By Liz Crowe
Ah…Vino. Fruit of the Vine. Plonk (if you’re British. More on this later). The Bubbly. Mama Juice. No matter what you call it, wine is…well, fine. I’m a big fan. Always have been.
One of my favorite English ex-pat stories is when my kid’s private school held a “sports day.” This is when each house competes with the others in weird games like “rounders” (funky baseball), “netball” (kind of, but not really basketball—only for girls, btw), and, to my surprise, games that were more or less PTO’d out of existence in the U.S. like Red Rover and kickball.
“Plan to bring a picnic for your kids and yourself that day,” the teachers said to me.
“Cool,” I said. I packed accordingly. You know, string cheese, PB&J, apples, juice boxes all around—hooray for mom! (Remind me to tell you about the packed lunch inferiority complex I got in Japan someday!)
I get there. I spread out the blanket. I watch some of the bizarre-o games. The kids show up and I open the super cute plastic picnic basket I got in Japan and pull out the juice boxes. Then I get that funny, tingly feeling. The one you get when people are staring at you in horror/sympathy. I slowly poked the straw into the top of the box, put my lips on it as I watched all the other (and I mean all) moms pull out bottles of white and rosé and champagne and pop those suckers open.
No lie. We are on school grounds. And boozing it up. Someone smiled and passed me a glass, while simultaneously plucking the offending juice box from my fingers and handing to one of my kids.
I had found my people.
Wine is a great social lubricant at almost every event. It’s cheaper than hard liquor, and less gassy than beer. You can always find it at wedding receptions, art gallery openings, wakes, and (apparently) school picnics. I sell wine and beer for a living. I’m almost a legit expert on beer (about to take my Certified Cicerone exam at the time of writing). It’s a tough test with a ten-page written section and two difficult tasting portions. As for wine, well…let’s say I’m an appreciator, but the advantage of living in Europe awhile is that I got to experience really great French, Italian, and Spanish wines in situ, as it were.
Now I’m getting a crash course in the stuff and have had a fair bit of success taking over some restaurant menus from “house” to upscale and am getting plenty of insights into current trends. But honestly, I know what I like. Just like you do, I’m guessing. I drink wine according to my moods and, to some extent, the season. I learned this in (again) England—a country that averages four pubs per block. This is not an exaggeration. It’s the booziest country I’ve personally experienced. Work lunches almost always involve a beer or glass of wine.
At that same school (you know, the one with the white wine picnic), our Christmas Pageant included mulled wine punch. I got into some habits during my two years as a trailing spouse and mom of three in my pink stucco house in Billericay, Essex. Habits that I only realized once we’d repatriated for good at the behest of my oldest who said, at thirteen, that he was sick of being the only American kid at school.
At my first reunion with friends—I will never forget this—we were having lunch at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, and the waitress asked for our order and I said “Bloody Mary.” At eleven forty-five in the morning. On a Wednesday. The glances of “Oh, so that’s how it is now, is it?” brought me crashing right back to U.S. soil, I can tell you. Mind you, I didn’t get polluted on a regular basis in England. Drinking was simply more incorporated into the tapestry of society. A glass or two of wine with dinner every night. Bloody Mary lunches with one or two of my fellow ex-pat wives. It was what we did. It was what I got used to. It’s different here, and the only way to understand that is to experience it first-hand.
Current trends indicate that the reds are on the upswing. When asked, I will always take a red wine over white. Cabernet or a big fat Italian Valpolicella or a spicy Zinfandel. Spring and summer I’m reaching for a fruity Pinot Noir or smooth Malbec. However, sometimes, I’m going for a grape-fruity Sauvignon Blanc or an un-oaked Chardonnay. I’ll rarely turn down a glass of great champagne or prosecco, and am recently into a few of the fruitier whites—even (yes, I’m saying this) a nice rosé.
Wines are fun, to be honest. And experimenting with different varieties and new blends is even more fun. I have a few suggestions to make, if you’ll indulge me. As we plunge headlong into spring, it’s time to make room on the wine shelf for some white wines. Those who know me best will be all “Whoa, recommending whites much? Really?” And to them I say, “Yep. Now pay attention. Take notes.”
I’m a total fan of a white blend from the Wagner family vineyards. “Conundrum” is a great name for it. It means riddle, puzzle, quandary, dilemma. And these blends (there’s a red one, too) are just that. The white blend is delicious, refreshing, perfect to pair with spicy foods or to sip with friends. The white one is the most sublime blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscat Canelli, and Viognier I’ve ever experienced. It’s fruity, but not sweet. It’s complex enough to make you say “Wow” when you taste it, and complex enough to be a puzzle, an enigma. I highly recommend it. You can find it at most upscale wine shops. If not, just ask.
The “white Zin” trend has morphed into a “rosé” one that frankly, I welcome. Rosé wines have a sort of cider-like, fruitier experience that’s more interesting than white Zinfandel. And there are plenty of options these days. Some of the best rosés come from France, but I tried one that’s pinot noir based out of Oregon that if you can find it, you should snag it. Gran Moraine comes from an area famous for hops growing—the Willamette Valley, which is also famous for the heartbreak of pinot noir growing. I had the 2017 vintage. It was well-balanced with the sort of dry finish I prefer. Ask your favorite wine shop to find it for you. You won’t be sorry.
Rieslings are enjoying a resurgence in popularity lately. And they appeal to me, given their apple, peach, pear, and apricot essences. I feel like I’m comparing a lot of these wines to cider, which I’m also digging these days, but there you go.
Amazon best-selling author, mom of three, brewery founder, beer and wine consultant, and avid sports fan, Liz Crowe is a Kentucky native and graduate of the University of Louisville currently living in Ann Arbor. She has decades of experience in sales, public relations, and fundraising, plus an eight-year stint as a three-continent, ex-pat trailing spouse, all of which provide ongoing idea fodder for novels and other projects. She helped found and is the current president of Fermenta Michigan, a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and employment of women in the fermented industries.
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