Ever since I was too short to reach the checkout counter at the supermarket, I’ve had an insatiable curiosity about food. The less I know about a certain ingredient, the more I want to taste it and talk about it—whether it’s Galician berberechos clams or white-boar soppressata. But when it comes to wine, I tend to keep my mouth shut. I drink wine nearly every day, and I enjoy learning about varietals and regions and producers. But wine lingo and wine trends intimidate me, and I second-guess my tastes and instincts. I’d be mortified to be overheard gushing about something totally passé, like White Zinfandel. Let’s be clear here: I hate White Zinfandel. (I’m supposed to hate it, right? Or is it coming back in style?)
To get over my wine anxiety, I decided to conduct an experiment: What if I took wine off its pedestal and treated it the same way I treat everything else I eat and drink? I would talk to some of the world’s most respected experts and compare wine to foods and beverages I’m comfortable with—namely, burgers, bacon and coffee. Maybe then I could finally overcome my insecurities.
© Brian Cronin
The White Castle Burger of Wine
My first question to the experts: What’s the White Castle burger of wine? Just as chefs like to boost their street cred by admitting to certain lowbrow tastes—from fast-food fries to RC Cola—I wondered if sommeliers had guilty pleasures, too. I had two goals: One, to make them fess up some embarrassing secrets. And two, to feel less mortified if I happen to enjoy a wine that’s unfashionable, even trashy—because if professionals privately drink déclassé wines, then the world is safer for the rest of us.