Nobody looks both ways and whispers, “Do you have any DRC?” when they come into my wine shop.
After all, what’s to be embarrassed about? Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is an historic and fascinating Burgundy vineyard dating back to 1232. It produces some of the world’s most revered and expensive wines.
But about once a week, a customer, typically a woman, demurely walks in, slightly red-faced and giggling, and sheepishly asks, “I’m sorry. Do you have that chocolate wine?”
On the face of it, these two wines -- with chasm-sized differences in price, history and reverence (or lack thereof) -- have nothing in common. But are they really that different?
I've threatened my learned colleagues in the wine trade that I would write a column about chocolate-flavored red wine for about nine months, ever since I first tried this peculiar libation. Their reactions were predictable, from rolled eyes to peevish arguments explaining why chocolate wine is not wine in the first place and probably should be a banned substance.
OK, I get it. Chocolate wine is a wine in much the same way that Bartles and Jaymes is a wine -- more of a concoction than a true fruit of the vine. And I can’t say that this slightly alcoholic chocolate drink does anything for me (although I do prefer it to some of the awful “real” wines out there). At its worst, chocolate wine is inoffensive.
It gets down to this: Why do we drink wine?
I leave the answer to a smarter man than me, Benjamin Franklin, who said, “[Wine is] a constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.”
If we drink a wine merely to impress those of us around us, then perhaps we are missing the point ... and also are likely making a horse's rear end of ourselves. As I take these embarrassed women to the corner of the store where we keep our selection of chocolate wines, I ask them why they feel the need to apologize for their selection. They say they fear people, especially people like me who supposedly know something about wine, will ridicule them.
I do my best to put them at ease, but I understand their fear. I have little doubt that my colleagues will dismiss this column immediately after seeing the headline and I will lose readers who will say: “Feh! I don’t want to read anyone who writes about chocolate wine.”
But this is not about chocolate wine or, for that matter, renowned wines from Burgundy. This a meditation about wine and the happiness it brings. If friends or associates have designs on what should and should not make us happy, I have several two-word phrases for them, but let’s just use “Back off!” today, OK?
Drink what you like. Drink what makes you happy. There certainly is enough variety of wine to satisfy all. If it takes a $12 bottle of chocolate wine to put a smile on your face, guiltlessly rejoice in that simple pleasure. There are crazier wine-based concoctions out there. Take Lillet, Dubonnet or vermouth, for instance.
Whether it is dragging stones in Giza to build a pyramid or grinding out another traffic-laden commute home on I-285, life was, is and will remain tough for most of us. It’s little wonder to me that simple alcoholic beverages like beer and wine have been with us for thousands of years. In moderation, they make life bearable and improve our mood. I asked one of those embarrassed women why she liked chocolate wine and I will give her the last word.
“Gil, when I get home at 8 o’clock some nights, I just want to kick off these [darn] heels and have a glass of something to keep me from going crazy. I love this stuff. It makes me happy.”
One Thumb Mostly Up
It smells like milk chocolate with a hint of alcohol and tastes like dark chocolate milk with a hint of alcohol in it. I’ve had better chocolate milk, but I’ve also had worse tasting wines.
Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.
Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator and a wine consultant for Tower Beer, Wine & Spirits. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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