Wine For Thought

Discovering just the right bottle for the brainy bunch.

Illustration by Greg Clarke

One recent summer evening, the mister and I invited friends for a cookout on the deck of our home in Short Hills. We gave them an assignment: Bring a bottle of wine and a story. Klaus, a car photographer and famous liar, brought an Italian wine and a riveting but made up story about a speeding Bugatti Veyron with overcooked brakes. Tim, a finance guy, told a charming—and likewise fictitious—tale of vintners so proud of their terroir that they added a pinch of soil to each bottle.

The best story, however, came from my less creative—or perhaps simply less mendacious—friend Carline. She and her husband had just vacationed in France, where they thought they would top everyone by bringing a bottle directly from the motherland.

“We walked into the wine shop in the little town in Provence where we were staying,” said she, “and we explained our situation to the proprietor.”

Très bien,” replied the gentleman, “but what kind of wine is Madame looking for?”

Madame confessed she did not know a great deal about wine. Perhaps Monsieur le propriétaire could suggest a delicious, unusual bottle?

Mais certainement, he could.

Monsieur then inquired, “Where in les États-Unis do madame and her mari reside?”

“New Jersey,” replied the ever-truthful Carline.

“Ah,” he responded, and paused to absorb this piece of information.

Then he cocked a suspicious Gallic eyebrow and inquired:

“Your friends, madame: are they…intellectuals?”

At this point in Carline’s rendition, the company on the deck (already several jolly bottles down) howled with laughter. It must be confessed that the group included a number of photographers and professors, a curator, a doctor, a designer and two bankers. (Whether bankers count as intellectuals is a matter of debate for an altogether different forum.)

Somewhat taken aback, Carline gave his question a moment’s thought. “Yes,” she decided, “they are.”

Voilà,” said the merchant, “then this is what you want.” He handed them a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
I wish I could report that this deep red, cherry-accented wine provoked some weighty, philosophical thoughts. The wine was tasty and thoroughly enjoyed by all. But it did not generate any exciting new insights into the nature of the relationship between existentialism and phenomenology—and besides, by the time we got to the bottom of the bottle, not one of us would have been able to pronounce phenomenology.

That night, we christened the group the New Jersey Intellectuals Wine Club, and vowed only to drink wines suited to high IQs. Regular meetings since then have contributed much to the enological economy, but little to settle the great existential questions.

Most crucial of all, however, remains the burning question: What sort of wine would we have gotten if she had said no?

Ingrid Steffenson is the author of the memoir Fast Girl: Don’t Brake Until You See the Face of God, about her passion for high-perfomance driving. She lives in Short Hills.

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