April 22, 2005

Get a Life: April 22, 2005

Colby College, a private liberal arts school in Maine, started a new alcohol awareness program this year. Instead of bombarding students with statistics about alcohol abuse on college campuses, the administration invited students to the dining hall Friday night for $1 drinks paired with a meal and an education. Instead of simply condemning all alcohol consumption, the administration aims to encourage drinking responsibly by enforcing a two-drink limit and teaching students the difference between a sauvignon blanc and a pinot grigio.

Unsurprisingly, the program has faced criticism. Why give college students more access to alcohol? They already drink too much! The administration is just contributing to the problem!

At this point, I feel the need to identify what the problem actually is. The problem, you see, is not that college students are getting shit-faced on shiraz. Colby College is teaching alcohol appreciation. The dining-hall workers are not timing keg stands. A bartender in a tux is presenting drinks to tables with centerpieces and white tablecloths.

Soon, many of us will enter the working world—the world of business dinners with wine pairings. I don't want to feel obligated to suck down that woody red or saccharine white that I ignorantly ordered. But wine can be intimidating. It has all that history. The names are hard to say. I have developed a sense of what flavors I like, but I still don't know how to convert these tastes into a selection on a wine list.

Though we don't have an alcohol program like Colby's, we are lucky enough to have the city of Chicago. Late last summer, Vintage Wine Bar came onto the scene, giving wine a comfortable, lounge-y home in our city. Although it does not offer the added perk of a dollar a glass, Vintage Wine Bar pours an assortment of wines from various regions, with different components—minus the stuffiness and pretension.

When I pulled up a stool at the bar with my friend Paige last Saturday, I fiddled with a box of matches while attempting to decipher my options. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, Riesling, pinot noir, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz…the names started to swirl around in my head. The red glow of the candles on the bar did not do enough to illuminate the wine list. I was afraid that this was going to be one of those times when I chose according to price and ease of pronunciation. As I started to work through the syllables of a French label in my head—voila!—the buttoned-down bartender smiled in our direction.

I told him I wanted a dry white. He told me I wanted an effervescent green. He was right. I wrote down his suggestion for future reference: Casal Garcia Vihno Verde, a Portuguese "green" wine that's light and a tad bubbly. When the check came, I cringed. Giving the bartender authority over what you drink is also giving him authority over what you pay. But when I saw the total of $6, I was pleasantly surprised. The average glass is about $8, so he was especially easy on my Citibank card.

The owner, Tony, says that many people order like I did. That's how they like it at Vintage. They want to make wine a comfortable part of your night. They hope you'll gather with friends around a table of shared appetizers and a couple of bottles. Soon they hope to extend their space beyond the rich reds and ambers of their interior to the bright blues and deep navies of the open air by adding seating out front and a wine garden of sorts in back.

Here at the U of C, we understand the value of a solid education. If no one is going to teach us about wine, we'll do it ourselves, thank you very much. My friends Mike, Jared, and Robert initiated a Thursday wine night for this purpose last quarter. They pick a theme of the week (last week was wines from South America) and send a coy email with a fabricated story about the first time they drank Chilean wine on a ski trip in 1978. You can't take them seriously, and that is the point. On Thursday, we drank wine out of party cups while listening to Ted Leo and the Pharmacists and munching on Doritos. On Saturday, I drank from a more elegant glass at a glossy bar. Both sets of hosts brought wine out of the cellar to my level, and I took comfort in both my conversations and the libations.


Address: 1942 West Division Street

Phone: (773) 772-3400



Via CTA: CTA bus #55 Garfield Westbound to Garfield. Transfer to Red Line toward Howard. Red Line to Clark/Division. Take CTA bus #70 Division Westbound to Division and Hoyne. Walk east on Division. Vintage is on the left.

Via car: 90/94 West. Exit #49B Augusta Boulevard/Milwaukee Avenue. Turn right onto Milwaukee Avenue. Bear left onto West Division Street. Vintage is on the right.