The Grapes of Gaffe: Social Anxiety + Wine

rubber duck in glassMy friends know that I write about wine for a living; and over the years, they’ve sought my counsel as earnestly as they’d a physician friend for advice about their ailments.

Sometimes even the savviest wine lover encounters situations so fraught with anxiety, they make her wish she could crawl into a bottle and pull the cork in after her.

So from one who has been thrust into the role of a vinous Agony Aunt, here are some guidelines.

These suggestions may not be the classic Miss Manners answers to vexing vinous events, but they might just get you through your next social battle over the bottle.

The Situation

You’ve just poured a vintage German riesling, for your dinner guests to sip before you serve the meal. Then a friend asks for some ginger ale to make a spritzer.

The Solution

However much it amazes you, just accept that not everyone savors the nuances of fine wine—some people just want something tasty and refreshing to quaff. That said, humoring your guests is no reason to spoil the good stuff.

Whisk her wine glass away to the kitchen to add the ginger ale; and then tip the riesling into a handy spare glass, substitute some reliable “value brand” of wine, and top it up as requested.

The Situation

You worked hard for your limited-edition Napa Valley wine: traveling to California, visiting the winery, hauling it home in your suitcase, clinking through customs and carefully cellaring it for several years.

Then you take it to dinner at your friends’ home, full of anticipation—and watch in despair as they blithely set it aside and offer you “the wine that’s already open.”

The Solution

If you really want to drink your own contribution, don’t take any chances: call ahead to ask your host what’s being served for dinner, and which wine you can bring to complement it.

(Of course, if they firmly refuse, and you know that they consistently open their own stock, don’t force the issue.) Otherwise, be both firm and alert. As soon as you arrive on the doorstep, corkscrew in hand if necessary, pre-empt discussion with the “assumptive-close sales technique.”

Say, “Here’s the Californian cabernet I brought for with dinner—where would you like me to decant it?” Short of opening the bottle in the car, this should adequately make the point that you want to drink your wine.

bad wineThe Situation

After you share your coveted bottle of first growth Bordeaux with friends, they want to return the favor. The bottle has a label you don’t recognize; and as you take the first sip, flavors of burnished aluminum and burnt tire unfold in your mouth.

With the radiance of new parents, they anxiously ask: “How do you like our homemade wine?”

The Solution

After you sputter out something like, “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before!”, you need a strategy to get rid of the stuff. You could accidentally topple the glass with a remorseful “Oops!”

However, this only works for the first sip, and must then be quickly followed by some plea such as “Delicious—but sadly, I’ve just remembered, I mustn’t touch wine while I’m taking this medication.” (A pill bottle filled with red Skitttles is always a credible prop.)

Your best bet is to glance discreetly around for a nearby plant, and water it well with Château Plonk. As a last resort, you can always just grit your teeth and drink up, as a testament to your deep commitment to this friendship.

bad wine small

The Situation

After hours of private practice, you’re finally ready to publicly demonstrate your mastery of wine tasting—specifically, the delicate art of whistling air into your mouth as you swish the wine around.

Sadly, in company at a fancy restaurant, this high-wire wine act goes awry: you inhale too much, suck some wine into your lungs, and spend the next five minutes choking and sputtering, teary-eyed, all over the white linen tablecloth. Your dinner companions (and the wine captain) are less than impressed.

The Solution

Don’t work without a net until you’re truly ready—which, for some, may actually be never. The practice of aerating wine should come with one of those daredevil-driver warnings: “Do not attempt this in public yourself.”

It’s simply too risky. Besides, there are many other ways to demonstrate your wine savvy: just comment on the wine’s “integrity of terroir,” or its notes of “wet tar and armchair leather.”

The Situation

Your friends come to dinner, and surprise you with quite a nice bottle of champagne. Then, to your horror, they “explain” that shaking it before opening increases the bubbliness, and start waving the bottle around like Formula One winners.

You have visions of the cork exploding out and ricocheting off your antique mirror, splintering the china cabinet before lodging in your slaved-over soufflé—not to mention the precious liquid spurting all over you, your furniture, and the guests.

The Solution

Rescue the bottle at once, by gently but firmly resting your hand on it and bringing the motion to a stop. While doing this, talk in the soothing tones used by hostage negotiators.

Explain calmly that champagne has an air pressure three times that of your car tires, and has been known to cause serious eye injuries. If that doesn’t work, switch tactics: tell them that the bubbles in champagne are so delicate that they’ll vanish if shaken, making the wine go flat.




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