Now, Mom's an educated, sensitive and unpretentious sort of woman who enjoys an occasional glass of wine, which she serves with an air of gracious civility. In contrast to her genteel manner, however, her stock is definitely downscale.
Like many moms, mine is thrifty and selfless to an absurd degree. I can recall bringing her a bottle of pretty good Spanish wine for dinner. We didn't finish the wine, but rather than enjoy the remainder herself, she saved the dregs for me until my next visit weeks later, by which time it had turned into putrid vinegar. In the meantime, she drank vintages of Algerian or Romanian wine that cost about a quarter of the price.
I've suspected for some time now that through long association she has actually come to prefer the cheap stuff. Considering the history of wine in America (and specifically in Pennsylvania), this is, I believe, a fairly common phenomenon, perhaps first identified by Alexander Henderson, a wine writer, back in 1824:
"A person accustomed only to bad wines will often form a very erroneous estimate of the better growths, and sometimes, even, give preference to the former. Whole nations may occasionally be misled by this prejudice."
Anyway, when Mom discovered after the recent tasting which wine she had chosen, she giggled and shamelessly admitted, "I'm not sophisticated. I like cheap wine."
Like many in her generation, Mother's first experience with wine was in the mid-'60s. It was a New York State Taylor "sauterne." "I associated it with Omar Khayyam," she recalls. "You know, 'a Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread - and Thou.' But it doesn't have to be romantic. Wine is a good social accompaniment. There's a satisfaction from sipping wine with people and communicating freely. It's one of life's best pleasures."
Within a year or two she discovered a winery near her work - Tomasello Winery in Hammonton, N.J. - where she adored buying wine direct from the producer and talking with the winemaker. "I used to like sweet wines, and they made a delightful rose," she said.
Gradually she came to enjoy dry, red wines. "It's not that I don't like whites, but given a choice I would choose red," she explained. Whites seem to her to be "yuppie-oriented," meaning shallow and superficial, while reds signify a certain complexity and depth. What she now looks for in a wine is ''dry but smooth flavor. I don't like sharp or bitter tastes."
Mother has enjoyed wine (in moderation, of course; she estimates that "a bottle a month is on the high side") for as long as I can remember, but confesses she was a martini maven in her youth. "Now martinis are a bit much for me," she said. "Wine makes me mellow, but doesn't alter my consciousness like martinis used to. To drink wine is to relax."
But Mom is a busy working woman and doesn't get much time to relax, so her occasional glass of wine is savored as a luxury. "Just as one has coffee in the morning to keep alert, at night, when the day's work is done, a glass of wine is a leisurely way to unwind," she said. "You don't have to be sharp. It's OK to be fuzzy."
These are the wines, all reds, that I used for my little tasting:
* 1986 Leonardin Valpolicella ($2.99). This was the wine that Mom liked best. She first remarked on the "beautiful color" (it was the lightest of them all). She began cooing and "mmmmmm-ing" as soon as she smelled the aroma. "It smells like vanilla and some tobacco. I think I'm going to like this one," she predicted. "It's delightful, exotic and fruity. Very interesting, and it doesn't leave an aftertaste." (Personally I found it less fascinating. A light, simple Italian quaffing wine.)
* The "Mom's Favorite Red" labelfrom the Smothers Brothers' Winery ($4.95). This California wine used to be my standard Mother's Day present to Mom, but two bottles recently purchased at different locations in New Jersey were disappointing. One (tasted blind) was definitely spoiled. Another was simply not up to the quality we'd come to expect from the comedians' wine venture.
* 1983 Saint Morillon Cabernet Sauvignon ($4.50). Mom took a sniff of this Chilean wine and described it as smelling like a homemade Italian wine. She found the fruit "not quite ripe" with " a bitter aftertaste."
* 1982 Grand Poujeaux ($11.99). Mother found the appearance of this French Bordeaux "murky" and regarded it with suspicion. At first sip, she found it ''bitter," and at second sip, she thought it "tasted like medicine." Finally she pinpointed the taste as being like the drug laudanum, an opium derivative. (She used to be a nurse, not a drug addict.) Mom was reacting to the closed-up fruit and tannic acid in this young wine. After a few hours' aeration, the fruit opened up a bit, and I asked Mom to try it again. She thought it tasted much better. (I thought that while it was too young to enjoy right now, it had terrific fruit and would develop into a very elegant wine.)
* 1984 Clos du Val Merlot ($18.69). "Not much nose," commented Mom. She thought that the flavor of this wine from California's Napa Valley was ''hard" and would probably taste better with cheese or some other food. ''It needs an accompaniment," she declared, "though it might intrude on delicate dishes." Later, when she tasted it again with cheese, she did enjoy it. (For me, it was probably the most robust and full-flavored merlot I've ever tasted. Most merlots are luscious in their youth; this one needs time.)