus, dolma, baba ghannoug, and more. It is delicious. We also got some delicious Baklava. The whole check was like twenty bucks, tops. We took it back to my place and ate it on the sofa. The food was pretty much as pictured here, only in styrofoam to-go containers.
And to pair with this feast? First we opened a Pierre Sparr Reserve Riesling, a nice little Alsatian I got at Binny’s at an unbelievably low price last month. It’s not super complex, but nice and clean, with hints of lemon peel and lemon tart. After that we opened a bottle of 2005 Larkmead Firebelle, a merlot-heavy Bordeaux blend from Napa, and also something I picked up on the cheap at Binny’s. Surprisingly fruit-driven with hints of spice and anise, we were surprised at the relative lack of tannin.
Despite the fact that we weren’t at a bistro in the French Riviera, we had a pretty good afternoon.