Wine. It has become an occasionally overwhelming love. I can think of specific bottles of wine that have been part of memorable events in my life.
Remember the first time you tasted wine? I was little, probably at synagogue for some holiday or other. Probably Passover. Those mini-Dixie cups with their thimblefuls of Manischevitz Concord Grape...so sweet it made your teeth hurt. But it was part of the community. It was OK for a kid to taste the wine, and the adults would laugh at the reaction.
So that was my first wine. Years later, Vivian and I would get her sister Irene to buy a bottle of red wine - don't remember what kind - and we would repackage it into a juice bottle (decanting!) and take it with us to the Renaissance Faire. That wine, paired with a bucket of KFC, would be our picnic lunch under the oaks in Agoura. Sometimes, Vivian would be able to buy a couple of bottles of mead - honey wine. She never got carded. I always did.
When I married Jeff and moved to Pennsylvania, it was the early 1970's, and we would buy Taylor Lake Country Red. Sold in attractive jugs. Actually, the Taylor bottles were shaped differently from the usual jugs, but jug wine it was! Sometime around 1975, we threw a party and I made a Sangria using the Taylor red and a lot of fruit. I didn't want the wine to get watered down, so I made ice cubes from the wine. It takes a bit longer to freeze wine, as the alcohol slows it down, but you can do it! My guests were so drunk; it was pretty funny. No one realized that the ice cubes weren't water. All that wine and all that fruit. It was a pretty good party.
Jeff and I split up a few years later, and I started experimenting with other wines. It was challenging in PA - the State Stores where you had to buy liquor were staffed with clerks who didn't know anything about what they were selling. Plus, I think they weren't allowed to recommend, even if they did know. So I would look at labels, and if one struck my fancy, I'd buy it. Had some nice surprises.
Then I became friends with Walt Bender, who was working as a State Store manager. He seemed to know a bit about wine. He certainly knew more than I did. And for my 28th or 29th birthday, he brought me a bottle of Chianti Classico Ruffino Riserva. I don't know what vintage it was. I just know that it was different from any wine I had ever had before. And it was expensive - around $10/bottle. That was big bucks around 1980. Remember, even the bottle of Chateau Montelena that beat the French in 1976 was only around $7 or $8. It was the beginning for me.
When JD and I got together in the late '80's we had so many things in common, it was actually kind of strange. But one thing we shared was a love of red wine and difficulty breathing after drinking some. Asthma - it kind of got in the way of our enjoyment. My nephew, Chris, who are that time was under the drinking age, but who grew up in Carmel - wine country! - came to town. My mom and Chris and JD and I had dinner at the Smoke House and Chris picked the wine. It was a Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon, probably a 1987 or '88 vintage. It was wonderful. And I don't remember having any breathing problems after.
A few weeks later, JD and I were at the Market City Caffe in Burbank, and they were offering a Clos du Val Merlot for $27.50 - which was more than I had EVER paid for a bottle of wine. But I remembered the Clos du Val from the Smoke House, so we gave it a try. That bottle was life-changing. Wish I remembered what vintage it was! We went back a few weeks later and had another bottle. Again, it was remarkable.
So later that year - I think maybe 1991 or 1992 - when we went north for another Renaissance Faire, we made the pilgrimage to Napa and Clos du Val. This created another milestone moment for us. We spent $100 on 4 bottles of wine. Whew! On the way home, we stopped in a little jewel of town called Cambria, where we entered the Cambria Wine Shop - then known as 927-WINE (they've changed the number, BTW) - and met Calvin, who introduced us to a different Merlot - La Playa from Chile. It was darn good, and only $6.95/bottle! And so began our actual education about wine.
More in tomorrow's post. Thanks for reading.