Don Corleone: I like to drink wine more than I used to... Anyway, I'm drinking more.
Michael: It's good for you, Pop.
The Godfather (1972)
I like wine. I don't know much about it.
And I don't have a very refined sense of taste or smell.
By nature I am not a picky eater, and as a result I can consume just about anything. I have my preferences (I will never be the first person to suggest going out for Mexican food) and have grown to appreciate the quality of food and ingredients over time, but pretty much if you drop it in front of me, and it doesn't contain lima beans, I'll eat it. So while I am culinarily adventurous, I am probably not hard-wired for a subtle discriminating palate.
Also, about 10 years ago I developed seasonal allergies (which, I learned, one can develop for the first time at any time in their life, due to some sort of elaborate pollen rotation schedule). Nothing debilitating, but as a result I rarely have two nostrils fully functioning at any given time, so my sense of smell and taste are not acute. I think this is why I have steadily developed a love for bolder and hotter flavors over the last 10 years.
Also as I approached, and then entered, middle age I found that wine agreed with me more and more -- the way it complimented food, its mysterious buzz that supported conviviality and conversation, and the way it aided, rather than fought, digestion.
I still love a vodka martini (I think if the Buddha had tried a well made Grey Goose Martini with three olives under the bodhi tree he might never have invented meditation), and a spicy, fragrant weissbier in the summer, but wine has moved front and center as my libation of choice.
So where to start my journey into wine....
I am a bookworm, so often my first response to wanting to know more about something is to buy a book about it. I picked up a book called "The Wine Bible" by Karen Mac Neil, a director of the wine program at the CIA... the Culinary Institute of America, not the spy agency (at least, as far as I know...).
But books, much as I love them, aren't enough for me.
I am a lawyer by training ( I gave up practicing law just about nine years ago in favor of the business world), with an undergraduate degree in philosophy. So this means, not only by temperament, but by education, I look at the world I live in as a sea of untested and unchallenged assumptions. Also, I get great pleasure out of challenging those assumptions and vigorously discussing them with whoever is willing (or at least is polite enough to feign willingness for a few moments).
The result of this skepticism is that I put a highest value on my own actual lived experience (the only thing, really, that we can ever be somewhat sure of...) and, as a close second supported by a leap of faith, what others tell me about their own actual lived experience.
So to educate myself, about a month ago I "crowd sourced" via Facebook, and asked my friends to help me explore wine on a middle class budget, and asked for their suggestions for their favorite wine under $25. And many people generously obliged.
My first pick from the list was Justin Paso Robles Cabernet. I picked it first because it was recommended by a college friend of mine, Larry S. He has great joie de vivre and could always see the best in everything. While sales and marketing is Larry's trade, he has the soul of an artist ( he is also a talented painter) and has a passionate devotion to wine.
Paso Robles is a region about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles (I didn't realize it was a wine region - I thought it was the brand!). Its an area with chilly nights and long, dry hot days. ( I recalled from the movie Chinatown that Southern California is mostly a desert with a lot of water pumped in from the outside). Apparently, this weather is perfect for growing and ripening Cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and syrah grapes.
When I first tasted the Justin Cab I had left the bottle in the trunk of my car during a chilly day, and even after the trip from trunk to glass it had a nice even coolness that allowed it to warm up in my mouth. As it did, for the first time I understood what a "hint of blackberry and cherry" meant. I'm not sure if it was the cool temperature or the fact that I took a less than gulping sip like I usually do.
Recalling the adage from Michael Pollan's Food Rules that "The banquet is in the first bite", I briefly lamented that the second sip would not be the same as the first. I quickly went through the mourning process, reach "acceptance", and I held off until my dinner was ready - spaghetti tossed in a fresh tomato, thyme and garlic oil-infused sauce (poach and mash the tomatoes yourself -- messy but so worth it). The Justin Cab perfectly balanced the sauce and the umami from the Parmesan cheese was both complemented and cleanly dissolved by each sip.
Thanks to Larry for the recommendation and his help to knock a few chips out of my wooden palate.
Stay tuned for future posts as I work my way through the list!
I was congratulating myself for the clever title "I Drink Therefore I Am" when I found out that British philosopher Roger Scruton had a wine column in the UK based Guardian, and a book of essays on wine, of the same name. Regardless, I will continue to use the title for my wine blogs unless or until I hear from Mr Scruton's solicitor...