Favorite Wine Anecdotes: “Hot Dog in the Ballpark Syndrome”

Sorry, I’m not going to suggest the ultimate wine pairing for hot dogs; plenty of others have ably covered the topic, and I am not really a big fan of hot dogs. Instead, I want to discuss ”Hot Dog in the Ballpark Syndrome,” HDBS for short. You have certainly experienced this phenomenon; you just didn’t know it had a name. I intend to relate it to the enjoyment of wine, but it applies to many things, including fine art, food, and even relationships. I’ll elaborate on the others, but let’s begin with a discussion about wine and HDBS.

I was at a winery in Napa Valley many years ago and was fortunate to enjoy a private tour and tasting with the winemaker. We walked through the vineyards and production facilities on a beautiful summer day, and after tasting some samples from barrel, ended up in the private dining room to experience the current vintage and some library selections. I was blown away by the quality of the wines. I thought they were near perfect and I couldn’t imagine a better collection from Napa Valley or anywhere else. After returning home, I naturally sought out the same wines, and wanted my family and friends to enjoy the same experience I had in Napa. Although the wines still showed very well, I was stunned to experience something much short of the sensation at the winery. I was suffering from a bad case of HDBS. At home, I obviously didn’t have the passion of the winemaker, the beauty of the vineyards and the romance of the winery, to influence my experience.

If you haven’t already figured it out, I will elaborate on the origins of this syndrome. For various reasons some people, including me, will rarely eat a hot dog. However, many of us, again including me, will still order and invariably enjoy a hot dog at a baseball game. Why the gosh darn heck does it taste so good at a baseball game? Hot dog and bun producers will argue that the product is different, and of higher quality, at the ballpark. To me, it’s something else: you’re sitting in a beautiful, relaxed setting, engrossed in a classic American tradition of baseball, beer, peanuts AND hot dog consumption, and thousands of other people are doing exactly the  same thing. It’s what people do at the ballpark and it is a great experience when you’re there, and even better if you team is winning. Do we go home and suddenly become connoisseurs of hot dogs? No, but we are frequently emboldened to try one at the next backyard barbecue, and inevitably remember why we rarely eat hot dogs. They never taste the same.

Our environment obviously has a huge impact on our senses and judgement. Remember the wonderful date you had at that romantic restaurant overlooking the ocean, and then for some reason the second encounter at the bowling alley ended up being a disaster? Don’t blame it on yourself; it was HDBS. How about the beautiful, expensive painting you purchased at that charming gallery when the artist himself handed you a glass of chardonnay, draped his arm over your shoulder and passionately explained his inspiration for that particular piece? Every time you pass the painting, perched in its place of honor above the fireplace, you are haunted by the purchase. HDBS strikes again!

As far as wine is concerned, HDBS has its biggest impact when one is traveling abroad. When you’re sitting in a Venice cafe drinking a glass of the Veneto’s finest, it’s hard not to return to the States and shout from the mountaintops that Amarone, Soave, and Valpolicella are absolutely the best wines in the world!

Finally, another version of HDBS exists that is exacerbated by over consumption of wine. We have all attended a dinner party where the food was excellent, the conversation was lively, the guests were charming and, after several glasses, the wine became the finest ever poured. Paradoxically, the hangover the next day usually cures any lingering HDBS.

So is a hangover the ultimate antidote for HDBS as it relates to wine, or anything else for that matter? I do not necessarily recommend it. I simply contend that awareness of its existence is the first step to overcoming its embarrassing, and sometimes expensive, pitfalls. “Hot Dog in the Ballpark Syndrome” is real, it has consequences, and now it has a name.

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~ by Thomas on November 8, 2009.

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