Few things are more quintessentially American than our ability to cast each and every individual into a compound so dense that it squanders uniqueness and identity. We stereotype Southerners as lazy and dim-witted--so incogitant, a professor of ours once said, that "whenever two Southern teams play football, there's always some asshole kicking barefoot." Trailer parks cater to the unwashed. Germans are orderly, Russians drunk and French cowardly. Californians are wacko tree-huggers whose weirder-than-thou exhibitions include dyed hair, breast implants, smoking bans and the like. North Texans, on the other hand...um, never mind.
Now, an inquiry into the status of wine drinkers strikes us as an underhanded attempt to besmirch certain European countries, and we're not entirely certain this question didn't originate in our nation's capital. In fact, the Burning Question crew embarked on a journey to Washington, D.C., at one point during our research into the topic, just to clarify the matter. Also we thought it best to ask this question to strangers rather than risk getting into a slappy fight with local sommeliers.
Yet we also recognize that the question exposes a fundamental rift in American culture. The moral superiority of a group or a nation can only exist if others are found wanting. The act of belittling a group's behavior, dress, food and so on serves to reinforce their comparative inferiority. Naturally, then, we found a number of people who dismiss wine drinkers as pantywaist snobs. "You see a guy drinking wine, and you think, 'I could take him,'" says Kenny Daniel, a bartender at Primo's. A number of women we spoke with agree. Cris explains that if a male acquaintance ordered wine, "I'd think he needs to step it up and drink again." It's fine for a woman to sip wine at a bar, but any self-respecting man would order a more gut-wrenching alcohol. "A guy should be drinking Captain and Coke with me," she continues. "Anything less is not right."
The top wine consumers reside in wimp-ass countries: Luxembourg, France, Portugal and the like. The French drain almost 16 gallons of wine per capita in a given year, while the more rugged types in Australia (5 gallons), Ireland (2.6 gallons), Macedonia (home of Alexander the Great, 1 gallon) and Poland (half a gallon) prefer more masculine drinks. Consumers in the United States sip a mere 2 gallons of the stuff each year per capita.
At the same time, however, Americans understand the concept of diversity just enough to rattle our faith in cultural stereotyping. "Wine drinkers are not sissies," insists Will Morgan, bartender at Champps in Las Colinas. "I'm a wine drinker. Wine's too expensive to be a sissy drink." Indeed, the typical American wino rakes in more than $60,000 per year. They tend to be young, affluent and educated--and they wore pastel Izods in the '80s, but all that's behind them now. "On the contrary," explains Karyn, drinking one night at The Quarter, "wine drinkers are very elegant because they know their shit."
According to naysayers, the credibility of wine as a masculine drink comes from its complexity. "Wine is such a difficult drink," says Tim Permenter of Best Cellars, a Knox-Henderson wine shop. We actually expected him to slap us with a white silk glove or mutter "sacre bleu!" when we posed the question, but he refrained on both accounts. "So much thought goes into wine," he continues, "whereas beer and spirits are the same year in and year out. People are intimidated by wine and by the people who know about wine. That's totally different from someone going by the 7-Eleven and picking up a six-pack."
History sides with wine drinkers, as well. The Roman legions carried wine with them on their conquests of Europe. The aforementioned Alexander the Great speared his best friend (no, with a real spear) after a wine-drinking binge. These guys would've considered beer fit only for Persians.
"You know, Mad Dog 20/20 is considered a wine," Permenter continues. "Sissies don't drink that stuff."
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But it's not a simple yes or no question. Even those who consider wine appropriate draw a distinction between varietals and venues. "It depends on the type of wine," observes April, a Dallas resident. "If it's pink, that's bad, but there are too many different types out there. Red is OK." White, too, is off-limits for manly men, unless they're settling in for an evening of Masterpiece Theater.
Our trip to D.C. added nothing but a bit of governmental waffling to the debate. A highly placed official in one of the few departments not yet absorbed by Homeland Security just shrugs. "I encourage diversity in the drinking crowd."
In answer to this week's Burning Question, we're tempted to go along with Kurt Mosley, Dallas sage of the consumption arts, who says, "It's not so much what you drink, but how you handle yourself while drinking." We believe, however, that wine sits in that uncomfortable space between our tendency to belittle different habits, our distrust of subtlety and knowledge, and our understanding--deep down--that all behaviors are worthy of respect.
Or, as Susan Sarandon once said, "Do you really have to be the ice queen intellectual or the slut whore? Isn't there some way to be both?"Aren't wine drinkers sissies?