Thursday, October 6, 2011


Bottle of red, bottle of white

I've been a big fan of the Billy Joel song, "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant," since it appeared in 1977.  There may not be an award given for "pop song that best presents wine as a social vehicle," but if there were, this song would probably win it.

I've done a bit of study on songs about wine and have found that they tend to stray into the unsavory areas of drunks, bums and hobos.  In "Scenes," there's no "drowning your sorrows" or "trying to forget" or "let's bum some change and get loaded."  It's all about sharing wine with a friend and enjoying the memories which are revisited over a bottle of wine and a red and white checkered tablecloth.

"A bottle of white, a bottle of red, perhaps a bottle of rosé instead."

I understand that a waiter actually delivered that line to Joel.  The singer reiterates it in the languid introduction to his tune. He sings about the social aspect of wine - citing it as an ingredient which augments the great feeling of spending time with friends and having good conversation.

Back in the college days, the wine may have been cheap - it may have been bad - but it was definitely an important part of the social scene.  Sure, we drank too much of it - that's what college kids do.  At least, that's what non-valedictorian college kids do.

We all may not have been "wine lovers" in our youth - I seem to remember a beer now and then - but we definitely loved sharing wine with our friends.

Through the years, we have attended weddings - even been a part of the spectacle - and we've toasted friends and relatives on their nuptials again and again with champagne or some other sparkling wine which seemed to be the best in the world, given the circumstances.

"A bottle of red, a bottle of white, it all depends upon your appetite."

I can't recall a pop song, except for this one, which references the pairing of wine with food.  From pizza to pâté de foie gras, food is better with wine.  How many snacks, lunches or dinners have you shared with friends over the years?  If you're like me, it's the
friends you remember the most, then the wine.  I don't usually reminisce over a ham sandwich I had twenty years ago.  The person with whom I dined and the wine we drank are memories which do stay with me.

Jerry Jeff Walker sang ever so (hic!) eloquently about sangria wine, in which he also extolled the virtues of wine plus friends.  However, his Texas friends were spiking the wine with Everclear.   No food needed there, or even advisable.

I once brought a Spanish Garnacha to a friend's dinner party.  One of the guests - a guy I didn't even know to be a wine lover - told me he liked the way the wine made the food taste - so much so, that it made his visit even more enjoyable.  I don't know how I could have felt any better about that wine.

"A bottle of red, a bottle of white, whatever kind of mood you're in tonight."

Once in New York, a friend and I caught a cab to Little Italy on a very warm summer evening.  We took a sidewalk table, bought a bottle of red wine and proceeded to amuse ourselves with stories and laughter.  I don't even remember what kind of wine it was,
but it was good and it was cold and the bottle was sweating even more than the cabbie who brought us to the restaurant.

Another friend had a sister who loved a particular brand of cheap, California Chardonnay - a grocery store brand.  Anytime the three of us got together, it was that brand or nothing.  Even when I offered to spring for something else, something better, she wouldn't hear of it.  The wine wasn't very good at all, but it didn't seem to matter.  We had a good time sharing it every time.

My wife and I have explored the various wine regions of California together many times.  It never fails to warm my heart when she tastes a wine she really likes.  Her eyes light up and she spills forth with tasting notes that come to her immediately, not over long swirls, sniffs and sips as with me.  She has found dessert wines and Italian varieties to be her favorites, and it's always a special occasion when we enjoy those together.

Ohio sommelier Tony Bellatto, in his blog, "Open The Cellar Door," sums up the social aspect of wine nicely with this comment:

"I realized that it really didn’t matter what we were drinking, because the wine did its job, it created a moment in my life that I will never forget, a snapshot in time that I will remember forever, and that is what it is worth all the money in the world to me."

"I'll meet you anytime you want, at our Italian restaurant."

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