Cougar Town’s portrayal of indifferent, cavalier drinking is sullying the reputations of winos everywhere
I can’t help but suspect that any overlap which exists between the readership of this blog and the viewing audience of the ABC comedy Cougar Town is probably on the smaller side (and not just because the readership of this blog is on the smaller side, which is putting it politely). As I understand it, Cougar Town is billed a show about a 40-something divorcée with a predilection for dating younger men. However, as the hilarious compilation video below clearly demonstrates, it’s really a show about a 40-something divorcée with an unbridled and fanatical thirst for fermented grape juice.
The broader social trend ostensibly being depicted in Cougar Town — namely, Americans’ increased consumption of wine, particularly in casual and unpretentious settings — is one that tends to receive applause from nearly every corner of the wine world. Certainly, any presentation of wine as an accessible commodity to be enjoyed by all is a welcome departure from that hackneyed depiction of wine as the sole purview of the elitist, antagonistic wine snob whose arcane knowledge of vintages and varietals merely fuels his own superiority complex. The emerging wine culture portrayed in Cougar Town, however, seems to represent the opposite extreme, and I find myself worried that wine’s well-deserved reputation for complexity and intricacy is being lost in this nascent wave of empowered suburbanite bacchanalia. Wine is delicious, yes, and it’s good for getting you drunk, of course — but those two virtues must always be complimented by a healthy dose of context and understanding for all of wine’s enjoyment potential to truly be realized.
Although I must confess to never having watched the show, the compilation above makes it clear that Cougar Town portrays wine in a less than exhaustive light. Among the numerous offenses committed within this brief collection of footage:
Incorrect and inaccurate information is disseminated. If one drinks as much wine as Courteney Cox’s character seems to, you’d hope that she’d at least know the basics, but apparently not. “White wine has less alcohol” is perhaps the most problematically untrue statement uttered by her character; while some white wines certainly have less alcohol than some reds, plenty of other whites have more alcohol than many reds. Also, “wine kills plants” is not true. Kermit Lynch’s masterful book Adventures on the Wine Route includes a passage about a French winemaker whose robust houseplants subsist on nothing but wine. Are we to believe that as accomplished a boozehound as Courteney Cox’s character has yet to devour Lynch’s canonical tome?
Speaking of devouring…
Wine’s relationship with food is ignored. As a guy who’s been known to polish off a bottle of cheap, rustic, full-bodied goodness from the south of Italy in as much time as it takes to watch a pre-recorded Bulls game all by my lonesome, I’m one who fully appreciates the value of drinking wine on its own. However, the traditional pairing of wine with food is one that’s been appreciated for centuries — yet nowhere in these clips is there a depiction of a wine being matched with a complimentary comestible. This is an inexcusable oversight, and one that reflects a cavalier attitude toward enjoying wine in traditionally fulfilling ways.
And worst of all…
Wine philistinism is championed. At no point during all of these selected clips is wine discussed thoughtfully and analytically. Fair enough — after all, Cougar Town isn’t Sideways. (Hell, A Good Year wasn’t even Sideways. Burn!) But the prurient manner in which wine is discussed is positively stomach-churning. First, wine is requested by several characters solely by color (mostly “red,” it seems) with no regard to geographical origin or grape variety — a highly unreliable way to pick a wine one will be likely to enjoy, given the tremendous differences in character that exist between wines of roughly the same hue. Next, the arrival of wine at a party is celebrated by all, as though the palate of each of the attendees had just been calibrated to the same level of “thirst for alcohol bordering on the psychotic” (again, with wanton indifference toward the specific contents of the bottle). Finally, in a particularly telling moment at 01:10, Cox’s character remarks about wine that “if it takes the edge off, I am good to go.” Someone should tell her about this great stuff called grain alcohol, which she might find to be an altogether more economical way to satisfy her major prerequisite.
I guess this is all a long-winded way of saying that I’m disappointed by the show’s decision to portray a reality in which the massive quantity of wine being guzzled by these characters has somehow failed to result in a more quality drinking experience. I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable wine drinker, certainly, but the way in which I became such was by drinking a shit-ton of wine and gleaning information as I went. When one consumes wine in great quantities, I feel it really takes deliberate effort to avoid learning about it along the way; vinous knowledge just sort of comes with the territory. (The mere act of figuring out what grape variety you most enjoy is tantamount to a great act of self-discovery, one that’s typically aided by ingesting multiple examples of numerous candidates.)
There’s a huge emphasis these days on “demystifying” wine, but I don’t think people would be nearly as interested in wine if it weren’t a bit mystical. I’m hard pressed to name any other item on the shelves of my local supermarket with as many subtleties to be understood, as much history to be processed, or as many nuances to be discovered. I find it hard to believe that people like these Cougar Town characters even exist, and I guess that’s because I can’t accept that anyone’s capable of drinking that much wine without getting bitten by the edutoxication bug. Wine may be delicious, but it’s not a cheap date. It demands to be understood.
The Young Winos of LA: edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005.