The Joys Of Wine

When I was a teenager I never though much about wine.  The alcoholic beverage of choice was gin at that time.  My parents liked to imbibe a Tom Collins on the weekends and so their choice was my choice.  I would sneak a couple of those drinks every now and then and no one was the wiser.  You see, Dad bought the large size container of gin and if was difficult to tell if I had poured a couple of ounces for myself.  He also had the same size vodka container and when some inventor came up with a tool that allowed one to “drink” an orange (you had to crush the pulp without breaking the skin and then insert the plastic tube) I used a hypodermic needle to inject a sufficient quantity of vodka into the orange and take it to school for lunch.  Inventive minds do have more fun out of life.  After I left home and was on my own I started to drink beer, or more aptly, malt liquor, Colt 45 was my companion of choice.  It was cheap and I could pass for 21 easily.  Also, back then in Pennsylvania the driver’s license was the stub of an IBM card (tells you approximately how old I am) and since the information such as birth date was printed with a graphic based ink I could take an Exacto knife and gently scrape off the carbon and change the one number from a seven to a four.  Ah yes, the lessons we learn in life can lead to excitement.  So I was a miscreant.

In the service I could go to the enlisted man’s club and drink beer or mixed drinks very cheaply.  I came to like Daiquiris with my bi-monthly dinner of Alaskan King Crap and Steak.  Five bucks went a long way back then when I only made $72 a month.  The only wine I had ever tried was Mad Dog 20/20 and it was horrible.  There are some things that are an offence to god and man and that is one of them.  But as one passes through life the range of possibilities opens before him (or her, if I must e politically correct) and new experiences reach out due to location and aptitude.  I found myself in the Silicon Valley before it was called that and working for the telephone company in outside construction,  It was then that I came across some of the local wineries and being curious, stopped in to have a look see and eventually did a bit of tasting of their wares.  Like most individuals new to wine I gravitated towards the sweet white wines and then found the drier whites and reds more satisfying to my taste.  Most Americans were at that time and still are now raised on sugar laden drinks in their childhood and youth.  Making that transition to dry liquid refreshment takes a little time.  I drink my coffee black with no sugar but I need a touch of honey in my tea, the tannin from the tea leaves is a bit too harsh for my taste.  And I prefer my wines dry.  But given the summer I do like the occasional German Riesling, whether it be Kabinet or a later harvest and residual sugar content.  Yes, TBAs are to be adored and sipped slowly with head bowed and all the while thanking god for such glorious pleasure.  As the knowledgeable reader can surmise, my life had not be misspent.

Yes, I discovered wine and took to it like a duck to water.  But more than simply drink the same few wines as most individuals do, I sought to expand my horizons in this new field.  We live in an ocean of wine where the bottles swim like all the various species of fish there inhabited.  Some are like sardines, useful for pizza or water crackers but not much else.  Others are like the prized marlin and sword fish, daring one to catch and imbibe.  If you have ever gone marlin fishing you know the cost of catching one.  And since the sea of Napa and Sonoma were close at hand, I cast my line and caught what I could.  During the seventies and into the eighties the best wines that Napa and Sonoma produced were chardonnay and zinfandel.  Dave Banyan at Ridge Vineyards produced some of the very best zinfandels of that era.  I met him at a place called “The Tasting Room” in Saratoga and went barrel crawling a few times with him, his wine thief, and a couple of glasses.  In fact, I met a number of wine makers back then and learned quite a bit from them about the ins and outs of wine.  It was an education to say the least.

So I graduated to the French wines, the Bordeaux and the burgundies.  A few Spanish wines, Ports, Italians, and even Hungarians.  Much later came the Aussies and the South Americans, what an adventure.  In the past ten years I have been pleased to discover South African vineyards.  And Mexico is another secret spot on the map.  Few ever get imported into the United States and that is a shame, for they are excellent.  And across the United States there are wineries in many states and even in Canada.  Some of the wines are good, a very few very good, but most bad to passable.  A vineyard takes about seven years to start producing grapes that have enough quality to press.  But at seven years those grapes will never make more than passable wine.  One may have to wait for ten or more years to find that through the combination of soil, sun summation, rainfall, and other variables one can finally make a good to very good wine.  Of course the vintner’s art, from the picking through the de-stalking and crushing to the fermentation and finally the aging, contribute to that particular production’s quality.  The growing of the grapes is as much a skill and an art as is the vitrification.  Very few individuals ever master both.

My most favorite wines are the burgundies of France.  And of them I prefer the Cote du Nuit to the Cote du Beaune.  But when a wine is very good to great it is a pleasure to take the time, usually four to six hours, to sip and enjoy.  Add i a little food and I am in heaven.  But a wine doesn’t need to be great in terms of professional wine taster’s scores.  I have found that holy grail of Burgundy, the excellent table wine in bulk.  I can now buy, when I am in residence in France (god, I love that phrase, in residence) ten liter boxes of very good table wine.  How good is it?  Well, you could spend seven or eight euros a bottle for vin ordinaire and get vin crappy.  Of course this box red tends to be an amalgam of years and different local regions, but the wine is smooth and mouth filling.  The nose is pleasant and lightly fruity with enough tannin to back up its claim to firmness.  This is not a flabby wine blend.  Carlo Rossi would die a thousand deaths to be able to sell this wine all through California.  And to think the cost is about $2.25 a bottle.  California, eat your heart out.

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