I have gotten some very positive feedback over the last year for my monthly wine column, Beneath the Cork, for In the Kitchen magazine. In last month’s issue, editor Rowena Morrell, announced she was giving up the monthly publication. It has been suggested I write more about wine here in this space, and so I shall.
I came late to drinking wine for I grew up a beer drinker. My grandfather would put me to work ‘helping’ him – which mostly meant fetching him beers from about the time I could walk. I was almost always offered a sip or I’d be allowed to share a beer, with my portion being poured into a small glass. To this day, I love splitting a beer. I have aunts and uncles who still split them with me too. One of them actually just started letting me have my own beer – I guess she thought I wasn’t old enough to drink a whole one. My maternal grandparents had frequent happy hours with their next door neighbors. It was my grandfather who taught us that what time happy hour was in London, and you could drink to that.
In college, I had a few boyfriends along the way that taught me how to drink tequila and bourbon, respectively. I’ll admit to a vodka phase and maybe there was a short lived girly drink phase, but once I learned to shoot tequila and then appreciate bourbon, that was it for me and liquor until a neighbor reintroduced me to gin & tonics a few years ago. Beer though, was my main drink of choice. Until Edie came along….
I gained a good bit of weight when I was pregnant with her and while most of it came off quickly, there was a lingering (more than a) few pounds that wouldn’t come off no matter what I did. I also found that beer filled me up quickly, so that if I had a few beers before dinner, I wouldn’t always want to eat dinner and this became more of a problem than it was when I was in college, since I was older and the morning after without dinner hurt after the age of 30 far more than they did when I was 20. I realized that switching over to liquor wasn’t a good answer either and it was suggested I learn to drink wine.
Over the years, I had a few friends try to educate me on wine, but I never really paid that much attention. However, I was not about to give up alcohol and I have a hard personal rule about my belly being smaller than my boobs, except for when pregnant. That meant finding a new drink. I started out by drinking a ‘flavor’ a friend had recommended back in college – an nice Australian Shiraz. I didn’t go too far out of my comfort range, sticking with Shiraz and Merlots. Some time not long after that, during Edie’s toddler years when I realized I just wasn’t happy with my day care options, but Pat insisted I find something to do to get me out of the house, I found a job at a new wine bar opening on the Downtown Mall – Charlottesville folks might remember VaVino, the wine bar that carried only Virginia wines. Not only did I find myself learning about wine, I was learning about Virginia wine. Over time, they began to carry wines from all over the world, which only served to expand my wine horizons, until it was sold to a local restaurant group. Eventually this group retooled the business to focus on Italian wines and food. This is where I learned about Italian wines, even taking a few classes on how to speak Italian. When Edie started school, I left the wine bar for a more traditional job, because by this point, it was hard to close a bar on Friday nights and then be up a few hours later on the soccer field.
There is a particular characteristic that runs through my family, where we mangle any language we can get our mouths around. It’s almost an art form. Consequently, there are many words I mispronounce. In addition to this (or maybe because of this), I somehow seem to be almost unable to pull off using anything past a five cent vocabulary word in conversation in any sort of credible fashion. Whenever I would attempt any sort of ‘wine speak’ my family and friends were pretty much in hysterics. Worse, my customers at the wine bar often let me know I wasn’t pulling it off either. Nothing like a complete stranger telling you how you sound like an idiot. So, I tend to describe wine and food quite simply. If I went anything past ‘dry’ or ‘fruity’, I would get strange looks from people. I vaguely pull off using oenophile when I write, but I have no idea how to begin pronouncing it to use it in conversation. When I took Italian lessons, my then 4 year old did a better job of grasping it than I did. And that kid has clearly most definitely inherited the family gene for language fail.
Despite this though, it was decided that perhaps I could be a fresh voice writing about wine – that I could make it more accessible, since I most decidedly do not pull off wine speak. I might not be able to speak about it in lofty terms, but I do know my wine. After people stop laughing at my inability to use language, they are always slightly amazed to learn how much I really do understand about wine. I love a big red, I love a nice dry white, I love a rose, I love fruity, and lately, I find myself strangely embracing Chardonnay after hating it for so many years. Really, I’ll try anything once and usually I can find something to like about it. I am on a constant search for the best bottle of wine under $10. Surprisingly enough, right now my favorite wine is a ‘grocery’ store brand, often on sale for around $5. I dismissed it for the longest time, simply because it was overly available and cheap. Often times, that is a red flag for a lesser quality wine. I gave into my curiosity one day though and was pleasantly surprised. This doesn’t always happen and I do sometimes regret those $5, but I have also regretted that $10 or that $15. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that wine doesn’t have to be expensive to be good.