Having a taste for nice wine, but operating on a beer budget, can be a bit of a conflict. Most artists, college students and cash-strapped individuals pledge their undying loyalty to cheap beer, but we all know they would gladly upgrade if they had the chance. Personally, I’ve always had an interest in wine, even when I couldn’t afford it.
A few years back I was lucky enough to receive an invite to a fancy-ish dinner party on New York’s Upper East Side. The host – a proud foodie, wino and newlywed – had a self-confessed “passion” for hosting, so I knew the evening would be nothing short of fantastic. As a recent graduate living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, I was ready to indulge. I had been surviving on burgers, tacos and PBR, so the idea of spending the evening sipping fine wine was particularly appealing.
I picked out my outfit in advance and even ironed my shirt. This was going to be a great night. I couldn’t show up empty-handed, so on my way up to the party, I stopped in a small wine shop to grab a bottle. After a few gasps at the prices, I grabbed the cheapest bottle I could find, a decent-looking red blend with a hip label. I didn’t give it much thought, hoping to quickly drop my bottle on the bar unnoticed, trading up and drinking something a bit nicer. And hey, sometimes those cheap bottles are fantastic, right?
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Upon arrival, I quickly realized my mistake. Not only didn’t I read the party invitation, but I had walked right into one of the most embarrassing wine blunders of my life. The party, a wine tasting event, was based around the idea of each person bringing a different wine to share, tasting, discussing and analyzing each bottle. My $8 red blend hailing from Tunisia (yes, TUNISIA) was the first up for group examination.
“Shall we begin? Up first we have, oh interesting, it’s a red blend from Tunisia. Who brought this one?” Mortified, I took ownership of my North African hooch. As the foodie crowd puckered and squirmed over my harshly-acidic red, I sat there horrified, trying my best not to make direct eye contact with anyone. “Does Tunisia even make wine?” someone asked. Well apparently they do. And it’s horrible. Let’s just say the unusually thick, unusually red substance was Tunisia’s best attempt.
Lucky for me, no one went blind, and as the evening progressed, both the wine and crowd lightened up. The foodie guests quickly forgot about my Tunisian motor oil, but the experience taught me a valuable lesson: read your invitations carefully, and if you’re going to hang out with a foodie crowd, then make sure to shell out on something drinkable and decent. Yes, they will notice.
Dion Benetatos is a communications guru with a passion for food and wine. He specializes in non-profit and charity communications, living between London and Cape Town, two of his favourite foodie capitals.