So, the other day, I got to wondering why I like wine so much. Where did I learn all this useless information about varietals? How did my palate figure out how to distinguish between a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc? And why did I decide to start trying wineries in different regions when I traveled?
I didn’t start out liking wine. When I was a kid, my mother (sorry to throw you under the bus here mom) drank cheap White Zinfandel. The Sutter Home brand was a particular favorite. Now it is convenient and all, considering that it comes in single serving bottles – my mom is a one glass a night drinker and she doesn’t have a glass more than about once a week, so that would make a lot of sense for her. But ugh, Sutter Home White Zinfandel is too sweet and alcohol-ey (sorry, I’m trying to remember a taste I haven’t experienced in years, and I’m not about to go buy a bottle for research purposes). So when you are a kid and your mom says you can have a sip, and that’s what ends up in your mouth, well let’s just say, I wasn’t anxious to get out there and try to get someone over 21 to buy me some. Especially when there were wine coolers! Juice in a bottle!
So after I turned 21, I started tempting my alcohol palate with something more than animal beer and Boone’s Farm. I do live in the Northwest, the microbrew capital of the world, so I started trying better beers. Yes, I had an Icehouse phase – I’m not proud of it, so please don’t bring it up. Eventually, I developed a taste for those slightly bitter microbrews and starting enjoying Sierra Nevada, Pyramid, Rogue Brewery, and Boundary Bay, to name a few. I also sampled some hard alcohol, and enjoyed things like vodka/cranberries, Long Island Iced Tea, and Duck Farts (it’s a shot, but I can’t remember what’s in it now). On my 21st birthday, my boyfriend started me off with a gin Martini, and it was disgusting (he thought I would like it because MASH was my favorite show). Later, I developed a taste for gin and tonics, but not until I was years away from the 21st birthday hangover. But at 21, I wasn’t that interested in wine.
Later in my 21st year, I moved to Chile and did a study abroad program there. I hope you don’t think that the books were the only thing I studied. Nope, you guessed it, Chile has wine! And lots of it. And my host family’s house happened to be 4 doors away from a Botellería (that translates to liquor store – I didn’t plan it that way!). I even remember the name – the Botellería San Patricio. On my first night there, we were lost and trying to find our way home on a dark and stormy night (it really was!), we stumbled upon the liquor store like it was an oasis and we were dying of dehydration in the Sahara Desert. It was painted aqua, and it happened to be the only building we remembered that was close to where we lived. There’s a lot more comedy involved in that story, but I’ll tell you another time.
Of course, we were college students, and poor, so we bought the cheapest box wine we could get our hands on, which happened to be Gato Negro. Somehow it tasted better there, and I’ve been convinced ever since that they keep the best wines for themselves. So, South America was really where I started cultivating my love of wine. It was there that I went on my first wine tour. It was there that I tucked my first wine bottle into my carryon to bring home (I wish we could still do that!).
After I came back to the states, I started to try wines at home. I started to order the house wine with dinner. And I started to broaden my horizons. I learned that I didn’t like big oaky Cabernets. I learned that Merlots and white wines were more my style. It grew from there. I figured out that Chardonnays are oaky too, and I would rather have a Pinot Gris or a Sauvignon Blanc. And most recently, I discovered Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc. And now here I am. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy a good microbrew. I had a beer with our sushi dinner last Friday night. But, there is a variety in wine that you just can’t find in beers. There is a wine for every food, a wine for every occasion. And I swear, a wine to soothe every kind of crappy day at work. What’s more versatile than that?