“Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Select, Start.” There is no doubt in my mind these instructions will remain engraved in my memory forever. For those of you who have no idea what this is about (and are slightly worried I may have finally lost my mind,) this was a series of steps that you had to follow if you wanted to “unlock” the game Contra on your Nintendo 64 back in the day. (Also known as the “Konami Code” after the makers of said video game.) One slip and you didn’t get all those extra lives. One slip and you had to reset the game. One slip and the friend you have over walks out on you, never to return.
What does this have to do with wine you ask? Everything.
You know as well as I do that selecting wine anywhere you are is not the easiest thing. (I might not be addressing the wine enthusiasts among us, though there once was a time when you too were denouncing Merlot…) Indeed it could be daunting – to say the least – especially if you are looking to branch out past the heavy sweetness of your once-trusty Zinfandel. (You are doing that already, aren’t you?) There are new countries to consider, terrains, bins, reserves, years, even the label design itself. (A Ralph Steadman illustration is great, but is the wine beneath its label? Maybe.) And if you are in a restaurant, add to that those double- and triple-digit numbers on the side column. (Dreadful, I know.)
Without question, you can chill down your reds and pair whites with more than fish. You can also expect to receive the wine list first. (Your sommelier should be reaching past the oldest, richest-looking guy, thankfully). The idea here is that you don’t have to worry about getting wines the way someone else does. There is no single ‘correct’ way to do wine, unless it’s your way. The best thing I could say about it is that it’s a distinctly personal experience. I went to Niagara’s wine country not too long ago and the best thing about it was that all of us had different things to say about each of the same wines we tasted. While the scent of the Baco Noir reminded me of an antique store, it was vintage leather to another. Was either of us “right”? The answer is inconsequential to the personal experience we had with it. Would we have liked it either way if I had purchased a bottle for dinner? Of course, because we would have been drinking it together.
And that’s the point really. Don’t become obsessed with getting the Konami Code right with wines. Because there isn’t one. Yes, it’s great to expand past the Zinfandel as I mentioned before, but not if it means you’re having a worse time getting the Chianti down. (You’d be surprised by many of the Pinot Noir selection out there, if that’s the case!) Pull out your favorite glasses for the occasion and start the party. Most often I use the prescribed glasses for reds and whites – there’s a reason the glasses for reds are wider at the bottom: to let them breathe – but I sometimes pour an easy-going red into old-fashioned narrow rocks glasses… you know, just because I can.
Oh, one more thing: stop sniffing the cork. If the cork is ever presented to you, just glance at it in acknowledgment that it’s got the same name as it appears on the bottle. And that it’s not decrepit or moldy. It’s a cork, for crying out loud. Put it down. Sniffing it is a sign of nothing.
Most importantly, just enjoy the wine and the company you’re with. Put your senses to good work. Especially your sense of fun. Leave the seriousness to those who are looking to discern “loamy earth and subtle berry shadings” from “velvety-textured fig sauce”… and no, I didn’t make that up. Those are wine notes I came across recently. (Don’t worry, I too had to put on the fake accent as I wrote them.)
And if you’re still getting that queasy feeling when selecting wines, you might want to switch to vodka. The playing field there is a lot simpler. But that’s a whole other story…