, Newburyport, MA

March 19, 2013

Pride and a cheap bottle of wine

Kathy Gates Milewski

---- — I’m going to put it right out there — I am not a wine connoisseur. I would rather refer to myself as a discerning buyer of decent wine. In other words, I want something that tastes good, but doesn’t break the bank. Don’t get me wrong, I can enjoy an expensive, appropriately aged bottle, and I do agree that spending more money on a bottle might actually bring a person more palatable pleasure than a cheap bottle, but for now, when the supermarket wine section beckons, I follow its call.

So, there I am one sunny afternoon in a New Hampshire grocery store happily scooting my cart down the beer aisle on my way to the wine section. I would begin my search by identifying the “deal” bottles, namely the ones that boast an advertisement about the neck of the bottle for $1, $2 or maybe $3 off. As I am painstakingly perusing the shelves, an older gentleman approaches me wearing a sweater with a wine company logo and asks if I’d like to taste some wine he is promoting.

“Sure”, I say. It was late afternoon and I love wine, so I followed him to the makeshift bar and proceeded to taste four different varieties. He explained the subtlety of each wine and its pairing abilities with certain foods. “Very good,” I pronounced after each tiny swig, and then I asked the dreaded question, “How much is it?” “14.99,” he said. I bobbed my head up and down, knowing that although the price wasn’t astronomical, I still had no intention of buying a bottle. Luckily for me, another interested patron stood waiting for his turn, and as he filled my spot, I quietly slipped away, back into the dark recesses of the supermarket aisles.

I thought I had escaped until a horrible realization came over me. I thought, “I can’t go back to the wine aisle now, he’ll be there, and I will feel terrible about choosing another brand right in front of him.” So, I decided to let the thought pass knowing that I would eventually scheme my way back into the aisle at the opportune moment, carefully dodging the promoter, and snag a perfectly good cheap bottle of wine to enjoy with dinner later that evening.

As I continued down the aisles filling my cart, I soon forgot all about the wine and focused solely on the food, but, once I made my final pass through the dairy aisle, it hit me; not only had I forgotten the can of corn niblets, but the wine, oh the wine had still eluded me. I had to go back. I would not succumb to my feelings. I swallowed my pride, decided there was no choice to be made — I had to get that wine, and that is exactly what I did.

I bravely approached the wine aisle from the front this time, and noticing that the promoter was no where in sight, I passed the makeshift bar and headed for the shelved chardonnay. It couldn’t have worked out more perfectly. I could quickly get my cheap bottle and get out. Simple, right? Well, if you know me or my genetics, I can painfully belabor even the simplest of decisions. I wanted to make a quick choice, but I had my “worthiness” criteria that had to be met: an interesting name, an amiable label, a twist top and without a doubt, an excellent deal; all criteria any discerning buyer would use. As I stood searching, I suddenly spotted the promoter approaching from my left, right when my defenses were down and I was unprepared.

At that moment I decided that my only option was to come clean, so I smiled and said, “I would love to buy your wine, but it’s a bit too pricey for me right now; I really need a cheaper bottle.” He kindly said he understood, but instead of leaving me to battle the bottles alone, he offered some advice. We discussed the advantages of cork or screw top, good buys on good wine, cheap vs. pricey and sometimes being surprised that price may not always be an indicator of a good or bad wine.

In the end, we both agreed that most of the time you do get what you pay for, whether it be wine or something else, and he laughed about how his wife had called him out on a few cheap purchases he had made over the years that didn’t quite pan out.

Now, there is a point to this story, and that is that right now I’m cheap. Wait, it goes deeper than that — I hate to be embarrassed. Well, even though that is true, it goes even deeper than that. The point is that if I had not returned to the wine aisle because I was cheap and uncomfortable, I would have missed out on a very simple yet pleasant exchange of thoughts and opinion about wine and life. In the end, because I swallowed my pride and told the truth, I left that supermarket with far more than a cheap bottle of wine.


Kathy Gates Milewski lives in Merrimac.