Getting Into Wine

I did not get “into wine” very early. When I drove through Napa and Sonoma Valleys in 1971 on my way to my sister Terry’s 21st birthday, we stopped off at Louis Martini, Robert Mondavi, and Sebastiani. We liked the Sebastiani Green Hungarian wine most of all.

In the mid 1970’s, I tried to get my local wine retailer (Of Grape and Grain, in Eugene, Oregon, still a great place to find wine) to set me up with a progression of red wines to try, figuring that wine would be an interesting domain to master. I hated all of them! Of course, at that time, my idea of a good wine was Annie Greensprings Apple wine.

An event happened in 1982 that changed my wine path. I did a 10 day project consulting gig in Monte Carlo, and every night, after each long workday, I explored a different wine from the Hotel menu. I didn’t know anything about any of them; they were all French, all red, all started with a B. Some were good, some so-so, and some not very good (for my tastes).

When I finished my consulting assignment, my client gave me a little book, engraved with the company’s name. It was Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book. That last night I went through the restaurant wine list, comparing the wines I’d tasted to what Johnson said about them. Turns out that I preferred the off-dry, mild Beaujolais, then some of the lesser Burgundies, and least of all the Bordeaux.

After this trip I began a systematic search for wines of different strengths and types; I moved from Beaujolais to Barbera and Dolcetto; to Rioja’s, to Cab Franc. I discovered California Zin, something I’ve stuck with ever since. I’ve tasted Merlots that were made in Heaven, or Washington. I moved through a Big Cal Cab stage, and tried Bordeaux again; to my surprise, it tasted bland! Of course, since then I’ve had well-aged, really decent Bordeaux.

We went to France, exploring Dijon and the Burgundy region, to no avail; that is one wine I still do not understand–although I grew up with the Oregon Pinot Noir emergence. We went to Italy to explore Brunello (Tuscany) and Barbara, Barbaresco and Barolo (Piemonte). Gee, more “B-word” wines! We’ve been all over Australia, and especially love Western and South Australia reds. Today, I’m pretty stuck on big reds: Shiraz, Syrah, Brunello, and an occasional Malbec from Argentina.

When someone asks you for a wine recommendation, find out what they like first, rather than just telling them what you prefer. One of the great things about wine is that there are many different styles, varieties, strengths, and price-ranges. Any wine that someone likes is a good wine. My adventures in wine might have ended had I not gotten beyond that sampling in the mid-70’s, with my accidental Monte Carlo wine tasting event.