I wish that I had a romantic story about how I came to love wine. I wish I could say wine was an integral part of my childhood and that my parents insisted my brother and I have a splash of wine at Sunday dinner. I’d like to be able to tell stories about summers in the south of France, eating baguettes and cheese and drinking wine. Wouldn’t it be nice if I had a little anecdote about an uncle who loved wine and opened something special on my 18th birthday? I wish that early in my wine-drinking career I tasted a baller wine from a baller vintage and had a life changing, transcendent experience that made me an oenophile: A 1961 Château Latour; a 1978 La Tâche; I would even settle for a bottle of 1990 Krug. Alas, my love of wine started with a warm bottle of Chardonnay in a poorly lit dorm room.
I first tasted wine when I was 15 or 16 years old. My father, much to my mother’s dismay, gave me a taste of some red wine. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what it was. Knowing my father’s wine buying habits at the time (I have a weird memory), it was probably Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel. I don’t know the vintage, and I certainly couldn’t give you any tasting notes. I really have no memory of how I felt about it. Since I don’t have a negative memory associated with the taste, I assume I didn’t hate it.
Then in the summer of 2005 I went to work for Jason, now a dear friend, at a fine wine shop in a Minneapolis suburb. I had no experience with wine, beer, or spirits, so I was pretty much good for moving boxes. I heard Jason talk about wine a lot, but I was 19 and obviously not drinking wine on my time off (my parents would not have gone for that). However, listening to Jason piqued my interested in wine. It seemed like a big, broad, tasty subject that had no end to it. Vines, vineyards, rocks, producers, hills, rivers, history, and so much more were all suddenly brought to my attention. I thought that there might be something to this wine business.
My next memorable experience with wine was when I was living in London. It seems like it could have been a golden opportunity to fall in love with wine and taste a bunch of classic styles, and I did drink a little wine while I was there. But most of my time was spent with pints of Carling instead (SORRY MOM!).
One night the following autumn, back at school in the states, I decided to drink some wine that I had sitting around from the previous year. I imagine that while I was gone it was not kept in ideal conditions. In hindsight, I’m amazed that it wasn’t ruined. It was a bottle of 2004 – maybe? – Smoking Loon Chardonnay. It was warm. To this day, I still don’t know why I didn’t put it in the fridge, but I at least had the good sense to serve it in a wine glass. I sat there on a big fluffy armchair in my dorm room, alone, drinking a warm, cheap Chardonnay. The moment I tasted it I had two thoughts: First, “This isn’t bad,” and second, “Peaches.” All of a sudden, things fell into place. I could taste peaches and wood. I almost jumped up and down. I was so excited that I had discovered something so new and cool! I realize what I was tasting were the broad strokes – cheap Chardonnay is not known for its subtlety. But it was a start. This was the moment that wine became something in my life. This was the moment that started me down an entirely new path. One sip of warm Chardonnay and I was hooked.