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What got you "into" wine?

While some of us have sommelier parents, I think many "wine people" stumbled upon their love of the vino accidentally- my mom drinks Arbor Mist so she was definitely NOT influential in my love of wine. I personally attribute one random encounter at a work-related dinner party during which I was exposed to "good" wine paired with a very decent meal- until that time all of my memories of wine revolved around the horrific headaches suffered during college after drinking too much cheap chardonnay (Toasted Head, anyone? I still can't stomach it...) That was sort of the "kickoff" of my love for wine and, although I do NOT have a sophisticated pallet my any means, I'm glad to say that I know enough to navigate a menu.

So what inspired you to have an interest in wine?

This question/thread is inspired by dinner with my friends last night where many of them marveled at my "knowledge" of wine and asked how I "learned" so much. They all seem very intimidated and have therefor always stuck to house red/white or beer... hopefully some of your stores will help me to expand their horizons!

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  1. Wine is not at all intimidating -- or at least, shouldn't be -- yet I fear my response will do you no good . . .

    I had an uncle who was a navigator on B-24s during World War II, and while in the UK, discovered a love of wine, as opposed to "warm English beer" and whisky (he always preferred Bourbon in that regard). Upon his return to Southern California, he opened a "wine store," rather than your typical "liquor store" of the late-1940s and 1950s. He certainly carried a variety of beers and distillates, but wine was his passion, and he soon developed a rock-solid, and indeed, international reputation in the wine world.

    For Thanksgiving 1963 (I was 10), he had a huge dinner party, and when it came time or dessert, he opened five (5) bottles of wine to accompany it. The wine was a 1937er Erbacher Marcobunn Trockenbeerenauslese from Weingut Langwerth von Simmern -- OK, I'll grant you, German wines can still be intimidating! -- and he let me taste it . . .

    I was confused. On the one hand, I remember that this 26-year old wine was the most delicious thing I ever tasted, "a combination of raisins and walnuts" was what I thought at the time, and I remember wondering why we couldn't have this on Friday nights instead of that gawd-awful Manischevitz stuff. On the other, since there was this very official-looking German eagle on the label . . . .

    So I asked my uncle what this wine was, and why it was so good . . . I mean, after all, there obvious was something to this "wine stuff." He explained it to me, and when I was 13, he gave me a two wine books for my birthday. When I was 16, I started working for him as a delivery boy, but by 18 I was being sent up to Napa on buying trips, tasting out of barrels, meeting winemakers and the like.

    I spent the rest of my life in the wine trade -- working for wineries, for retailers, for wholesalers, importers . . . . it's been great!


    1 Reply
    1. re: zin1953

      That's incredible, Jason. 5 bottles of 37 TBA? You must have had some great encounters with those later on; most of the great German collections we come across have been out of northern California.

      For me, I was into food and starting to get into wine, and had the good luck to be working on Wall St. with a couple of ultra-serious collectors. One of them put together a fancy mixed case for me, and while I don't remember all of them, I was totally blown away by '70 Unico, '89 Clos Ste. Hune and Margaux '83. Trying to chase down those experiences got me going to a ton of tastings, buying at auction, and, eventually, going into the trade.

    2. 2 glasses of unknown champagne with a fruits de mer platter and a side of french fries at Balthazar, with a dear friend, after law school exams, at 11am on a weekday.

      It was the first time I had tasted a real champagne, and the first time I learned how wine can enhance a meal; the buzz is just a bonus.

      1. Hard to be certain, but I know the more intense interest began with our first visit to Napa in the late 60's. Before that it was Mateus, or those 3' tall straw-wrapped bottles they sold at a chain here called The Akron. Lucky for us we live in California (in the Bay area for a while) and have always had relatives in the vicinity of Napa, Sonoma and the Santa Cruz area. Central Coast is only a few hours from where we live now.

        In those days there were only a handful of wineries the public could visit in Napa. As the years went by, and budgets improved, we became more interested in small wineries and broadened our tastes for different varieties. The only negative of living here was that, as West Coasters, we never really developed a similar familiarity with Old World wines...............something I will always regret.

        After a 30 year detour in business I was finally able to open a wine shop in 2005. The timing was good for a short while, then all hell broke loose. Today the love is still there, but the budget has changed drastically. The only thing bad about that is that my palate became rather spoiled and re-calibrating it to today's reality is difficult, though a really fun challenge.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Midlife

          Yes, there were the Mateus and Lancer's days and nights, plus some of the "usual suspects" of the day, but I cannot claim that that was my "start." That came several years later, but then in a very big way.


