Editor’s Note: Never say that we don’t listen to our readers. When a letter writer recently requested a special encore edition of retired managing editor Stephen Fay’s “Cheers” column, we listened. It took little wheedling to bring him out of retirement just this once.
By Stephen Fay
We have, in our neighborhood, a liquor store that sells red and white wines at $5 a bottle. Admittedly, these are not distinguished labels from elite vineyards.
The wines are not especially nuanced. There is no need to wait for the tannins to soften. One ought not to expect balance, acidity or texture. Nor are these bargain plonks complex, layered or aged. Our dear mentor, the Wine Wizard, would lose no time in assuring us that one of the other things these wines ain’t is wine. And though he is a fussy soul, we will concede his point. It may not be actual wine, but it’s in the ball park. It is virtual wine and, as such, it pairs well with virtual birthday parties, virtual weddings, virtual classrooms and — duh! — virtual wine tastings.
The virtual virtues of these modest vintages are few. But we happened upon an unexpected plus two weeks ago. We were relaxing with a humble pinot grigio when our marital unit requested a refill. Dutifully, we bounded into the kitchen only to discover that the bottle was nearly empty, a condition not unrelated to our tendency to imbibe two glasses to her one. Rather than deliver the bad news about the pinot grigio, we instead delivered a full glass of chardonnay which, as you know, is pretty much the same color. The absence of other distinctive touches went unnoticed as neither the chard nor the pinot had any distinctive touches in the first place.
Lest this be an isolated anomaly, we tried the same sleight of hand with a merlot and a malbec. It worked! Then with a cabernet sauvignon and a shiraz. Crushed it!
Like you, we have found pandemic life confining, tedious and uneventful. These days, the least little thing gets our pulse racing: the arrival of the mailman, our washing machine’s spin cycle, garbage pickup. Also like you, we have not had anything like a social gathering for the past 11 months — just the spousal partner and ourselves. Naturally, we are ever on the lookout for an incident, an occasion, a happening. Thus did we initiate the evening wine hour. We take turns working up accompanying hors d’oeuvres — Triscuits with Emmentaler, crudites with hummus, multigrain chips with tzatziki or — five nights out of seven — popcorn. The ground rules forbid routine arguments, complaints about laundry, inventories of one another’s shortcomings and random name-calling. We discuss trips we’ll take someday, national politics, the grandchildren. And then, after an hour and having done serious damage to another $5 bottle of Chateau Zero, we adjourn for dinner.
Yes, the corona calories are making themselves known. This is why God created sweatpants. And every day there’s a news headline about excessive wine consumption during lockdown. But, like Henny Youngman, when we read about the evils of drinking, we try to cut down on our reading.