Nice and social

At one Brattleboro restaurant, strangers compare notes on their respective glasses of wine

On a Friday night at Duo, a jazz trio was in full swing when a sharp-eyed, gray-haired woman of indeterminate age carefully climbed aboard a high wooden seat and leaned into the bar.

She asked for a pinot grigio, then stopped the bartender: “Do you have riesling?”

They did, and when it arrived, she raised it to the stranger on her left.

“Whatever that is, I hope you're enjoying it,” she said, nodding toward his glass.


* * *

He was drinking the 2014 Seven Falls Rapids Red, a soft, earthy blend with a firm backbone of acidity from Washington's Columbia Valley.

The mix of grapes - merlot, syrah, and cinsault - was intriguing.

Merlot is associated with Bordeaux - where it's often blended with cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc - and with California, where it was viciously maligned by a gleefully snide Paul Giamatti in the 2004 film Sideways.

Despite that memorable broadside and its lingering effect on public perception, a fine Napa merlot can be lush and profound - voluptuous in the most respectable of ways (and Bordeaux's renowned Château Pétrus, crushed from grapes that sprout in an unusual soil of blue clay, is 100 percent merlot).

Syrah, on the other hand, brings to mind the hot, sandy earth and volcanic loam of Australia, where it is called Shiraz, and the warm Rhone Valley of southeastern France, where it cohabits with grenache, mourvèdre, and an array of lesser lights.

Further complicating the combination of these unusual bedfellows was cinsault, a thick-skinned grape known for its ripe red berry and floral tones and its hardiness in hot weather.

Cinsault is also popular in the Rhone and adjacent southern regions, as well as in places from which Americans rarely taste wine, such as Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. And it is the delicate pinot noir's sturdy partner in South Africa's hybrid pinotage.

* * *

Back at the bar, he asked her if she liked her wine. She sipped, then considered.

“I like it,” she said. “If you find wine a little bitter, riesling is a little sweeter. Not yucky sweet, but just enough to not have that harsh aftertaste. I usually drink Barefoot. Someone who really knows about wine told me to try it. I looked at the price and said, 'Why not?'”

Virginia “Gincy” Bunker, as her name turned out to be, grew up in Connecticut and married a man from New York City whose family had a home in Dummerston.

“My husband remembered coming up to Brattleboro and getting off the train, and there would be a farmer with a pair of draft horses hitched to a sleigh to bring them up to Dummerston,” she said.

A longtime riding instructor, editor, and writer, Bunker gives monthly talks on horses at the River Garden. She considers wine an occasional, companionable pleasure.

“One glass,” she says. “It's nice and it's social. And since I have to drive home I'd just as soon not do anything more than that.

“When my husband was alive, we always used to have a drink before dinner. He would have a vodka martini. And we'd say we were being healthy because one drink is good for you.

“That's what they say. One drink, particularly for seniors, is a good thing.”

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