WE WERE ON A ROAD TRIP recently that took us from New Orleans to St. Augustine, FL and thence up through Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC. It was an eye-opener for me to realize how readily southerners pegged me for someone not like them.
It wasn’t just the Boston in my speech apparently, but some complex of factors involving dress, manners, and mannerisms. Before any of them had spoken to me a group of guests at our B&B told my wife they had decided I was a math professor.
Since I’ve never been good at or even interested in math and agreed to come to join the staff at Central Bottle only when they assured me there would be no algebra, this tickled me. Something was making me look like a math prof to these folks – but its not clear whether whatever made me look this way was something in me or something in them.
Can a wine make your butt look big? It’s a question we ask ourselves every day – not so much because we worry about the breadth of our posterior parts (although this is never far from our minds), but because we’ve all been around the drinks business long enough to know that a glass of gewurztraminer or frappato is never just a few ounces of something cheeringly fruity and alcoholic. Not a bit.
Was it the Rawson’s Retreat chardonnay that made me look mathematical?
Like all consumables, wine has semantic value – which is just another way of saying that we use it to make statements about who we think we are and how we would like to be perceived, regarded, and generally thought of by others. Maybe the wine at the B&B that day — a Rawson’s Retreat chardonnay — made my butt look mathematical.
Among the things that define us, drink isn’t a big player like dress, speech patterns, or personal hygiene. It’s more like an accessory. But let’s not fool ourselves about just how powerful it can be in a minor role. Just think about how James Bond’s vodka martini shaken, not stirred became a defining feature of one of the 20th century’s most recognizable personalities (you’ll want to click on that link).
Keen to impersonate a Master of the Universe-grade investment banker? You’ll need to suit up in Armani and Rolex, but to really nail it you’d also need to order the resto’s last three bottles of Napa Valley cult cabernet at dinner that night – no matter the price.
Got an itch to go all Brooklyn on us? A lumberjack shirt and a good growth of Civil War-era facial hair are good starts, but don’t neglect to bone up on single estate sherries and murky ribolla gialla from Slovenia, otherwise there’s a good chance you’ll give yourself away. Hipster is as hipster does.
Wine can make your butt look big (and mathy, too), but it can also make it look small, arty, athletic, super cool or convincingly square.
I’m pretty sure it’s just this that’s at the heart of the anxiety one encounters in a wine shop from time to time. Buyers want something pleasant to drink, but they’re wary of serving something that reflects a persona they aren’t comfortable inhabiting. Will this wine make me look like a newbie; a poser; a snob; a geek? Or will it project something more positive: urbanity; generosity; warmth; elegance; charm?
Wine helps us present ourselves as we wish to be seen. It helps others figure out who we are. And if we occasionally worry that there’s some distance between who we are and who we’d like to be, remember that confidence is the key to convincing people (including ourselves) that we’re the same inside as out.
And confidence, as Jack Palance was fond of saying, is very sexy.
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