I grew up in a house where wine was as common as Kool-Aid. One of my earliest memories involves looking up from the kitchen floor at my dad, pouring California Burgundy from a jug into glasses of ice. So the news this week that a White Castle in Lafayette, Indiana, is serving wine with sliders—far from being the WTF moment it was for a lot of cultural referees—made me think: Finally, a chance to make wine seem more democratic.
Wine has been one of America’s great upscalers. After my parents upgraded to a bigger house in a better suburb, they switched from wine coolers gulped from tumblers to undiluted varietals sipped from stem glasses. In the 1970s and ’80s, the surest way to announce your social aspirations in my parents’ circle of blue-collar friends was to drink Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay or Louis Martini Cabernet. More than just wine estates, these were powerful consumer brands.
Though wine is still the priciest component of a restaurant meal, it’s not quite the status symbol it once was, thanks to a flood of cheap varietals washing up against younger drinkers. Will making it a fast-food option finally make it seem as accessible as it is in Europe’s viticultural zones, to erase America’s balloon-glass snobbery about wine? I hope so.
In college, I spent time in Bordeaux, rooming with a girl doing a year abroad. She was living in a decrepit 18th-century house with most of the grandeur chipped off, a place habitually rented to students. The fusty, cavernous basement contained the French equivalent of a frat house’s beer can collection—row after row of empty Saint-Émilions and Entre-Deux-Mers, dusty proof of just how cheap and unremarkable a huge class of wines is in France.
Meanwhile in Indiana, White Castle says it’ll give its experiment a year before uncorking in other locations, something that would make the ghost of Thomas Jefferson very, very happy. It was Jefferson who wanted America to be a nation of wine drinkers—in France and Italy, he observed, where wine was common, drunkards were rare. England, by contrast, was a nation perpetually plastered on gin.
Jefferson thought wine would encourage moderation. Who knows, maybe the option of sipping Merlot instead of guzzling a 42-ounce Sprite could do the same thing for slider cravers, even help shed pounds. Certainly seems to have worked for French women.