Vino Vednesday: My Life in Wine
Wine to me is passion. It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It’s culture. It’s the essence of civilization and the art of living.
~ Robert Mondavi, Autobiography, “Harvests of Joy”
When Chef Andy asked me to write about this delightful subject for Eat.Drink.Repeat., I was overjoyed. Honestly, what could be better? I enjoy wine often, but this is a guaranteed experience each week, along with learning about each chosen variety: analysis, documentation, and sharing. I am thrilled to be a part of this project and I can’t wait to share my enthusiasm for wine with you.
You may be wondering how I came to love wine so much. Well, I love all things culinary, but I am obsessed—to put it lightly—with bread, cheese, and chocolate. Of all things delicious, I truly believe these are the three most fabulous. I would (and quite often do) eat them at every meal. I used to think nothing existed that could make them any more wonderful…until I discovered wine.
My experiences with alcoholic drinks during the first twenty years of my life included just a sip or two, here and there, of the classic (aka: affordable) college pleasures: Miller Lite, Bartels and Jaymes, Boones Farm…peppered with an occasional and unfortunate shot of Smirnoff chased with Diet Coke. Wine remained an unknown, as the only encounter I’d ever had with it was a crude sniff of a friend’s glass of Livingston (which I thought, at the time, must be good wine if people buy it in such large quantities!). Old, musty cough syrup is what I thought wine must taste like. What was wine, anyway? Just a thick grape juice that has been deemed good to drink only after fermenting in wooden barrels for months, even years? No thank you. When asked what my favorite drink was, I always answered the name of whatever fruity, fizzy, fluffy drink I had last tried. I eventually decided it was for my best interest to stop “trying” drinks, and wait until I turned 21 before enjoying my occasional strawberry daiquiri. Besides, I was a good girl… “It doesn’t taste that good…and I don’t want to get in trouble.”
The turning point came in April of 2002—I was a twenty-year-old sophomore in college (yes, America, I was underage). As a vocal music major, I was blessed with the very best imaginable way to spend the spring term: a tour with my college choir, performing in and traveling through seven European countries. Our tour lasted five weeks and still has been, without a doubt, the best experience of my life thus far. Before tour began, our choir director verbally warned us of our country’s law: “You must be 21 years old to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages.” After this mandatory admonition (my alma mater is, after all, a Lutheran college), he laughed a little too mischievously and said “I also want you to remember that this is once-in-a-lifetime. In Europe, one must only be 16 to drink. You will also be given the chance to enjoy some of the greatest beers and wines in the world. Have fun and drink well.” Now, I am a girl who likes to follow the rules; a people pleaser. Would I ever be so disrespectful as to ignore the advice of my director? A worldly, talented, well-sought after musician? Of course not. I was ecstatic and decided I would treat the arrival to Europe as an early twenty-first birthday.
On our very first night in London, in a very quaint, dark pub located in the Piccadilly Circus district, I timidly waited with my friends for our waitress to approach our booth. I wanted to try the favorite drink of one of my most well-loved movie characters, Kathleen Kelly from “You’ve Got Mail.” When Kathleen held her drink in her hand at a party, it looked so pretty and sophisticated! Perhaps this would make me feel the same. When it was my turn to order a drink, I tried as hard as I could to sound like I knew what I was doing, and very properly said, “White wine, please.” Our very hip and happening Brit waitress replied, “Pinot G foh yew love?” (I need to mention how fun it was to order my first real drink from someone with such a fantastic accent.) “Um, yes please,” I stammered in reply, hoping her choice would be palatable. And it was. Oh heavens…it was. Love at first sip. I stared down into my glass and thought, Where have you been all my life? An explosion of flavors and sensations…sweet, yet slightly bitter; an amazing dry mouth feel after swallowing but not too dry, and a touch of…something else…which made me want to go back for more and more. And more. It was a wonderful night. If any of my choir friends are reading this, I sincerely thank you for so nicely taking my hand later on that evening, as the hotel steps mysteriously turned to mush and were unfit for climbing. You did not go unnoticed, and I have not forgotten your kindness since then.
Our European tour included many more glasses of “Pinot G,” as well as an absolutely mouth-watering Riesling (Wormeldange, Luxembourg), the most beautiful, deep and rich Chianti (Rome), sparkly Prosecco mixed into a lovely peach Bellini (Venice), light and fruity Gewürtztraminer (Rothenburg, Germany) and many, many heavy earthenware pitchers of unidentified yet delicious reds and whites at a folklore dinner in Slovenia. Each day was another opportunity to learn about this brilliant piece of culture.
Upon traveling back to the States, I felt as though my “nirvana” was coming to an abrupt halt. I may never have another good glass of wine, I thought with horror. This only proves how terribly uneducated I was. Now, after nearly ten more years of life, I have attended wine-tasting and food pairing seminars, read a lot of wine literature, and visited some excellent vineyards. I am confident that with the right “know-how,” we Americans (even Midwesterners) can find varieties of wine that are just as extraordinary as the masterpieces of Europe. Walking into a wine retailer is like being a kid in a candy store. It sounds trite, but I can’t think of a better analogy. I feel I could stare at the hundreds of bottles (boxes too—the bad rap is purely a myth) for hours. Reading labels, inventing table presentations and entrees to serve alongside the wine…it’s heaven for a wine enthusiast.
As I carry out the delicious task of reviewing wines for eatdrinkrepeat, my approach shall be of the “real world.” Since I am a person who enjoys being frugal as much as possible, as are many of you I’m sure, I will be careful to choose affordable wines. Not bottom-shelf, but not something too extravagant to purchase each week. I will cover the taste, aroma and color, and I will also take a look at the entire background: vineyard, professional reviews and awards given, website, and packaging. Why the aesthetics? Call me crazy, but all food is about presentation…I will never buy a bottle of wine that doesn’t appeal to me from the outside. I will continue to learn about wine through experimenting with decanting, temperatures, glass shapes…and most importantly, embracing the simple joy of wine.
Join me on my journey—please comment, suggest a bottle to review, anything is welcome! I’d love to hear from you!
Vino Vednesday is vritten by our Team Wine-o Betsy. Her column appears ever Vednesday right here on Eat.Drink.Repeat..