        2. Working at great casual restaurant in the late 80s, kind of a Cal-Ital Spago-type place with salads, pizzas and pasta. The wine by the glass program was innovative and the owner encouraged us to taste everything. It was what led to my first trip to Napa and love of those luscious cabs. Even though I graduated from business school, I gave up on office work and later became both a chef and certified sommelier. BTW, the owner of that restaurant sold out to his partner, opened a wine store and we're still good friends to this day. I have a 220-bottle vintage keeper unit at home, stocked mostly with wines from our travels to California and here in Ontario.

          1. Studying abroad in Argentina for a semester. I had always wanted to learn about wine, but I had never really had the time or been in the right place. In Argentina, though, not only did I have plenty of time, since my studies were so easy, but Mendoza (the primary wine-producing area) was half a day away. I took the chance, learning by visiting about 15 wineries or so. Best of all, because it was in Argentina, everything was so cheap that I was getting to try even the very best wines in the country for next to nothing (even free at times). Within a week, I had tasted over 100 Argentine wines and knew my way around all the major wineries. The rest is history

            I've always been of the mind that the best way to learn is through experience, but with something like wine it's unfortunately prohibitively expensive. I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time I guess.

            That passion has led me actually to become a food and wine blogger, and now I make it a business to go wine-tasting.

            1 Reply
            1. re: The Food Buster

              The Andre Champagne commercial from the 70s. "For the holidays and all year long."

            2. Although I grew up drinking wine at my Italian momma's table, I didn't really appreciate it until I was older. About 15 years ago, when we bought the home we now live in, there was a wine shop around the corner (less than a mile). I stopped in often, and the proprietor, Doug, shared his passion for wine with me. He would guide me towards "better" (but not usually more expensive) selections, and he often poured tastes of good wine for me to try. I remember the first time he asked if I'd like to try zinfandel, and I said I didn't like sweet wine. He explained I was thinking of white zin, and that "real" zin was a different animal. Doug was the epitome of a great wine merchant; he gently expanded horizons without ever denigrating the customer; he steered folks toward better selections, even when the better wine cost less than the wine the customer was initially considering. He remembered the palate preferences of his customers, and suggested wines he thought they'd enjoy, and in my case at least, he was NEVER wrong! When he sold the shop, I followed him to his new place of employment (as wine buyer for a large wine store in the area), even though it was much farther from my home. Eventually our relationship evolved to the point that my friends would ask Doug what wine to buy me for a present or to bring to a dinner at our place, and I always received those gifts with joy.

              A short while after Doug started me down the wine road, I began reading on-line wine boards, and started a local wine tasting group. Friends started buying me wine books instead of cookbooks, and travel now often involves wine tasting in different regions. I often tell folks the best way to learn about wine is to taste it, and I'm lucky enough to live in a town that hosts multiple wine-tasting venues on almost every day of the week. Sadly, Doug passed away (much too young) about 18 months ago, but his legacy lives on...

              2 Replies
              1. re: Niki in Dayton

                Niki, I just found this thread but your's is a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.

              2. First off, Hello Niki in Dayton. It's literally been years...

                Okay, now to the OP's question.. . I attended graduate school at Miami University. There was a course in the Geography department (not my field) titled "Geography of Wines." A fellow student and I decided to audit the class solely for the reason that it was a night class, and each class ended with wine tasting. Yep, we did it for the free buzz.

                But I found myself really taking to the topic and becoming interested in it. This was 1983, and I sure miss the prices for really good stuff way back then.

                Shortly after graduate school, I spent a month in Champagne. Never looked back after that.

                5 Replies
                1. re: Brad Ballinger

                  I remember buying some of the best Napa wines back in the '70's and they were something like $6 or $7 a bottle. But then, I bought a brand new '72 Nissan coupe for $1800 out the door with everything they could put on it. Today a new entry level Versa would go for what? $10,000? The first 240Z was in the same showroom, but $3600 was way too much to pay.

                  Times they have changed.

                  1. re: Midlife

                    1970 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines were released while Fair Trade was still the law in the State of California, meaning that the minimum retail price had to be posted with the state's Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). Here are some of the prices:

                    1970 Beaulieu Vineyard "regular" = $6.00
                    1970 Beaulieu Vineyard "George de Latour" = $8.00*
                    1970 Charles Krug "regular" = $4.50
                    1970 Charles Krug "Vintage Selection" = $6.00 (maybe $6.50?)
                    1970 Heitz Cellars "regular" = $8.00
                    1970 Heitz Cellars "Martha's Vineyard" = $15.00
                    1970 Louis Martini "regular" = $3.50
                    1970 Louis Martini "Special Selection" = $6.00
                    1970 Robert Mondavi "regular" = $6.00
                    1970 Robert Mondavi "Unfined" = $15.00

                    Also available at the time, FWIW, 1966 Moët & Chandon "Cuvée Dom Pérignon" sold for $18.10, and 1966 Taittinger "Comtes de Champagne" was $19.20.


