Thursday, November 08, 2007


Beer has been making great strides of late in its ongoing battle for respect vis-à-vis wine. Even as I type, while seated on a US Airways flight to Charlotte, NC, I’ve just finished watching a soundless short program on the complexity and diversity of beer, featuring Garrett Oliver of BROOKLYN BREWING, on what is normally a half-hour wine program called “Fine Wine with Andrea Immer”. (Soundless because I didn’t pay their kings’ ransom of 5 bucks to rent headphones). I’ll leave it to other writers to wax poetic about how it wasn’t always this way, and how beer is still fighting an uphill battle yadda yadda. To me, it’s just a drink, like wine’s just a drink, and it’s a moderately engaging hobby. I do, however, find myself having to sneak it into routines that might otherwise call for wine, and that is often a minor struggle.

Now don’t get me wrong – I enjoy, and have long enjoyed, wine. Unfortunately, I find it almost completely impenetrable, unaffordable, and wholly uninteresting. Wine is what I drink with my wife; it’s what I drink on a nice dinner date with her, when there are no great beers on the menu (which is most of the time); and it’s what we drink at home when she’s made a big meal. Note the “female” slant to each of those occasions. Beer is what I drink with my male friends, by and large, and the thought of me and my pals hitting a wine bar is almost ludicrous. When I go out with larger groups of mixed males & females, while it’s getting to be more normal for beer to be ordered (usually by the guys), the women get a glass of red 99% of the time. Of course, that’s a complete generalization and probably more reflective of my advanced age, urban location (San Francisco, 90 minutes from Napa/Sonoma), and perhaps socioeconomic factors as well (for once, buying something besides the cheapo glass of “house red” is sometimes an option). I find that good wine can be extremely pleasing, but I’m not a “sipper”, and I have a difficult time drinking it sloooowly and contemplatively as others might. A nice pint of porter is more my speed.

Though it’s almost cliché to say it, I also believe wine suffers from tremendous self-importance. I read an interview with Charles Shaw, Mr. Two-Buck Chuck, and he said something to the effect that there’s no reason even the best wines need to be over $10 a bottle; cost of materials are roughly the same in every wine-growing region. As an ardent capitalist, I applaud anyone who can create demand for a $70 bottle of wine, or get people to pony up $100 in a nice restaurant for a bottle. To me, it’s all artifice, and sooooo not worth the piece. Know what I paid for the most expensive bottle of beer I’ve ever bought? $13, just this week, for a bottle of DE PROEF/PORT BREWING’s SIGNATURE ALE. I know it’ll be great, because I tried it once before, but I only went that high because I had a gift certificate, so it “wasn’t really my money”, right? I love beer because, among many other reasons, the barriers to entry are very slight – just three or four dollars, and you can be connecting with a drink that not only spans the ages and the cultures, but is easily as pleasing to the tongue and the mind as any wine you care to throw at me.

Here’s what I do enjoy about wine: the wineries themselves. Those located in Napa and Sonoma (and undoubtedly in Italy and the South of France) are so visually alluring, they conjure up visions of the gastronomic best-of-everything. I leave the region wanting only to eat heirloom tomatoes, try strange cheeses and chocolates, consume free-range foods, and drink only the finest beverages. Loads of free tastings at VALLEY OF THE MOON and CLOS PEGASE will do that to you. Then I get home and look for whatever’s in the freezer. Back in the real world – my world - one can buy 5 of the most amazing Belgian beers for the price of one slightly-above-average bottle of Napa Valley wine. That’s where MY head’s at – um, except when my wife does the nightly pouring, before I’ve had a chance to get to the fridge.

1 comment:

Kyle said...

Go to a wine bar with the guys? Ha Ha Ha!