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Issue Nine / Entertaining Ideas,Essay
“Brunch is a depraved battlefield. It’s trench warfare you can’t win—unless you abstain”


Words by David Coggins Photograph by Nicole Franzen

Whether you’re at a wedding, a friend’s birthday brunch or just catching up on e-mails, sometimes the weekend involves a fair bit of daytime drinking. Here’s our clear-headed guide to spending the day with an open bottle. 

When you leave the farmers market on a Saturday morning—after wondering where all your cash went—you are in the mood to prepare your microgreens, your heritage pork chops, your Hen of the Woods mushrooms and finish perhaps with some Vermont cheese made by Middlebury dropouts. You look forward to the specific pleasure of preparing food picked that day, food that has never seen the inside of a refrigerator. You feel virtuous, you feel hungry.

Along with your feast, your good afternoon might involve an English soccer game in the background, some writing, catching up on a week’s worth of newspapers and the occasional visitor bearing still more food. But most importantly, you deserve a glass of wine. Better than that, you deserve a bottle. Not a default bottle sitting around, but a good bottle, something worth considering. But you want to balance your pleasures, not pass out by 4 in the afternoon. There are some tactics for the advanced daytime drinking, which really is a worthwhile pursuit.

Let’s discuss our terms. You’ve graduated from Bloody Marys in bars. We’ve all been there, but it’s getting harder to do. In Manhattan, at least, heading out after 11 in the morning is dangerous business. Brunch is a depraved battlefield. It’s trench warfare you can’t win—unless you abstain. Consider yourself a conscientious objector. Although the Ear Inn at opening time is not a bad place to sort it out. It’s an old bar on Spring Street, very far west, almost at the water, with a nautical theme (before there were themes). It’s a classic, but the type of place where you know better than to order too ambitiously.

We’ve spent time drinking very cold martinis in the sunshine at exactly 5 in the afternoon. It’s a fine pleasure, but martinis are a commitment, and two of them set you down a path that bends back to sobriety very slowly. So we focus on a more viable, more versatile approach. For those who desire to drink with an eye toward the end of the day, we have one word for you: Riesling.

Riesling is easy drinking in the best sense (as opposed to light beer, which is an alternate to water best suited to a day on a Montana trout stream). It’s often low in alcohol content (it’s not hard to find a good bottle less than 10 percent, others are less than 8 percent). One pivotal fact about Riesling: It doesn’t have to be sweet. In fact, the preference here is for those without residual sugar, which, as a critic would say, are bracingly acidic. It’s a grape with a clarity unlike any other, a sunniness with no humidity. It’s refined without being precious—it’s clean and direct. There’s also something psychological about the shape of a Riesling bottle—it’s so slender and understated—that makes you feel like you haven’t done anything too drastic.

So, what happens in the winter months? I’m glad you asked. If you want to strike fear into your more delicate friends, serve them a Bull Shot (think of it as a Bloody Mary with beef bouillon instead of tomato juice). That will get their attention. Otherwise, you have to make some heavy decisions to make. Full-bodied wines taste so much better with food: If you open one as you begin your prep work than you’ve got to tread lightly. Our preference is for a good light red Burgundy during prep. If it manages to disappear, then you graduate to a Rhône for lunch. At this point, you should be so lucid that doing the New York Times acrostic should be no problem at all.

David Coggins is a writer and editor who follows Kingsley Amis’ advice to “drink wine in quantity.” His work has appeared in Esquire, Art in America and Interview. He lives in New York. 

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  • July 4, 2015
    "Although living sparely has its virtues, the grand task of essential living is to uncover the elements that bring us rapture." Isn't this truly what life is all about?
    Posted by