There are two types of pink wine: rosé and white zinfandel. Even the casual drinker knows they are only related by color and barely even at that.
I wasn’t one of those kids who went to keg parties in the desert in high school — I was too busy in choir and theatre rehearsals or running track meets or working at the IHOP to have time for it. And, honestly, I thought I was better than those kids. (I was an early adopter of snobbery.) Aside from an unfortunate incident that involved a couple of older private school boys, a missed Roger Waters concert and a bottle of Almaden Mountain Chablis, I didn’t really drink at all until I went away to North Texas State University for college. It was my first time away from home and I was living in the “artists’ dorm,” so naturally two days in I ended up at a Sigma Tau Gamma party and the next thing I knew I was a “little sister” of the fraternity. Again, I thought I was better than the girls who pledged to sororities, but drinking with the guys seemed fine. The problem was, they drank beer and I didn’t like beer.
Enter: WHITE ZINFANDEL.
Please remember as you smirk and your stomach turns a bit reading this that these events took place in the late ‘80s. I can promise you, white zinfandel was a big fucking deal in the late ‘80s. It was pretty, it was pink and it was sweet, but it still had alcohol in it. In short, it was a guaranteed panty peeler and very, very popular.
One night, a bunch of my “big brothers” of Sig Tau were going to a party about an hour out into the country. They were going to drink beers on the way. At the time, the law was that only the driver couldn’t drink. We called it the “Here, hold this for me” law.
What to do about Tamara? She doesn’t drink beer. Get her a bottle of white zinfandel and put her in the back seat.I can promise you, white zinfandel was a big fucking deal in the late ‘80s. It was pretty, it was pink and it was sweet, but it still had alcohol in it.
There I was, in this cornflower blue, loose raffia weave off-the-shoulder sweater, a pair of baggy pants (the kind of baggy that only a girl who is so confident in her reed thin figure would wear) and some sandals. My hair was a mess of blonde curls (permed, of course), and I am certain I wore too much makeup, amateurishly applied to look “sexy.” Sitting in the backseat, drinking white zinfandel out of the bottle, the only girl with a bunch of boys who, though they may not have been as smart as I was, were certainly wealthier. They came from families with libraries in their homes and maids and brandy snifters that got used and parents who helped them choose a college.
Windows open, we drove about an hour, but, by the time we got there, the party had been busted up by the cops. (Ohhh, college.) So we start to drive back, and now my white zinfandel is gone and lordy do I have to pee. Of all of the times in my life that I have desperately had to pee while riding in a car, this is the most memorable. Mostly due to my drunkenness and the feeling of freedom and danger coexisting — we were driving so fast, and the desert smells so good at night, and I was so new at being drunk, and I barely knew the boys I was with…and FUCK I HAD TO PEE.
“Guys, um, I have to pee.”
“Uhhhh…well…there isn’t a gas station until we get back to town. Like another half an hour.”
“Umm well…I can’t. I’m not going to. I — you gotta pull over.”
“Dude! Just pull over at the next exit for her. She can go in the field.”
“Yes, totally fine. I can go in the field.”
We pulled over. I got out…er…stumbled out — I was 118 pounds and had consumed a bottle of wine BY MYSELF. I went to the back of the car, pulled my pants down and squatted, trying to avoid my sandals while I held onto the bumper. The boys looked the other way (such manners!), and I had just started to pee when I heard shouting: “FUCK FUCK HURRY UP NO NO NO!!!!!” and felt the heat of very bright lights on my ass. Highway Patrol — Texas Highway Patrol — had seen us and stopped, because, you know, it is illegal to pee on the side of the road.
I suppose you are miles ahead of 18-year-old-me and remember it is more illegal to drink underage and drive while doing the same.
I struggled to pull up my pants and appear sober. The cop asked me if I was okay. I burst into tears because I was certain he was going to call my mom in Phoenix and tell her I was drunk and she was going to be furious with me and scream that I was just like my father and her father and her brother, all world-class alcoholics. (I was not really concerned that he had been looking at my bare teenage ass for the last 500 yards of driving. It was really the telling my mom I was drunk that was the issue.) I remember so clearly his face — probably late 20s, angular features, clean cut and handsome in that Midwestern way. I remember how he was barely keeping it together, trying to appear stern and not laugh as he assured me that he was NOT going to call my mother in Phoenix. Or my father, for that matter. Instead, he gave me his handkerchief to wipe my tears, told the boys to drive me safely back to town and NEVER make a lady pee by the side of the road again. I lasted another three months as a little sis of the fraternity but ultimately dropped out because I couldn’t afford it on my student loans and the 2.25/hour I was making pulling beers on Thursdays at The Flying Tomato.
I went on to drink white zinfandel for about two more years, but I never peed behind a car on a highway again.Rosé is like that person in high school who was friends with every clique. The Ferris Bueller of wines, if you will.
Once I was introduced to the manna from heaven that other people call rosé, I knew enough about wine to know that white zinfandel was for chumps and ladies who didn’t know any better. The outsider status of real rosé (that white zin, as we call it now, had sort of sullied by pure color association) appealed to my inner snob. You had to KNOW wine to truly appreciate rosé. You had to come from a family or a place that trafficked in a little bit of wine knowledge. Which is so hilarious because rosé is one of the most versatile, friendly wines out there. My friend Nicole thinks rosé is “like that person in high school who was friends with every clique. The Ferris Bueller of wines, if you will.” Are there freaky austere ones that are a little more complex-more mineral driven, usually from Italy or Provence? Hell yes. But are many of them juicy strawberry, cherry and rose petal flavors in the front and quick, crisp, dry finishes that go great with everything from spicy Thai food to grilled fish to pastas and even Thanksgiving turkey? Why, yes. Yes, they are.
Rosé has become the food-obsessed person’s harbinger of spring. Of ramps and asparagus and artichokes. Of earthy, funky morel mushrooms and tender baby dandelions. Rosé says summertime! Shoes off! Freshly cut grass and swimming pools and sunscreen and sweat and tunes outside and warm breezes! Rosé says film festivals and art openings and glamping! Rosé says FREEDOM. I am so confident in my love for rosé (I prefer Italians, but will drink all except the South Africans — too much fruit for me on those) that I often drink it over ice, to pace myself.
I spend May through October every year drinking rosé as my first choice of wine. Sometimes there’s a rogue bottle in March if I am feeling restless, and there is always some for Thanksgiving. But Thanksgiving is really the “sad rosé” because fall is giving way to winter and the flowers are dead and the farmer’s market is all Brussels sprouts and rutabagas and turnips. AKA, vegetables that do not scream FREEDOM to me.
Rosé has taken the place in my home that champagne takes in other people’s homes: festive, everyday fun and fancy. Luxe. I love the smell of every bottle I open; it’s faint, crisp, strawberries, promising. But these bottles don’t smell of the North Texas fields and teenage boys and beers and fast cars and night air and underage drinking and the thrill and fear of being wanted and the overwhelming tinny scent of bad alcohol and sugar. Because as much as I love rosé wine now, white zinfandel was my first, albeit misguided, taste of freedom. Before I knew better. And sometimes I am a little sad that I know better.