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After Work: No Wine Before Its Time

…“I think you’ll find this amusing,” Ever-Enthusiastic Husband commented as he uncorked a bottle of Old Penny Red….

Dona Gibb’s have-a-go husband tried his hand at making wine, hoping to be able to deliver the ultimate put-down to a snob: “I made it in our basement.’’

The results? Ah, you have to sip this story for the answer to that question.

To read more of Dona’s bubbly words please click on After Work in the menu on this page.

Ever-Enthusiastic Husband came back from a California business trip clutching a book and wearing a look of determination.

“We’re going to make our own wine,” he said, putting the book down on the kitchen table. It was called something like, “Make Your Own Wine the Easy Way.”

Visions of myself waist deep in a barrel, stomping grapes and singing a merry Provencal ditty, flashed through my brain.

No, that’s not quite what he had in mind, he told me. Tomorrow he was going to go down to the old Italian section of New York and buy grape concentrate, plastic buckets, funnels, tubing, corks, a hydrometer, a couple of glass carboys and all kinds of other nifty gadgets essential to fermenting juice.

He was tired of the condescension of the Californians he’d been dealing with and their sniffy, snobbish discussions of wine.

Once he’d made his own, he reasoned, he would have mastered all the fine points and would be able to best them all as he raised a glass at a chic little dinner party in our very own home.

“Yes, it does have a lovely finish.” He would pause and smile, he imagined. “ I made it down in our basement.”

Thus the basement, which also served as an indoor hockey rink for our son and a spacious boudoir for our standard poodle, became a wine fermentation room and bottling operation.

Ever-Enthusiastic Husband spent many happy hours mixing and pouring. He designed a fancy label, one for reds and one for whites. He followed the instructions in his now well-thumbed paperback manual to the letter.

Time passed. He checked and re-checked and decided the time had come for bottling.

More time passed and he decided the time had come for sampling.

We stuck our noses into our glasses and inhaled. Was that a faint doggy aroma or our imaginations? We took a tentative sip and looked at each other. There was no denying it; it was dreadful, but evocative at the same time

As a child I’d once sucked on a copper penny. And that’s exactly what this wine tasted like. No raspberry. No plum. No blackberry. Not even a hint of grape. Just over-whelmingly metallic.

With the generous batches Ever-Enthusiastic Husband had made, our wine cellar now held four cases of Old Penny Red and the even more repellant Old Penny White.
“Maybe it needs more aging,” he said.

Summer rolled around and we took several bottles to our little island house. We had something akin to a tradition. The first evening when we arrived each season we invited our artist neighbor for dinner. He lived next door in a round tower-like house that he was building by himself. It was a twenty-five-year work in progress. He considered it his masterpiece. Others on the island were less kind in their evaluation, but that he shrugged off as the nattering of the aesthetically uninformed.

“I think you’ll find this amusing,” Ever-Enthusiastic Husband commented as he uncorked a bottle of Old Penny Red.

Our friend sipped and sucked in his breath. He continued to sip as he ate. He polished off the first glass and helped himself to a second.

“It grows on you,” he said.

After dessert and coffee he toddled off into the night.

I worried that we might have poisoned him so I was delighted to hear him up and about the next morning, calling merrily to his dog.

We never did serve our homemade concoction again. I was too scared.

Ever-Enthusiastic Husband was still hopeful that it would miraculously age into something nectar-like.

The day came when I was cleaning the basement that I decided those cases of Old Penny had to go. I lugged the cartons out to the curb on trash day. To be on the safe side, in case the sanitation men thought it was an early Christmas tip, I lettered a warning on each box, “Don’t even think of drinking this.” And I illustrated it with skull and crossbones.

Several nights ago I reflected on all this. We were invited to a wine tasting. Three different flights of three different wines were poured. The wine experts among us swirled their glasses vigorously. They sipped. They slurped. They tilted their glasses to watch the little rivulets wine connoisseurs call legs flow down the sides.

Then the conversation began. Was that a hint of coffee? Sun-warmed blackberries? Citrus?

While I can come up with adjectives with the best of them, I can’t accurately detect raspberries from cherries after the first sip. And I looked around the room to see if others really have that kind of finely tuned palate or were they perhaps faking it. Whichever it is, it’s an entertaining parlor trick.

I did pick up a useful description. Someone called a wine “approachable.”

That was something that could never be said about Old Penny.


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