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Jun 12, 2010 09:45 PM

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."