At an upscale Italian restaurant, in a nameless Western state, I ordered a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino, planning to share it with my two 19-year-old companions. Alas, they were carded. For some inexplicable reason, neither had the foresight of a Jenna Bush, and had forgotten their fake IDs. Their wine glasses were removed by the sommelier and the bottle was brought to the table, presumably for me to polish off alone.
Then along came our waiter, a native Italian with a beautiful accent. He leaned down and whispered in my ear that he was so sorry, he could not bring any kind of glasses for my friends without putting his job and freedom at jeopardy, but if I put my wineglass in the middle of the table we could all three drink from it. His tone and expression made his opinion clear: there was no reason a couple of 19-year-olds should not enjoy a glass of wine with dinner except that we Americans were "pazzo," crazy.
I'm aware that I broke the law when I followed his suggestion. Don't tell, but I also jaywalk sometimes.
We Americans are not only "pazzo," we are "fou," "verruckt" and silly. In most of the world, wine and beer are not considered spirits, to consume for the purpose of getting drunk. They are part of a meal, a ritual of fellowship, a...food! Europeans class wine as an agricultural product. In America, it's regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms!
European children are often allowed a little watered-down wine with dinner. They are introduced to the grape as simply a part of the sensual beauty of a gracious meal in good company. When teenagers - the same ones who are allowed to go to war, fly fighter planes and drive tanks - are prohibited from drinking a glass of beer, what do you suppose they do? Drink it anyway, of course.
Teenagers, by their very nature, tell lies and do forbidden things. No matter how well they were brought up. It's a time when biological imperatives tell them to push off, leave the nest, try out being a grownup. You, their parents, are the enemy. All your lessons about right and wrong are subsumed by the need to rebel, at least a little. If you tell them their spiked hair is unacceptable, they'll dye it neon orange and pierce their eyebrow for good measure. It's said that there are three ways to get something done: do it yourself, hire someone to do it, or forbid your teenager to do it.
Introducing your teens to the world of wine as a civilized beverage to be enjoyed responsibly will not turn them into binge drinkers. Making it the forbidden fruit might. Unreasonable laws that are sure to be broken are bad for all of us. They encourage disrespect for all laws. Twenty-one is an unreasonable age to wait to drink legally. When Jenna Bush was caught trying to have a beer with her friends, she was not a delinquent on the road to ruin. She was performing a reasonable act that is unreasonably forbidden.
I know many teens between 18 and 21 years old, and every one has a fake ID. If you think the recent crackdown on stores and restaurants selling liquor to minors is going to keep them from drinking, you're deluding yourself. They'll only get hold of a keg, go to some far-off field and binge until they fall down and puke. Then they'll probably drive home. Sure beats sitting politely in a restaurant, sharing a meal, and sipping a little wine, doesn't it?
Jennifer Rosen is a wine critic whose column appears in The Villager, a Greenwood Village/Arapahoe County newspaper; you can e-mail your questions about wine to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She wrote this article for the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Golden; http://www.i2i.org
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