                  2. re: Brad Ballinger

                    Interesting introduction. A good friend was in Med School, a bit before that time. His room mate was into wines, and introduced him to Ch. Petrus. He bought cases at US$8 to $12/btl., which was outlandish to him. Now, he owns about 40 cases of Ch. Petrus from the early '60s through the '80s. Unfortunately, he is afraid to drink them, as they are his grand kid's legacy. Still, he spent every dime on great wines, and has no regrets now.

                    When we first met, he took me to his modestly-sized cellar. After entering, and when my eyes adjusted to the dim light, my jaw dropped to the floor, at what was surrounding me. I only hope that he remembers me in his will... [Grin]


                    1. re: Brad Ballinger

                      Hey Brad, good to "see" you! It's been a long time since the old Wine Lover's Discussion days ;-) We've been talking about a visit to Champagne; we wanted to go this year for our 20th anniversary, but at the time we were planning it the Euro was too high and now that it's dropped, I don't have the vacation time. Hopefully next year! Were you working or vacationing in Champagne for that month?

                      1. re: Niki in Dayton

                        Niki, it was a vacation. But I worked plenty helping to restore an old church. If/When you visit there, you will love it. Lots of tiny towns.

                    2. Being raised Asian American which has no (grape) wine drinking in its culture, I didn't start until I was 19 or so. Yes illegal. hah.

                      My "magic" bottle was a 1998 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir at a nice restaurant with my girlfriend at the time. Good food, great funny waiter. A great evening.

                      I think a lot of good memories of wine are related to dining/events/good feelings. Wine tastes good alone, but somehow gets magnified with food and good company.

                      1. My family was into Mogen David, so I was not exposed to very good, to great wines, until later in life. I grew up doing more rum, than wine.

                        My wife got into "better wines" early on, and tried to entice me, but her tasting groups were not doing anything that did it for me.

                        Later on, we had two great friends, and the wife was very much into wines, and at a high level. We dined with them, and she introduced me to Vintage Port. Next, she introduced me to a wonderful Pomerol Merlot, and the rest, as they say, is history.

                        My wife claims that she created Dr. Frankenstein's monster, and soon I had both a major collection of Vintage Ports, and I built a 3700 btl. wine cellar. It now is stuffed to the max with over 5000 btls, and I cannot seem to drink them quickly enough.

                        Some years later, I picked up a little book, "The Great Wines of the World," and discovered that we had sampled about one-half of the wines in that book.

                        Now, I spend most of my time trying to come up with ultimate pairings for my wife's wonderful cuisine.


                        1. It was a gay Catholic priest. I was interviewing him for a feature article in a magazine. He turned off the recorder and looked at me with his crazy drunken eyes and told me he wanted to photograph me in a c*ck ring.

                          I was so dumbfounded -- and he so embarrassed that he had guessed wrong about me -- that he went to the kitchen and opened up a bottle of 1988 Columbia Crest Merlot and poured two glasses.

                          I hated dry wine, and red to boot. But in that strange situation, I focused intently on the wine while I tried to regain composure...and damn...it was really good.

                          Have been a wineofile ever since.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: kaysyrahsyrah

                            So, you ended up drinking booze with a guy who just tried to seduce you. Good work.

                            1. re: kaysyrahsyrah

                              Ahhh................ CH is home to people of such varied histories. What a boring life I've led.

                              1. re: kaysyrahsyrah

                                That is without a doubt, the most disturbing post I have ever read on CH............

                                1. re: TonyO

                                  Talk about being handed a lemon, and making lemonade...or, er, something like that!

                              2. When I was 19 (1972) I spend a semester in Copenhagen. One of the professors was a reknowned newscaster and would invite his best students (which thankfully I was one) to dinner at his house on occasion . We got to dine with all kinds of interesting people from newsfolks to ambasadors. He served great meals and always opened 2nd and 3rd growth Bordeaux from the 50's. I didn't know anything about wine, but these were certainly good. When I got back to CA I decided to learn more about wine but was under age and poor. Years later, when I could afford it, I started paying more attention to wine and got hooked.

                                1. It was an old boyfriend of mine and his father that inspired my interest in wine at the age of 22. Now it is travelling, food and wine tours and meeting amazing people that continue to inspire and pique my interest!

