My first drink order in France was a screaming faux pas.
In 1988 I was part of a cultural exchange between sister cities New Haven, CT and Avignon, France. To heighten the cultural experience (and to make budget, I’m sure) we stayed with French families. Serge and Betty picked me up and, though we’ve stayed friends for all these years since, we got off to an awkward start.
Eager to make me feel welcome, Serge and Betty took me to an outdoor café for a little late afternoon refreshment. What did I want to drink? “bière, citron presse?” I shrugged and responded, “vin blanc, s’il vous plait.” White wine? Mon Dieu! You’d have thought I had just asked for a line of cocaine. “Pas possible,” they said. Wine was drunk with a meal—c’est tout!
I got over my initial embarrassment and made sure that for the rest of my visit I didn’t ask for wine unless it was offered. Once I got home, however, I had a vin blanc whenever I jolly well pleased. Except for the occasional martini, mojito, or gin and tonic, I’ve continued my wine-as-cocktail tradition for two decades. But recently I’ve started to think maybe the French had it right. (Malheureusement, they don’t follow their own rule any more. With all that upstart wine coming from former third-world countries, French vintners, scrambling for market share, are happy to see people drinking their wine, even sans food.)
I think wine as cocktail has flourished in this country for two reasons. First, it’s easy. Unlike a cocktail which takes a little time, effort, equipment and ingredients, a glass of wine is as easy as opening a bottle of water. These days even good bottles don’t require a corkscrew.
Wine is a little more respectable—less naughty maybe? Many who might shun a cocktail will readily accept a glass of wine. For those who argue cocktails are stiffer, it depends. Since wine is easy, I believe it actually flows more freely. On the other hand, I respect a well-made drink (and the effort that went into making it) and I’m very content to sip and savor.
I’m rooting for the cocktail, and I take every reasonable opportunity to experience a new one. I’ve had plenty of fun nights that have started off with a glass of wine, but when someone pulls out the cocktail shaker, it’s usually a sign of good things to come.
Whenever I go out these days I always check out the cocktail menu or ask if they have a signature drink. If I only see run-of-the-mill cocktails or the waiter has to think before his reply, I usually skip it. But it doesn’t take much to catch my eye (or ear). Like the other night when “Le Zig-Zag” called out to me from the menu at Luc’s Café in Ridgefield, CT. Made with golden Mount Gay rum, sweet sherry, and a little Cointreau, it’s my new favorite winter drink.