Denver, PA

Are You Drinking Wine, Or Just Squashing Grapes?


Photo: Denver Post

Today we will speak of current NFL coaches, former baseball catching stars, and Jedi Master Yoda. And wine – almost forgot about the wine…

See, I’ve been getting a little bit of flak over how publicly I’ve worn my NFL team allegiance colors. And so, true to form, I’m going to go deeper into that forest today. Because at heart, I am a stinker.

Now, I fully appreciate that many people reading this would think that it’s not actually all that difficult to cheer for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I can hear the protests now: “Are you kidding me?!?? The Steelers have, like, 150 Super Bowl wins! Yeah, it must be reeeeeaaaaaal hard to have them as your favorite team!”

And the protesters have a fair point, after all. Not only have the Steelers recently notched their best opening record for a season in their entire history, but they are among the winningest and most successful American football franchises of all time. They have amassed six Super Bowl titles, eight American Football Conference (AFC) championships, have the second-most Super Bowl appearances overall, and can now boast of having notched more AFC North Division Title crowns than any other rival team since the merger of the two main football conferences. They have many players in the Football Hall of Fame, and a head coach who has never had a losing record (the longevity of their coaching stints is legendary, as well, and almost unheard of in the modern sports era). In other words, they are among the best sports franchises of all time. SO, yeah, I get it, ok?

But that does not mean that the Steelers never lose. I’ve been cheering for the Steelers since I was five years old, which means that there are only a few things that I’ve been doing (like eating, sleeping, breathing, and talking) for longer than I’ve been a Steelers fan. And I can tell you that there were many seasons during which the Steelers were not winners. Sometimes, they lost in epically horrible fashion. They had losing seasons. Things got ugly on occasion for those of us who stuck it out during the darker times.

Of course, the dismal performances have their place, because they make the victories taste all that much sweeter, after all. And let’s face it, if we sports fans are being honest, we like to commiserate in shared pain sometimes (though we prefer shared victory), because the solidarity makes the losing a lot easier to handle. Part of the healing process for sports fans after a loss is wallowing in your pain and misery as long as reasonably possible, taking in as much about the heart-wrenching as you can, before letting it all (ok, most of it) go.

And so it was in that wallowing-mode capacity that I came across this little ditty of a quote by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, when asked about the dreadful day one loss:

“I think the people that know and compete in this league understand that there is a fine line between drinking wine and squashing grapes. Obviously, last weekend we were grape-squashers.”

Ah, the sanctimonious pleasure of shared pain! Tomlin’s it-makes-sense-until-you-reread-it, Yogi-Berra-worthy reference to vino got me thinking about the difference between drinking wine – really drinking it and appreciating it, I mean – and throwing it down our gullets the same way we in the U.S. do with most of our food; which is to say, devouring it so quickly that it looks as if we’re worried someone will come along and snatch up our plates if we don’t clean them off within 4.2 nanoseconds.

In the former scenario, we’re taking the time to actually pay attention to a wine (whether we love it or not), so that we’re learning – about the wine, the grape behind it, the place behind it, the people behind it – even if what we’re learning is that we don’t personally care for those flavors, tastes, grapes or places (or people). In the latter, we’re letting the wine’s messages pass us by at lightning speed (and probably setting ourselves up for a date with a Pepto Bismol bottle later – though I could have used that kind of bottle after some belly-aching Steelers losses over the years, booze or no booze).

In my experience, the people who tell me that they could “never” learn to appreciate wine are often the ones who look at eating as a race against the clock. It’s not that they lack the ability – because the ability is, simply put, not all that difficult to acquire – it’s just that they lack the attention span required.

Which is one of the reasons, I think, why people turn to wine scores and points from prominent critics and wine magazines, and often use those ratings without context to purchase things like wine – a short-cut path that seems like a wicked cool secret at first, but will probably lead you to vinous misery in the long run. Can’t you just hear Yoda chiming in now, warning you against the powers of the Wine Dark Side… “I cannot teach him. The boy has no patience!

Of course, Jedi Ghost Obi-Wan Kenobi’s famous reply to that question (in The Empire Strikes Back) is “He will learn patience…” Which is exactly what we need to do if we want to be drinking fine wine, instead of performing the equivalent of shoving our mouths full of squashed grapes – exercise our patience.

It’s tempting, as I sample ever-increasing tons of wines, to speed things up and rate/score with nearly reckless abandon just to try to get through the backlog of wine samples being sent to me. But that’s absolutely the path to the Dark Side. When it comes to evaluating wine, I’m going to instead listen to my inner Jedis, and not give into the quick and easy path. Here’s hoping that when you sip and enjoy your next glass of vino, you’ll be doing the same.


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a.k.a. Joe Roberts. Dad, wine-writer-guy, wine critic, wine competition judge, author, bassist, free-thinker, & occasional hiney-shaker. Opening up highly-pressurized cans of whoop-a** on the wine industry since 2007. Joe is a Certified Specialist of Wine, and the author of Wine Taster’s Guide: Drink and Learn with 30 Wine Tastings.

Downingtown, PA

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