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The essential dinner-time ceremony

The way I see it, dinner isn’t dinner without a sense of ceremony. There should be a small flourish or two—a fine, crumbly cheddar folded into the omelet; garlic and pancetta tossed with the green beans. The napkins should be cloth (someday I’ll get the hang of folding them). Music is all very well in theory, but I’ve found it interferes with conversation—the true main course, no matter what I’m serving. And absolutely, there should be wine.

This is where my husband comes in. He can produce a wine for any dish, even head-scratchers like artichoke soup (which I’d never bother to cook myself but am happy to enjoy when a friend takes the trouble to extract the tender chokes from their armour of spiny little leaves).

I had no idea when we married that behind my bridegroom’s well-worn corduroy jacket lurked the heart of a sommelier. Back then we’d occasionally treat ourselves to a bottle of Hungarian plonk. But life is full of surprises. Along with steak knives, real china and a blender that’s not made of plastic, we gradually acquired a wine collection—excuse me, a cellar—that demanded its own temperature-controlled storage unit the size of a small kitchen. We began to choose travel destinations with celebrated vineyards, and to shun restaurants with overpriced wine lists. We swirled our wine with noisy sniffs, like the band of obsessives in Sideways. We even invested in special glasses to release the aromas and flavours of the different grape types. We had so many glasses, they required their own cabinet. As any wine geek understands, drinking all your wines from one basic glass is like playing 18 holes of golf with only one club

Wine was delight, wine was discovery. Wine was a statement to each other and the world about commitment to the graces of life.

In December, we decided to downsize from a sprawling condo to a funky loft that’s half the size. I love the new place. I don’t love what its dimensions are telling me: half our stuff must go. My designer suits with the padded shoulders, last worn in 1994 and much too elegant for Goodwill! My stock pot! (I no longer make stock, but like to think that I will make it next week.) The Encyclopedia Britannica, purchased in our son’s childhood and augmented with separate, gilt-lettered volumes on scientific advances of the mid-80s! (So what if it’s all online now? It’s a full set, dammit, with not one coffee splotch or dog-eared page.)

I wake up at night with these questions burning a hole in my brain. And then the most vexing question of all: where will we put our wine and all its gear? With every other home purchase, that question had been front and centre. This time we had somehow dodged it.

One night last week, we sat down to dinner and something had changed. At first I didn’t even notice that my husband hadn’t gone looking for the corkscrew, or cast so much as a glance in the direction of the wine rack. Then he announced, with no particular fanfare, “I’ve decided to give up wine for a year.”

Now, this is a guy who, only last year, was making wistful comments about the one gap in our glassware collection (Brunello di Montalcino, in case you’re wondering). But as I say, life is full of surprises. My husband had decided, after talking with our doctor, to give his body a rest from wine. We’ve been sharing this pleasure for decades. And now we won’t be.

As recently as several months ago, I would have greeted this news with earnest proclamations of support and quiet dismay at the loss of our nightly ritual. (It’s just not as much fun sipping one glass of wine by myself.) Yet I found myself ready for a change. I thought of all the special bottles we forgot we owned, and ended up pouring down the sink. (For what we spent on those bottles, we could have…oh, it’s too embarrassing to go there). I remembered vowing to drink less wine now that I’ve entered the years of restless nights, and then saying, “Someday!” as one glass kept leading to another.

I asked myself if we had been drinking our wine, or if it had been drinking us. And then I remembered, with joy and relief: the real main course was always conversation.


Posted by Rona

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