Last fall, Mona Awad lurched into a weekend of debaucherous wine-tasting. Her bacchanalian adventures were recorded in Maisonneuve Magazine’s review If Not Winter, Then Wine (Issue 13). Last month, editorial intern Jessica Block invited Mona to share the backstory on her salacious weekend romp.
What was your initial idea for this piece?
I wanted to write a review from the perspective of a person who was fairly ignorant of wine but happy to be drinking it and getting drunk.
How did you decide which wines to review?
Well, I didn’t want to enter the canonic territory better left to the connoisseur. So I pestered the SAQ [Société des alcools du Québec—the government-owned company responsible for the sale of alcoholic beverages in Quebec] staff about what was popular within a certain price range. I asked them what they enjoyed, what they couldn’t believe was selling. Mainly I wanted to drink what Fernando buys on Fridays when he wants to get laid. I made my choices accordingly, sticking to very accessible wines that speak easily and clearly to anyone willing to listen. I didn’t go for anything guarded too heavily by the fanged palates of critics. I might not have done such a wine justice with language. And anyway, it’s my feeling that truly exceptional wine has no language. And when it does speak, it speaks to poets, not critics.
Do you have an ongoing relationship with someone at the liquor store.
Where does your wild vocabulary come from or were you drunk the whole time you were writing this?
I was surprisingly sober for a lot of it. But my first impressions were written in ecstatic chicken scratch, with everything spinning. And I had trouble making out my impassioned scrawls when I came to. A lot of these “observations” did worm their way into my final draft—surprisingly. I’m afraid that drunk or sober, I talk like that most of the time.
How did you come to the idea to personify the wines?
I don’t really feel comfortable with the wine lingo. It’s useful for the connoisseur and I won’t pretend it isn’t essential for the novice to learn, but for those of us who want to talk about stars without knowing their Latin names, it’s rather difficult to wield that language with any confidence. Personifying wines seemed a more natural way of describing them. Particularly since what wine possesses, above all things, is character—each one unique to the circumstances of its existence—the soils and suns it sat beneath, the barrels it sighed in, etc. It’s a live thing, after all, that ripens and rots and dies just like all of us. It has a story that tells itself in the drinking. It even has secrets.
Have you ever or did you read conventional wine reviews when writing this piece?
I have and did, yes. Some of them can be very helpful. But I find that the genre often lives up to its stereotype of being intimidating, inaccessible and largely uninspired. Especially when you consider that wine is one of the most mythicized substances of the western world, a symbol of revelry and revelation, the most basic and ancient of pleasures. I found better guides in writers whose first art is prose and who write about wine only incidentally. To my mind, they tend to do it better. M. F. K. Fisher was a wine drinker who often alluded to her experience with this or that bottle in her memoirs. I was reading her when I wrote the piece.
Are you a red-wine snob?
No. While I like red, I adore white. A glass of cold, fruity, dry white is my ultimate lust. I love the colours—amber, honey, pale green-yellows. To me, even when it tastes like turpentine, it tastes like peaches.
How much booze does it take to write a piece for Maisonneuve?
I can only speak for myself. And I swore that whore to secrecy.
What would you name your own wine? What would the label look like?
Something predictably lame that I would later regret. The label would likely be some red-velvet atrocity.
What wine courses did you take? Who were your fellow students? Can you share an anecdote from one of those classes?
I took a joke of a course through the Wine Council of Ontario while I was getting my bartender’s certificate. You’re given a book to read about grapes and wind velocities in the Niagara peninsula. Then you take a test that you can only take once. I remember the agony of memorizing different types of Ontario soil. I also took a few LCBO [Liquor Control Board of Ontario—the Crown corporation responsible for the sale of alcoholic beverages in Ontario] wine-appreciation courses—“Explore the world of Burgundy,” etc. I’d recommend those. They do a good job of giving you foundation knowledge of wine and how to understand and communicate your experience with various one-ounce glasses. A warning, though: they are teeming with what you’d expect, a lot of self-aware commentary from carefully clad yuppies who believe every meal is made better with goat cheese. I made a conscious attempt to block most of them out. But I can tell you that what I saw out of the corner of each eye annoyed me greatly.
What is the most expensive wine you’ve ever had?
It was at one of my mother’s parties. Some wine guy came in smirking with it. When he uncorked it, everyone gasped. It was an Italian red that rang in me like music. I made a valiant effort to carve the name into my palm with liquid liner. But of course it bled to a black streak by morning. Just as well.
What is your policy on drinking alone?
I do it often. I’m not fond of people.
Please participate in the following wine word–association game:
earthy—barnyard or bliss