What you’ll need: a good nose…both for smelling and lifting above other people

Songlist: Red, Red Wine by Bob Marley

Further Reading: John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Drink: A Social History of America by Andrew Barr

First, an ode to a word. Oenophile. Somehow seeming both perverse and esoteric, an oenophile sounds like the kind of person who should be isolated from society for being a weenie. And that might not be so far from the truth.

A oenophile is, of course, a connoisseur of wines. For the cultured American, “knowing” wines is a standard for becoming even more cultured. Ah, to waltz into a French restaurant and order the best vintage of a fine, yet obscure grape with barely a glance at the menu (and certainly not the price). Is there anything classier?

I admit to knowing practically nothing about wines. I know that some are white and some are red. I know the red ones, especially cheap ones it seems, turn my lips an embarrassing purple. I know that if I drink enough of the white ones, I get a buzz that my boyfriend has dubbed my “white wine noise.” I know the rosés are so girly-looking that not even I will touch them. I could not tell you, however, basic information about varietals or flavors. I cannot smell the specific bouquet or taste the complexities of fine wines. I do not remember wines I like enough to order them again.

Sometimes I see this as a benefit. My standard for drinkable wine is whether or not its in front of me. Once while in France my friend and I bought what we thought was wine for 1 Euro, which in hindsight I think was vinegar. We still finished the bottle.

And yet. Last night I was at a French restaurant with my family for my birthday, and they were divided about which bottle we should order for the table. They left it to me to decide, as the birthday girl. I would have dearly liked to have an opinion. Luckily, the waitress stepped in with a recommendation that wasn’t on the menu. I went with her choice. And, for just a moment when she brought the bottle and turned the black and gold label to me, I felt important. She poured a bit into my glass, I swirled, I sipped, I contemplated. I nodded my head. And I thought: I could get used to this.

Now, if I could only remember the name of that wine…