                                  1. I worked at a BYOB restaurant in Chicago about 5 years ago during college. At the time, the extent of my wine knowledge was which white my friends and I could buy cheapest (answer: no name Pinot Grigio at Dominick's - blech!) Anyway, a fellow employee took me under his wing wine-wise, so to speak, and I sort of learned what to look for. Now, I pretty much exclusively drink red (Malbec, in particular). Also, I live reasonably close to quite a few vineyards in Northern Illinois (shocking, I know). There are also a number of specialty stores and restaurants in the area that hold tastings often, and I learn a lot at those.

                                    1. I guess I would have to blame Esquire magazine for wine. I was strictly a beer drinker and discovering the budding microbrews of the NW and I read an article on Cote de Rhone. A little later on I stumbled on a 1982 Cote de Rhone I bought it because I remembered that it was supposed to be good and it wasn't outrageously expensive. I think it was 6 or 7 dollars in the mid 80s. It was the bottle of wine the opened by eyes to wine as something that I might actually enjoy drinking. From my memory of the label it might have been an E. Guigal or something with a similar label but it was much better the Gallo Hearty Burgundy my grandfather drank or the sips of Blue Nun I had had.

                                      I also remember liking Fortant de France back in the 80s but I tried a bottle more recently and it was not as good as my memory of the old bottles back in my youth.

                                      I blame Cote du Rhone.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: seattleviking

                                        In Berkeley in the late 70's we'd hang out and have International Beer Drinking parties, but wine wasn't really a big deal. Later on (mid-80's?), my best friend Dominic (yes he was Italian) took me on a getaway to Amador Co. for my birthday where we tasted some good stuff and even brought a few bottles home.
                                        My interest in wine remained casual until I attended an "Alternative Whites" tasting at
                                        K & L in SF in 2008 (?). Those wines, especially the Kerner just totally blew away my palate and woke me up to what I'd been missing. I started reading everything I could get my hands on as well as going to my local Wine Bar and tasting lots of different wines. (Thanks Karen!) My job also did tastings and I got more involved in that as well as taking over writing one of the Wine orders a few months ago.
                                        Once my husband finishes school and/or gets a job, my goal is to move into a position where wine is my main focus, either a larger Tasting Room or Retail.
                                        At that point I won't have to care about how much I make, I can do it because I love it.

                                        1. re: invinotheresverde

                                          I got to know a young woman in college who had spent the previous summer traveling in France and Spain. She is now my wife of 45 years. Before then wine was just CA crap, she introduced me to Boujalais and the rest is history. It is ironic that now she mostly drinks Pinot Gris. I used to drink a lot of Riesling, Now I have progressed from Cab Sav through Pinot Noir to Italian and Rhone reds.

                                          1. re: dgris

                                            if you view CA as "crap", I wonder what you have been drinking...................

                                        2. I grew up in Iowa where "wine" was concord grape stuff somehow fortified, then mixed w/ 7-up. Even for an incipient alcoholic, this was gag-me stuff. There was one exception--a remarkable beet wine, but it was so exceptional as to scarcely merit mention. When I was a sophomore in college, my half-brothers, 10 and 11 years older than I, introduced me to a riesling (no idea what label or region, but I suspect it was schwartze katz); it was love at first taste. (By the way, that beet wine was amazing, and I still remember the recipe--more or less--if you're interested.)

                                          3 Replies
                                            1. re: OCEllen

                                              Well, yes, at first it sounds a little strange--but think about it: it's got great color, major flavor (if somewhat unusual for wine), huge sugar. Why not? Of course, I would never have believed it if I hadn't tasted it, but it was very very good. Interestingly enough, it had not of the husky beet flavor.

                                              1. re: Masonville

                                                I'd love to have the recipe! If only just to experiment, I'd like to try making some!

                                          1. My husband was transferred to northern California 16 years ago. We thought we might only be here a year or 2 so we decided to see and do everything that the state had to offer during our short tenure. We live near the Livermore Valley and joined a few wine clubs and also made several trips to Napa and Sonoma.

                                            Well 16 years later we are still here having fallen in love with the area as well as with wine. Now I do not consider myself an expert by any means but I do know what I like and I can order from a wine list without fear of embarrassment. Wine tasting is now an event we look forward 4-5 times a year and we have a great time seeking out new wineries.

                                            This is saying something seeing as I drank Boones Farm in high school and white zin was fabulous when we lived in DC. Now if white zin is the only option, I have a beer!

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: baseballfan

                                              I used to buy Boones Farm for dates. There is no telling how many sommeliers I may have started on the right road...

                                              1. re: Joe H

                                                Lol! We all had to start somewhere!

