The world in a wine glass

A lifetime ago, or so it seems, I tended bar at the White Elephant, an iconic resort hotel on the island of Nantucket. This was the beginning of my interest and education in the world of wine and spirits. At the time, the restaurant had a policy of one free after-shift drink per waiter or maître d’. One older career waiter would appear at the bar service area when he was done working. I would say to him, “Where to tonight, Derek”? He would reply, “I think I will visit Scotland tonight,” which was his way of requesting a Scotch. Derek had traveled extensively and worked in many foreign lands. Other nights he would request a visit to Ireland, Kentucky, Puerto Rico, Barbados, France, Italy, Spain and Argentina. I had to select the appropriate spirit or wine to enhance his excursion. It was a little silly and a bit fun, but as I watched him sit down alone with his drink and stare out into the pulsing, dark ocean water, I felt like he was reminiscing about people he once knew and his time spent near the regional source of that night’s drink. It is the cheapest way to “travel” and I admit I do something similar today. When I decide on pouring or opening something in the evening, there are many facets to the final decision. I may have read something interesting about a particular region or grape that intrigued me. I may be traveling to a wine region in the near future and want to pursue a little advance reconnaissance. There may be a food influence in my decision. If I’m cooking something with a French, Spanish or Italian flavor, the wine I choose will likely be from the same region. It may be a weather-related decision. A chewy Malbec or syrupy Syrah might be the perfect wine on a cold January night, but on a crisp, warm June evening, perhaps a more appropriate choice would be a lighter Pinot Noir, a sparkling wine, a Riesling, Pinot Gris or a Grüner Veltliner. Each of these grapes is evocative of a region in the wine world, although particular grapes can be grown in vastly different regions.

So, where do you want to go tonight? Are you thinking the Greek islands perhaps? Grab a bottle of Moscofilero or Assyrtiko. Interested in the less harried lifestyle of the south of France? Look for a textured Mourvédre or a delicious Picpoul de Pinet, which could be the perfect pairing for fresh, unadorned shellfish. Is Spain one of your dream destinations? A fresh, citrusy Albariño or a luscious Tempranillo might get you there in spirit. I can’t taste a Pinot Gris from Alsace in northeastern France or a Riesling from western Germany or a Muller-Thürgau from Austria without thinking of all the political madness and shifting borders over the centuries. A big Zinfandel could bring you to California, while a vintage Port made from the Touriga Nacional grape might elicit imagery from Portugal.

I could go on and on here. The takeaway message is wine and spirits are a great vehicle for thinking of faraway places. The next time you have a little free time, find a well-stocked wine store and see if it will offer a case discount. Most will. Choose or ask for wines from little-known regions or unfamiliar grapes. Find a cool place in your home to store them and take the time to “visit” some exotic places. For less than the price of a limo ride to the airport, you get an opportunity to experience the world.

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