Sunday, December 31, 2006

Welcome to Amateur Night!

Also know as New Year’s Eve.

All across this great land, people of different religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations and socio-economic status will come together for an over-priced buffet, open bar and a “champagne toast at midnight.” All for the low price of $75 per person ($140 per couple).

In all fairness, many of us will be attending wine dinners, small parties or very, very small parties involving two people, a couch and a bottle of something bubbly—wink-wink, nod-nod, say no more.

New Year’s Eve symbolizes much of what is wrong with the alcohol culture in this country. Not because it’s a booze-propelled frenzy of dancing with a lampshade on your head, making out with your neighbor’s wife and singing terribly out of tune. That sort of thing has been going on since someone left a pot of berries sitting around a little too long.

The problem is that too many people only drink a couple times a years, and when they do, they have no idea what they’re doing. Especially here in the South, drinking is an odd social taboo for so many. Lots of people do it, but they don’t do it well. Drinking means long periods of abstinence followed by occasional nights of overindulgence.

A great many ills in the world can be traced back to alcohol, to be sure. Drunk driving, alcoholism and violence top the list. But in this country, some of those problems arise because of the way society treats alcohol as a forbidden fruit/recreational vehicle.

The puritanical attitudes of some of our forbearers still drive the wicked image of any sort of booze. It wasn’t that long ago that alcohol was completely outlawed in this country. Some counties here in the South are still “dry.”

At least that’s the official story.

Don’t you know that Europeans had a good laugh about Prohibition. We kicked out the British, fought a war with each other and endured all the other trials of a newly formed nation, only to deny ourselves the right to drink to our accomplishments.

Predictably, the 18th Amendment was not a great success. People drank anyway; gangsters flourished; and down here, some good-old-boys made a sport of outrunning the law with a trunk full of hooch, now known as NASCAR.

Another result was the decimation of a flourishing wine industry. We can only surmise what the United States wine biz would look like today, had we not taken that asinine detour.

Thankfully, this country’s wine industry is once again flourishing and growing, despite our government’s dubious treatment of it. More and more people are coming to see a glass of wine, a pint of beer or a martini as part of a healthy lifestyle.

In my view (and not just mine), wine is the healthiest of those choices, but research seems to indicate that beer and cocktails in very moderate amounts are actually good for you. Or, maybe it’s just that the people who enjoy a drink after a long day tend to lead happier, healthier, more balanced lives. Either way, it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a home where alcohol wasn’t demonized. I was allowed to taste beer and wine at an early age. There was no mystery to it. My parents also provided great role models for responsible drinking.

Although now I have a bit more of a bacchanalian attitude about drinking, I’m still very responsible about it. A glass of wine or a beer is part of my meals, as much as a salad or a loaf of bread. Anymore, I have no interest in a steak if there isn’t a glass of red wine to accompany it. It just isn’t the same experience.

And I only occasionally dance with a lampshade on my head.

I wish all the revelers that will consume a month’s worth of drinks tonight would spread those drinks out over a month and actually enjoy them. Instead of swilling André Extra Dry at midnight, they would sip a glass of Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Blanc or Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d’ Aqui.

As for me I’ll be dipping fondue (thanks for the pot, mom) and sipping something really tasty.

It won’t be Champagne this year. Wine Blogging Wednesday #28 reminded me that the sparkling wine of this great post-Prohibition country is every bit as good as the noble wine from across the Pond.

And for you, gentle reader, I won’t ask you not to drink and drive, because I know you’re much too smart for that. Instead, I’ll ask you to stay off the road altogether, because of all the other idiots.

Have a safe and wonderful New Year’s Eve and I’ll see you in ’07.

No comments: