A Lesson in Wine Appreciation

Michael and Christine are among our best friends; my wife has known Michael since college, and we all get along so well as couples. It’s a rare thing, as any coupled-up person knows: Too often, you get along well with your own counterpart in the other couple, but your partner can’t relate to the other partner, or vice versa. Anyway, for whatever reason, L and I simply get along well with Michael and Christine, and the warmth among us has only grown over the years.

What has also grown, although more quietly and more recently, is my own impulse to convert Michael into a lover of wine. He’s quite open about his resistance: It just doesn’t grab him; he doesn’t care much if he’s drinking good stuff or plonk. In many ways, this is quite consistent with his character: Michael works hard and makes a fabulous living, and he loves the finer things in life. He’s a devoted father and husband, but he also takes a special pride in his strong practical streak. Hardheaded, clear-sighted, undistracted by unnecessary hedonism, he carries a very Yankee sense that simple foods are good enough for him, and that he’d just as soon drink a cheap beer as anything else—except a fine Scotch, that is. Because he does, here and there, make exceptions. And I’ve begun to hope he might make one for wine.

This is self-interested, at some level: We see Michael and Christine a lot, I often have a range of nice wines to share, and I’d love to have an enthusiastic tasting partner. I very much enjoy talking to Michael, and we see many things the same way, so I know that he’d be a great interlocutor on the subject. And to a much smaller degree, there’s an element of simple well-wishing for my friend: I have this feeling that Michael could get a great deal of pleasure from wine, if only he could make that initial transition.

So, this weekend, up in Napa—he and Christine brought their kid for my eldest’s fifth birthday—I initiated a long conversation about wine, probing about, trying to find a vein that might interest Michael. He’s perfectly game for this sort of thing, and at one point he asked if wine weren’t like music: “I mean in the sense that there are a lot of different styles, and everybody has their own particular tastes.”

I told him I thought that was right, but I returned to the subject a few hours later with something to add: that it seems fair to say that wine is also like music in that most people like many different styles or genres, and reach for different ones at different times. A music that might be right for drinking with your buddies in the basement, in other words, would probably not go over during a quiet dinner party for your wife’s boss. And so on. Sometimes we’re in the mood for Lucinda Williams, other moments make us reach for the Sex Pistols, and certain Sunday mornings call out for Puccini. That said, it also seems fair to assert that in distinguishing between styles of wine—as in distinguishing between styles of music—we do not imagine that all are created equal. In other words: We may not want to listen to classical or jazz all the time, but few of us would dispute the claim that both forms are capable of vastly greater complexity, and of expressing a vastly greater range of feeling, than, say, punk, which has its place but tends to stay within a fairly limited emotional spectrum. Whether these thoughts will nudge Michael toward wine-loving, I have no idea, and as for which genres of music correspond to which styles of wine, I’ll leave that up to you.

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