Love Wine Like I Love Wine

We go back a long way, my friend and I. We met in our freshman year of college, went through a lot of fraternity idiocy together, climbed together out west. I was a groomsman in his wedding; he was a groomsman in mine. But he lives back east now, and I live in San Francisco, and we both have kids and jobs, so we don’t see each other much—once or twice a year, in passing during various work trips. But I care about the guy. And I’ve learned to be careful in how I calibrate my love of food and wine for him. This is a passion I’ve found in the years we’ve lived far apart; it doesn’t fit naturally into the friendship we built way back when. And he’s got a fierce practical streak, a sort of Midwestern American suspicion of anything that smacks of hedonism (although he smoked heroic volumes of pot in college, but that was 20 years ago and he’s been living clean ever since). It’s an antipretension streak, too: He sniffs elitism in the love of wine.

So I was on my guard when he came to stay recently. Last time, I’d queued up about 10 open bottles to taste and compare, and he drank beer. So this time, I didn’t push anything. I made simple food, too—a Provençal roast chicken dish, with a spinach-anchovy–ricotta salata stuffing under the skin. And when I asked if he’d like a drink, I just asked if he wanted red wine or white. He said white, so I asked, “Excellent floral Gewürztraminer or straightforwardly crisp Pinot Grigio?”

He reached for the bottle of Pinot Grigio and claimed to love it. He made it his own for the rest of the night—even carrying it to the dinner table, and setting it beside his glass, drinking it exclusively despite the two interesting reds I’d put on the table. I was left musing about the conversations we code into our wine choices, the parts of our hearts we express. Not sure what the message was here—something about a comfort zone, maybe? Not wanting to get swept up in my silliness? Just plain not interested? Doesn’t matter, I suppose; as a host, the mistake was really mine. The right move would have been to buy a six-pack, knowing it was his preferred drink. Oh well. Next time.

2006 Gundlach Bundschu Gewürztraminer
Grapes: 100 percent Gewürztraminer
Appellation: Sonoma Valley
Wood: None, this wine is fermented in stainless steel and bottled shortly after
Alcohol 13.1 percent
Price: $25 from the winery
My Tasting Notes: This is a powerfully distinct Gewürztraminer, with a whole lot of that litchi–orange blossom thing people talk about as being a Gewürztraminer signature. It’s an intensely fragrant and delicious wine, and a truly unusual taste experience—not a run-of-the-mill wine. It might be tricky to pair with food; the winery suggests Indian, Chinese, or Thai cuisine, and I suspect that’s on the money. But the wine also works as a pretty special cocktail, all by itself.

2006 Tamás Estates Pinot Grigio
Grapes: 99 percent Pinot Grigio, 1 percent Gewürztraminer
Appellation: Monterey
Wood: None, this wine is fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel tanks to emphasize fruit and freshness
Alcohol: 13 percent
Price: About $10 online
My Tasting Notes: I liked this wine a lot. It has a very bright acid quality, and a kind of citrus–green apple deal in the fruit. My friend was absolutely crazy about it, though, so I didn’t get to drink much. Clearly, it’s a good value.