Cabernet Sauvignon in the box; Prosecco on the left & in the glass; Shiraz on the right. Over 6-1/2 liters of delicious wine that cost me less than $25!
You can learn a lot about wine from the Howard Stern show.
First, if someone else is paying for your dinner, don’t order an $800 bottle of wine.
Second, wine doesn’t have to be expensive to be delicious.
Stern once told a story about a pair of wine experts who bought two bottles of wine on a trip. One bottle cost ten dollars while the other was one hundred. When they tasted the wine, of course, they thought the more expensive bottle tasted better and was definitely worth the price. But they realized they made a mistake: their favorite wine was actually the one that only cost ten bucks.
This is important because I think that in this country, wine has a stigma or a mystique attached to it. Even with the wealth of wine options, boutique vineyards, and food shows, wine is still often seen as something other. It’s highbrow and rests in the domain of those food snobs that throw around words like bouquet or delicate nose. Or it has an almost unattainable air to it and is reserved only for special occasions. Or people get tripped up on the details: Do I have to drink white wine with fish? I don’t like white wine! What about asparagus—what kind of wine goes with asparagus?
Because wine seems to come with so many rules, social and otherwise, many people believe if they’re going to drink wine, it better be expensive and it better come in a bottle.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
When I lived in Italy, wine was an integral part of every meal. If T. Rex and I ate at a trattoria, we always ordered the house wine. A small jug of either really delicious red wine or near-vinegar that tasted better by the second glass would be placed on the table. We drank it out of tumblers rather than fancy goblets. If we went to the pizzeria, we drank Fragolino (a red wine made from a grape that tastes slightly of strawberries). If our landlord visited, he’d bring a bottle of homemade sweet Verduzzo. Wine was even served during the halfway point of local town “marches” where runners would stop, drink a glass of red or white, eat a few biscotti, and return to the race. Wine was everywhere and we drank a lot of it during our three years in Italy. I mean, A LOT.
But we didn’t drink to get drunk. No one really did either because wine was always served with food, whether a full meal or a few olives and a piece of cheese. There is something very natural and earthy about drinking wine in this way.
I come by this attitude honestly. My mom may cringe if she reads this but my sister and I both have distinct memories of drinking wine as little kids. We weren’t liquored up by any means but a thimbleful of sweet Lambrusco to accompany the rare and special lasagna? Definitely. At age four or five, I was already beginning to understand how well-rounded food could taste when accompanied by wine.
And because I understand this, I tend to not be a snob when it comes to wine. Like Stern’s wine experts, I’ve had expensive bottles of wine that were so-so and fantastic reds that cost a few bucks. In fact, my go-to wine for the last several years has actually come from a box.
That’s right: a box. I’m not ashamed to admit that my all-time favorite Cabernet Sauvignon comes from a 5-liter box that costs $23 but is always on sale for $16. It’s absolutely delicious. I drink it with pasta, pizza, and dark chocolates. In fact, before writing this today, my lunch was toasted ciabatta and triple cream mushroom brie washed down with half of a glass of boxed Cabernet.
Because boxed Cabernet is both delicious and economical, I also cook with it. It adds deep richness to tomato sauces, gravies, stews, soups, rice, pasta, and mushroom dishes. It works not only with red meats like lamb or beef but also with chicken, turkey, salmon, and trout. It’s fantastic with braised red cabbage and apples. I don’t just cook with Cabernet Sauvignon, however. I also use inexpensive bottles of fortified Marsala, sparkling Prosecco, and Pinot Grigio. Whatever wine you cook with, just make sure it’s a wine you actually enjoy drinking. And unless you like liquid salt, I recommend avoiding any bottle labeled as “cooking wine”.
When it comes to wine, don’t be intimidated. Start small. While you can go to a wine tasting and learn how this wine has a back note of black cherries or that wine tastes like oak, just spend a few minutes in the wine aisle of your local market. Read labels. If you like sweet, get a sweet wine. If you like tart, get the tart one. If black cherries or oak actually are your thing, choose those wines. Whatever sounds good, try it. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Open the bottle, let it breathe for a few minutes, and taste it—by itself and then with food. If you like it, then great. If not, give it to your neighbor. And then try another. You may discover red wines are rubbish but that you like rosé or white or sparkling wines.
When it comes to wine, there are no rules other than your own taste buds.
So, grab a few bottles or a giant box and experiment. There will be a few upcoming recipes to guide you on your way.
Whatever you choose, enjoy your wine!
And, oh yeah, one more thing: Baba Booey!