Posted On: 09/10/2002
Long ago, on a Friday night in a galaxy far away, I - in hope of becoming the most sophisticated of my beer-chugging, college-age, mortal friends - ventured past the Cheetos and Ramen noodles, into the dark alleys of the wine section of the grocery store. Over-exposure to cheese pizza, Big Macs and mass quantities of cheap suds in my high school and college years had under-whelmed my taste buds. Finally, somehow, I had begun to fear a life devoid of flavor.
So I led a gang of us past the grocery’s boxed wine section, avoiding the silver-lined squishy vessels, and together we stumbled into the grown-up wine arena - the only place in the supermarket where a consumer does the tango with the toro.
I could sense the fear of my compadres as we entered this foreign land lined with row upon row of mass-produced wines. Some of my colleagues fled to comfortable, easy choices such as Merlot and Chardonnay, then vanished. Others, intimidated by the foreign language labels that flaunted vintage years and vineyard strains, sought protection in the ratings of Bobby “Everybody Listens to Me” Parker or Wine Dictator, grabbed their selections, and disappeared toward the checkout line. Too soon, I was alone and frightened.
I had a ten spot - another rare occurrence in those days. The question was, how should I choose? No bones for the Côtes du Rhône. Bore-deaux seemed too lame. Burgundy was really just a Martha Stewart color, and Crocodile Dundee was the only Australian import I knew anything about.
I sweated the storm, stayed the course, reached, grabbed and ran to the checkout. Sped home. Realized I needed a corkscrew. Sped back. Got home again, where I hastily opened the wine, a Beaujolais Village, chucking cork bits everywhere. I sat down, poured the wine into my glass. Then I tasted and savored, just as I had read you are supposed to do.
The rest of the evening was spent suffering through a bottle of the most God-awful, stomach churning alcoholic beverage that had ever crossed my lips. Only years later did I realize that my Beaujolais Village wine was not only corked (it had oxidized in the bottle) but was also from the dirt floor of France’s wine hierarchy.
I still can’t believe how that one experience didn’t prevent wine from weaving its way into my life. But I’m glad it did not. How much better my life is for letting wine tease, cajole, tempt, and sway my senses!
I am amazed when I see the tight, little bubbles of Champagne reaching for the surface and congregating with their friends. I adore the succulent sweetness of a Spätlese on a first date. I fiendishly enjoy getting smacked in the face by a big ZIN while watching football, and delight in being seduced by the Pinot Noir sirens while listening to jazz. I know it when my salad screams for Sauvignon Blanc, and feel the pain of oysters begging me for Muscadet. I crave bubbles with my sushi. My heart soars when my steak gets excited as I burst out the Big “in your mama’s face” Cab. I have a love/hate relationship with the prison guards who hold my young Sauternes, my baby Bordeaux and my racy Rieslings until they make parole. Most importantly, I love the way the moon looks after a couple glasses of truth.
I did my homework, studied, researched and drank my way to wine appreciation. You can do it, too.
There is no single recipe for success in learning to love and understand wine, but you’ll be better off if you play without attitude and laugh at the wine geeks building road blocks on your tasting highway. That road is not paved with yellow bricks and sometimes you’ll need to pay attention to the Oz man lurking behind the curtain. But watch out for the road-hogging, wine snob, know-it-all you’ll find around every corner. Look for guides to help you along the way - retailers and restaurants you trust.
More than once, you’ll face the daunting task of fumbling through a restaurant’s wine list as sweat beads on your forehead and then butchering the pronunciation of your treasure before you approach your journey’s end. But the first mile is the hardest. So get started. Go ahead and buy a wine book, invite some friends over, crack open a bottle and make it a “Must Drink” Thursday night.
It’s wine’s world. You just live in it.
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