On Being Diplomatic: Accepting Swill Wine with Grace


I know that I’ve been on hiatus for quite a while. Work and morning sickness and travel and the terrible-twos have gotten me way off track. And I have so much to catch you up on in our crazy lives. But a recent observation has inspired my comeback with a new series on being diplomatic.

I find this an especially important series, because I am specifically not so diplomatic. Did you know that in the past a portion of the U.S. Foreign Service Officer’s employee evaluation required the wife to pass a sort of hospitality test to prove that she was up to the task of dutifully following her husband around the globe making roasts and pouring the perfect glass of scotch? I would have failed that test. On principle I mean. Just give me something and I’ll roast the hell out of it. And I am a master of pouring scotch gin/wine/champagne/fine ales…for myself. I came across a document recently that said the ideal diplomat conducted herself with discernment, prudence, hospitality, charm, industry, courage, and even tact. I don’t know if any of those words have ever been used to describe me.

So on that note, I’d like to open this series with:

Accepting Swill Wine with Grace

A scenario played out recently while we were on leave in London that I will share with you, leaving out the names and likenesses of the parties involved to protect the innocent. In fact the situation was pretty funny between friends, but it sparked a lively dialogue between the Hubs and me making the case for swill wine. Here’s why:

After spending a day with Friend 1 in East London, we were off to meet Friends 2 and 3 for dinner at their home in West London. We were disgustingly late and imposing a little by bringing Friend 1 along at the last minute. We were late because Little Man fell asleep at Friend 1’s apartment and decided to wet his pants on the guest bed. Also because London is laid out like a toddler scribbled the roads on a piece of paper and we decided to drive because our child was nekkid from the waste down in the backseat of Friend 1’s car. I realize as I write this that we were guilty of the most undiplomatic behavior, but whatever, glimpse into your future if you have kids! and all those jokes.

So before heading out through the labyrinth of London streets, we debated what we were showing up with for dinner. I forgot to stop and buy wine when I saw a reputable shop. Friend 1, who was cleaning off the wine shelf anyway for a move, offered two bottles, deciding that they weren’t great, but they weren’t bad either. It would have to do. And egg on my face for not making time to buy a nice bottle anyway.

Now Friends 2 and 3 graciously bought dinner for all of us and were willing to even warm it up for us when we were nearly an hour late. But when we walked in with the not-good-but-not-great wine, Friend 2 asked, “is this from the supermarket?!” A number of self-deprecating jokes followed, a criticism or two about the screw top, and an offer of, “that’s ok, I’ll just give it to my cleaning lady,” before an actual decent bottle of wine was opened and consumed.

So ok. Someone shows up to your place and brings swill wine. You know you’ve got the good stuff and you’d rather drink that. Fair enough. But here are a few reasons to simply say Thank you! I do have something similar open in the kitchen already, can I pour you a glass of that for now? and sneak into the cupboard and pop some bottles. There are a million and one uses for swill wine. These are just a few of my faves.

Cook with it. Everything is better cooked with wine. Shallots, chicken, grilled cheese, I don’t care. I always have an open bottle of crap red and crap white just to add a splash to the sauté.

6448888211_f535b4799a_oSave it for your friends and family who don’t really appreciate it. Come on, you know you have that friend. Like the college friend that came over our house and asked, what’s chim-ee? (see also, Chimay), after he blasted through a six-pack of Natty Bo. Or when Uncle Jimmy comes over at Thanksgiving and makes it his job to get wine drunk. Then. You can use it then.

Or use it when you’re having one of those nights where your guests are really taking down the good stuff and you don’t want to break out another Reserva. There’s a point of diminishing returns you reach when they can no longer actually appreciate the top shelf anyway. Pop that screw top off in the kitchen, toss that crap in a decanter, pour a round and let your friends make bogus accusations about the body and tannin and mouth feel!

Turn swill wine into mulled wine! With the holidays upon us, just add heat, booze, seasonal fruits, a cinnamon stick, holiday aromatics, and of course a little love, and something drinkable is going to come out of that pot.

Re-gift it! If you’re actually in the diplomatic circuit like me, you know your embassy community is going to have another wine and cheese function this month. Sneak in with your swill wine, tuck it in the back, and pour yourself of the nicest stuff you can find (this will be hard, everyone has the same idea at these things) that pairs with the table full of bagel bites.


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