Saturday, November 5, 2011

What to buy for Mom

I began buying wine by the case because of the bad California Chardonnay that my mother - call her Madame Chard du Chêne -used to buy reflexively. There was always a bottle in the fridge when I came home, and it always tasted the same when I would (always, my sister would add pointedly) pour myself a glass: acrid, no nose, no subtlety, no nothing. One Christmas, I suggested to my mother than I buy her a mixed case of whites. She could put the receipt on the fridge, check the ones she liked, take the receipt back to the store, get them to pick the next case, and over time hone her palate. This seemed feasible, since my mother is an excellent cook and sensitive to what she eats.

The plan had mixed success. Among the cases I lugged back from the store on my visits back to Baltimore, she did discover some crisp whites that she liked. There was the Kris Pinot grigio from northern Italy, a Mantel Blanco Sauvignon blanc from Spain and some others, but when left to her own devices she pulled the oaky California chard off the shelf. The varietal wasn't a kind of white wine, or even a synonym for it. It was white wine in her mind, an no amount of remediation from her control-freak son has changed that.

Mme. Chard is not alone. One MFWC member will drink only California chards if she's drinking white. She's a customer of sorts, so I don't browbeat her, but I do wonder why she doesn't branch out. Others want to spend only $10 or $12 or a bottle, which with my thrifty streak I can appreciate. They get good, solid wines at that price, if nothing all that interesting, but they'll never cook a wine in their apartment or spend $30 on a so-so bottle. 

Earlier this week, someone presented me with a Mme. Chard challenge. This person's mother is older and likes what the woman thinks are terrible wines that are made even worse because Mom takes several days to get through them. Mom's palate is, apparently, shot. A three-liter box of wine is the perfect solution for Mom. She presumably has enough self-indulgence by age 78 not to overindulge merely because she's got the equivalent of four bottles of wine in the fridge. The box wine will stay good for weeks, and it will be drinkable. If the daughter wants something good when she comes over, she should bring it herself. By the mid-2000s, according to the Encyclopedia of Wine, almost a quarter of the wine sold in the U.S. came form a box, and for good reason. It's functional, environmentally friendly, cheap, and apparently tastes at least OK. I suggested that the person go to Astor Wines, a great store that does a lot of volume and has a reasonable selection of box wines. For those of you in Jersey, I would imagine Wine Library would be even better, since they do enormous volume. 

I though of my box wine recommendation on my trip to the store the next day. A new customer - call her Samba after her preferred foot gear - likes to get a red and a white for about $12 each. I saw a $12 liter of Yellow & Blue Mendoza Torrontes, an Argentine white grape descended from Muscat and Criolla chica in box-like packaging, and I didn't hesitate to pick it up for Samba, who seems like an easy-going wine drinker. Why shouldn't she get another 250 ml in lighter packaging for the same price as a $12 bottle that would have been decent but no better? I also got Samba an $11 Cotes du Rhone that another co-worker favored last winter. The co-worker warned that the CdR doesn't keep well after being opened. Few wines do. The ones Mme. Chard du Chêne buys certainly don't. But wines in boxes have less exposure to oxygen and last a lot longer than those in bottles.

This brings us back to Mme Chard, who now drinks a range of whites from dry Riesling to Assyrtico, a Greek grape that makes a crisp white. She's always liked sherry, and so the oxidized Jura whites I bring home from time to time work well for her. Wine has become a low-cost, low-stress (stress-reducing, even) mother-son activity for her. Would she be just as happy drinking wine out of a box, and could she do that more cheaply than buying Hahn Chardonnay at $12 a bottle from the overpriced liquor store a mile from her house? Absolutely.

1 comment:

  1. One of the most reflective, honest and quite frankly astute write-ups on boxed wine I've ever seen. This man knows economy as well as quality.