When I was a kid, I wanted desperately to be sophisticated, and dreamed one day of knowing all about wines and vintages. (I also wanted to be able to spout whole monologues of Shakespeare, earn my PhD before my 25th birthday, and live in a tower.) I didn’t grow up in a alcohol-friendly household; there was no alcohol in our house at all, except for a bottle of Blue Nun that would show up in the fridge every 6 months or so, titillating us kids with its very existence. MOM! we would shout, THERE’S WINE IN THE FRIDGE! She would yell back, DON’T WORRY! IT WON’T BE THERE FOR LONG!
My first taste of beer was out of a half-warm can of something domestic, and nearly put me off it for good. After an abstemious 80s adolescence with only a few B&J wine coolers under my belt, I finally had my first real glass of wine, my epiphany wine. I had a room-mate when I was about 19 who was a great cook, an older woman, and she let me have a small glass of a special bottle she had in the house. It blew my socks off! THIS was what it was supposed to taste like! THIS is what all the fuss was about! Whatever your name was, Ex-Roommate of Long Ago, I thank you.
I only wish I could remember what the wine was. In later years, tasting big Cabs and first growth Bordeaux, I think it may have been either a really mellow Caymus Cab, or possibly a down-market Margaux. Nameless Ex-Roommate also introduced me to the concept of sweeter spices like cinnamon and clove in savory dishes with some divine African-inflected stew she once made. If only I hadn’t moved out — I could have been a freaky foodie so much sooner!
Instead, I stuck to traveling, and over 10 years went by until I tasted wine I liked that much again. In the meantime, I drank a lot of fruit wine, made friends with microbrew and coffee, and discovered martinis. It wasn’t until I moved to St. Thomas and accidentally got into the wine business that I started to be able to taste wine and discover what I was supposed to like and what I actually did like. Frequently, these coincided. Sometimes they didn’t. But by learning the language of the wine business, breaking the winespeak code, and learning about how and where wine is made, I was able to finally understand how to drink what I enjoyed. Now I just need to memorize some vintages…
I don’t drink wine every day (have to maintain my amateur status), but I know what I like and I know what I like to pair with what dishes. I am a Certified Wine Specialist with the Society of Wine Educators, and I sold wine and taught classes about it for about 5 years. Now I have a Joe Job that pays the bills (most of them), but I still have my same love for wine.
What made my love for wine a lifelong passion and not just a passing fling is that wine, for me, provides a sensual and an intellectual pleasure all in one. You can never stop learning about wine… even if you’ve learned everything about every grape and every region and every winemaker and every vintage, there’s a new harvest happening somewhere in the world RIGHT NOW. Therefore wine offers infinite opportunities to learn new things and taste new things. And isn’t that the best part of life?