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Drinking for my Country

During A-100 (the 6-week diplomatic bootcamp in DC) they told us about the concept of “eating for your country.” Sometimes, they told us, we would be thrown into situations where we would be invited to partake of some local delicacy that, to put it mildly, would not be our first choice at a dinner buffet. Nevertheless, they said, it was necessary to put on a smile and pretend to enjoy it. This is what they called: “eating for your country. “

The other day, I was helping out at a reception that the Consulate was hosting, and I was asked to help out with some questionable wine. I work for the State Department, not a five-star restaurant. We do not have a wine cellar. We serve wine that has been donated to us from importers, and not all of it is very fresh. Apparently, some of our selections of wine that we have on-hand for receptions was getting a little old. Now, I’m no expert on wine, but I do know a thing or two about it. One of the things that I know about wine is that it comes in white and red (impressed yet?). One of the other things that I know is that if the cork crumbles into powder as you pull it out of the bottle, that’s a sign that the wine is past its prime.

I drank this for my country.

As the staff was laying out the wine, one of my coworkers asked: “does anyone know anything about wine?”

Why, yes, I volunteered. I fancy myself a bit of an expert on wine. For example, I offered, some of it is white, and some of it is red. You can imagine my great surprise that this bit of information was not the information that my coworker needed. I apparently was not being helpful. What they needed to know was how to tell if a bottle of wine had turned or not. That problem stumped me. The only way that we could think of was to taste-test it. Since I was the smarty pants who volunteered his expert help, I got the honor of tasting the wine for freshness. My coworker, being a smart person, found that action to be more helpful. And I, not willing to back down from my bold claim of being some sort of wine expert, found myself hoisted by my own petard.

The next 15 minutes or so was spent with me tasting samples from several bottles of wine. My biggest takeaway from the experience was that it does not take a great expert in wine to tell if a bottle of wine has turned. You can pretty much tell with a tiny sip. Here’s the secret: if it tastes like wine, it’s probably OK. But if it tastes bad, not at all wine-like, but rather tastes something like a rotting log that someone picked up off the ground in a forest, then it’s not likely to be very good. And unlucky for me, more than one bottle in our selection for the evening fit into the latter category. To make my work even more unpleasant, none of the serving staff had taken sommelier training, and did not prepare a little silver bowl for me to spit out the wine after I had tasted it, so I had to swallow it.

When wine turns, it doesn’t taste very good, but the alcohol content does not dissipate. So yesh, I got drunk on bad wine. It felt like college all over again.

Once again, I made an idiot of myself. Just in time for the guests to arrive. That was one more victory in my stellar diplomatic career.

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