two brown cork bottle lids



I rarely drink wine. My family didn’t drink it, being mostly tetotallers. My father was a pastor and had no interest in alcohol. My mother once saw a photo of my drinking Cold Duck with a date, riding on a carousel at a college dance. She wouldn’t speak to me for a day. You can see that I was never destined to be a ‘wine guy.’

My early palate was shaped by RC Cola or Coca Cola in ice cold bottles, consumed on langorous Summer days, or with sweet tea prepared by my grandmothers or mother. The dry bitterness of wine is alien to my tongue.

Still, I enjoy listening to someone who is knowledgeable about the fruit of the vine. I have met a few individuals who are amateur (or semi-professional) sommeliers. Their comprehension of wine is remarkable, and they can frequently comment in detail on the origin of the stuff. They notice aromas that come from the grapes, or the aging process. (Hence it may taste like nuts, or spices or vanilla.) They notice varying degrees of tannin in the wine. Their brains are constantly analyzing the wine in remarkable, and loving, detail.

But what I really find fascinating is the way they can pair various wines with foods. ‘This is a nice Merlot that will pair perfectly with the elk we’re having for dinner!’ I would never have made the association.

All of this made me think about my job and my life in medicine in Appalachia. And I was thinking about the kind of sommelier one could encounter in a nearby parallel universe.

“Uh, yeah, this here methamphetamine…let me take a little bump of it…oh that’s it…where was I? This appears to have a hint of cartel factory…I can taste a bit of gasoline and cordite. Smelling it I can tell it came up I-95 strapped beneath a chicken truck; it has a nice ‘chickeny’ aroma. It should pair well with an Orange Monster energy drink, some Ho-Hos and either a Quarter Pounder with Cheese or partly frozen pepperoni pizza.”

And of course, there’s your fentanyl guy. “This fentanyl has a color that suggests Chinese Communist precursors and domestic final production in a clandestine forced labor factory. It has an sweaty, hopeless bouquet. It should pair well with Narcan and stomach contents. Let’s take a little hit and…..zzzzzzz.”

On the less adventurous side you have people like me. “Hmm, this iced tea is a bit too dark and heavy. It’s clearly a McDonald’s syrupy vintage from sometime last week. It honestly doesn’t pair well with anything. For tonight’s chicken strips, however, I recommend something in a homemade Luzianne or perhaps a Chic-Fil-A, since the colors are a lighter amber suggesting proper brewing time, and they usually have hints of spring or well-water. And revival.”

A few years ago I was with Jan and some of our kids in Bratislava, Slovakia. We found ourselves in an underground restaurant, eating wonderful cuisine, including some schnitzel, if memory serves. And on the menu, for this non-wine drinking tourist, was honest to goodness RC Cola, beloved of my childhood.

Although there wasn’t ice, and one bottle was about all the waitress could be bothered to bring, that was a cool, dark, sweet drink that smelled and tasted of America; and my youth. It was a pairing I’ll never forget.

And in all honestly, they only pairing my substance abusing patients ever remark upon (once they are lucid) is this: “Can I get a turkey sandwich before I go?”

Good evening!


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