                                            2. Some former co-worker's of mine had created a wine and cheese group and one of their meetings happened to coincide with a bbq at one of their houses so they invited everyone to join in. I think the theme was Spanish wine. I was completely enthralled with the discussion and after the event I asked if I could join their group. They welcomed me and my sister into the group and my wine world expanded exponentially.

                                              It is now going on 8 years since I joined and the group has changed a lot since its inception. It is essentially a gourmet group now and for most members it is about the food. For me it is about pairing with the food. My sister creates the food and I choose the wine that will hopefully make the food come alive.

                                              I was intimidated by wine at first until I realized that wine as with many other things like art is subjective. Liking the $9 bottle of wine does not mean you do not know good wine. One of the first things I learned was that a wines price does not automatically mean you will like it. Also I feel that once you get above $30 the improvement as you go higher in price is often negligible.

                                              Now every year for my birthday I go to a local wine shop browse the shelves for unique bottles that I want to try and every month on the 12th we open one of those bottles, and not all of these bottles are expensive.

                                              The best way to expand your wine horizon is to drink lots of wine.

                                              1. my love of food and my burgeoning culinary prowess. the more i explored, cooked, tasted, the more i learned about wine. the chemistry and art of it and how it could make or break a meal. wine, like food, is one of the most crystalized examples of art meeting science. a farmer plants these vines in the soil and prays for good weather and does his/her best to ward off pests, diseases and prune it back. and then makes juice and hopes that in time, it becomes something completely different and worth savoring. it's a drinkable time capsule. a year in a bottle.

                                                1. I got into wine during one of my summers home from univ when I drove past a new Robert Mondavi hospitality center that had recently opened up in Costa Mesa, southern CA. I stopped by because the building looked really interesting and I was scouting possible wedding locations for my friend (yes they did use the Mondavi center) and the lady there was nice enough to let me taste some wines, including their Moscato d'Oro which I immediately fell in love with.

                                                  I got into collecting wine when I scored a half case of 1996 Chateau Ducru-Beacaillou for the ridiculous price of $70 a bottle while in grad school. A local wineshop was renovating and clearing out inventory, including their old & fine wines.

                                                  1. I drank wines socially but I started to really enjoy wine after tasting a really great glass of wine at one of the top restaurants in NYC years ago. I was still a college student and paying $14 for a glass of wine seemed crazy at that time but I got hooked into this expensive habit since then. I believe it was pinot noir from New Zealand.

                                                    1. I was 8 days old and was given wine to drink for my brit milah.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: RicRios

                                                        Ah. Cutting a capsule to mark cutting a capsule, as it were.

                                                        1. re: carswell

                                                          Yeah. Screw caps are a much later invention.

                                                      2. a glass of Gigondas and to this day (many years later) it remains a favorite...

                                                        1. My interest in wine began with a bong filled with Boone's Farm Wild Strawberry...needless to say it left a terrible taste and residual headache to boot. Thankfully, I have learned a few things along the way!
                                                          On a vacation in 2003 I went on a trip through the California Redwoods and along the drive stopped at a little winery called Riverbend Cellars. I tried a few different wines, and found one to be my favorite and bought a few bottles for my table, as well as for gifts to friends in hopes to open their minds to wines. My favorite was Riverbend's Coquette, a white table wine. I loved it and recommend it. If anyone has not been through the Redwoods, then I recommend a ride there as well.

                                                          1. My folks were drinkers of that big box of sorrows, Franzia "Chillable Red." My dad used to drink it out of a giant plastic cup with ice while changing the oil or fixing the sink. Oh yeah, I'm not kidding. Being from an Irish-American family, I saw a lot more beer, whiskey and Baileys than I did wine growing up. I pretty much followed in their footsteps in college and my early 20's with "the box," as well as some other stuff we called "2 buck chuck."

                                                            I REALLY starting "getting into wine" when I was working as a server for a local upscale "old school" steakhouse while I was getting my masters. That was the "beginning" of my wine education (thought admittedly it was pretty NW-centric), and I've been off to the races ever since.

                                                            3 Replies
                                                            1. re: kcadams1980

                                                              We jokingly pronounce it shillAHble. :)

                                                              1. re: mrsfury

                                                                That's a good one! We've also referred to it as "Bag-O," but of course only if it comes out of the box! Nasty stuff....

                                                                1. re: kcadams1980

                                                                  Thats funny! My friends and I used to buy boxes of wine to break open and play a game called 'slap the bag.' Really pointless game--no winners of losers but it was always fun just to pass around a bag full of wine and slap it until it was gone.