January 4th, 2009

I am aware that Americans have traditionally been against British rule-making. I understand that our great nation could even be said to have come about because of this opposition. I get it. But I just found something on the website of the first British winemaker I’ve seen so far in the Napa Valley that was so comforting to me: Lists of wine rules and instructions. On the Sterling Vineyards website you can learn not only which glasses to serve which wines in, but precisely to what point on the glass you should fill them. There are instructions for carrying your wine home from the winery. There is a formula for calculating how much wine to buy for a party. And, in the terminology section, I learned, finally, what it means when a person talks about a wine’s “body”. (It’s the experience of the weight of the wine in your mouth, although I have to admit that I considered making you go find out for yourself.)

It’s so great in America that we get to do things as we like. If a tradition doesn’t suit our personal comfort and immediate happiness, we just let go of it and do what feels good. Sometimes, though, I have to admit to wanting to know a little more about the rules and traditions that I’m letting go of. Maybe I will always prefer to drink wine out of the plastic Ringling Bros. cup I’ve had since I was ten, but at least now I know that big, bowl-like glasses are designed to let a maximal amount of oxygen interact with the wine and thus enhance its flavor.

Next time you’re with us, try a glass of Sterling. Maybe it’ll be stiff and unimaginative, but just maybe it’ll be solidly, reliably good.

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