Friday, September 5, 2014

Poker and Wine

What do poker and wine have in common? Not much except that they are two of my favorite things. Next to spending an afternoon or an evening at the poker table trying to turn lousy cards into winning hands and attempting to get inside the heads of eight other people, the only activity I enjoy as much is sitting down to a well-prepared pasta or sizzling steak meal with a nice bottle of wine as an accompaniment.

Like poker, you can get immersed in wine at various levels and for most of us the highest levels of involvement will be too rigorous and ultimately unsatisfying. It’s nice knowing how many outs you have on the river to make a particular hand but it’s beyond most of us everyday types to calculate odds to the hundredth place and figure pots odds every time it’s your chance to bet. The wine crowd has a similar spectrum of expertise with the jug/cardboard box crowd on one end and the oenophile on the other whose use of the adjectives angular, flabby, oaked, and unctuous to describe a glass of wine is far beyond everyday comprehension.

In all honesty I have never seen a bottle of wine at a poker table. That doesn’t mean that there has never been a player who ordered and drank a glass of wine while playing poker. Generally, ordering an alcoholic drink in most casinos gets you what is commonly referred to as a “well” drink which leaves me with a vision of someone dipping a glass into a deep hole and coming out with the swill that lives there. Casino drinks are bad although in a few upper echelon places in Vegas you can actually order a bottle of beer of your choice. Wine, not so much.

Perhaps there are occasions when a high roller in a high-stakes tournament in a classy venue orders up a bottle of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 1982 and has it delivered to his or her table along with the hefty tab, I assume (probably around $70 grand per bottle), but I’ve never seen one. 

I have seen dark red or insipid yellow liquid sloshing around a high ball glass in front of a poker player more than once and it doesn’t look appetizing.

So, generally speaking, the world of poker and the world of wine are distinct and apart and I think they should stay that way.

I have a visceral idea of what an ordinary, recreational poker player looks and acts like. I know because I am one of them. I play when I can but I don’t traipse all around the country looking for a favorable level structure or payout schedule. I leave that to big fellas who make a living playing poker.

I also have a similar notion of what an ordinary, recreational wine drinker looks and acts like because I’m one of those people too. Nevertheless, the world of wine can be as snooty at times as the world of poker. Regular guys tend to generate a lot of guilt about not being able to compete at the highest levels in the poker world; regular guys also generate a mountain of guilt about not grasping what the experts know about wine. I’m here to tell you that with a few simple pointers you can enjoy your wine experiences as much as you enjoy your poker experiences without any shame and any guilt at all.

Here’s what you need to know:

* Basically there are two kinds of wine – red and white! There’s pink too but it is easily and correctly avoided at all costs.

* Regardless of the color, wine tends to be “dry” or “sweet.” In the wine world sweet means sweet but dry means not sweet.

* Wine can be full of bubbles but you only drink that for a toast or on New Year’s Eve. Stay away from bubbly.
* Red wine goes with meat and cheese. White wine goes with chicken and fish. If you want to drink red wine with your Arroz con Pollo, go ahead. If you want to drink white wine with your pork chops, go ahead. The only rules, really, are that there are no rules. Oh, there is one rule – drinking wine alone is never better than drinking wine with a meal. Drinking wine by yourself is never better than drinking wine with someone else. I know, that’s two rules!

* If you spend more than $20 for a bottle of wine in a liquor store (around $40 in a restaurant) you’re wasting your money since you will not be able to taste the difference between an inexpensive bottle and a more expensive bottle. Leave the pricey bottles for those who have studied long and hard to learn the difference (Trailer for "Somm" - a movie about sommeliers).

* Finish the bottle – I don’t care what kind of stopper you use or where you put the half full bottle, wine is a lousy leftover.

* Drink wine at whatever temperature you like. Although making red wine too cold will kill the flavor, putting ice cubes in white wine is fine with me.

* Finally, drink wine often. There are many health professionals who say that wine, in moderation of course, is even good for you – helps you live longer. Those are my kind of health professionals.

I have two little placard type signs hanging on the sides of the kitchen cabinets in our house.  I’m not a sign type of person but these two speak to me, if you will. One says “Age Improves With Wine.” The other simple predicts “Today’s Forecast – 90% Chance of Wine.” Each day as I walk from the kitchen into the dining room I pass those signs and I read them. Life is good!

Keeping poker and wine separate is a wise thing – just don’t let one keep you from the other.

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