Wine Country Chronicles: The Shyness of Taste

Most of us have heard about the infamous tasting of 1976, where French and California wines were tasted blind by a panel of snobby French judges in Paris. The California wines rocked the house, much to everyone's surprise. They've made movies and written books all about it. If you haven't yet heard this fascinating tale, read the original Time article here Needless to say, I thought it would be fun to kick off my informally-formalized independent wine education with a mini-tasting here in the house. With Chris otherwise engaged preparing us dinner, I started off with two whites I had picked up at Cost Plus that morning. From France I had the Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuisse, a white burgundy. And my representative for California chardonnay was a Gundlach Bundschu from Sonoma. Both wines were from the 2007 vintage. I opened them up, gave myself some generous pours, and set about to write what I thought of them.

All of a sudden, I felt strangely nervous. Who do I think I am, that I can just presume to open some wines I know nothing about and then write what I think of them? What if I think it tastes like something that's not really there? What if I don't notice something about the wine that is painfully obvious to everyone else?

Why this sudden reticence? I'm certainly not one to shy away from speaking my mind, no matter what the subject. So it should be no different when it comes to my opinions about wine, right?

See, this is the funny thing about the wine world. It can be so intimidating to explore, with different people proclaiming opinions with an air of absolutism, magazines assigning points to "grade" wines and a plethora of different varietals and styles. Most of us simply don't have the knowledge, time, or money to be able to give ourselves a thorough education in all the dizzying aspects of the art of enjoying and understanding wine.

Plus, isn't the idea of taste subjective? I don't care for the taste of peanut butter, but it might be your favorite foodstuff in the pantry! Additionally, two people can like an identical dish but for different reasons. So, couldn't it be the same for our tastes in wine?

As our tastes vary, so shall our opinions. And if I think a wine tastes like hibiscus or seems flirty, that's just my way of expressing a personal opinion. There shouldn't be any reason to be shy about that.

Taking a deep breath, I sipped. Pen in hand, I boldly wrote my first impressions. The Pouilly-Fuisse was slightly sweet. It was crisp at first, then softened to something silky. It was pale. Light-colored. It had a fragrant perfume. And then came the chardonnay. It was so different! It was richer, golden-colored. It tasted like butter. It coated my mouth in a way totally unlike the French wine.

Excitedly, I sipped more. Chris jumped in, cautiously proffering his opinion as well. We were so taken with our new roles as wine critics that we forgot the whole tasting-in-moderation aspect of the wine tasting. Hm. I had planned on doing a red wine tasting that evening as well, but we polished off the last of the two bottles of white, I thought I might just postpone it for a day or two.

But we had so much fun! I liked writing about the wine -- it made me think about it more, and enjoy it even more than if I'd just absent-mindedly sipped it. Wine has always stimulated conversations, daydreams, pleasures, and friendships. Too often it can also stimulate depression, discord, and strife. I think the balance can be struck not just in moderation, but in always remembering to savor and enjoy the experience of drinking-- and feeling a little gratitude for the blessing that is wine.

Shyness simply cannot mix with unbridled enthusiasm. And so, I vowed that night to dispense with my hesitations and embrace this magical world of wine and words, sans fear.

Wine Country Chronicles: The Beginning

Living in busy, compact San Francisco, sometimes I forget that we've got the gorgeous sprawling wine country for a backyard. As a child, my parents always dragged me along to tastings, where of course I couldn't understand why they wanted to sip that vile stuff in dark cellars. And I've been up there as an adult for weddings, events, or on my way up to Oregon or the coast for vacation.  wine country hill2

And though I do love wine now, somehow its never occurred to me that I would actually enjoy wine tasting. So the wine country remained a far-off place in my mind -- something for tourists or people with suitcases full of money to spend on huge crates of Pinot Noir. 

But then the other night we were at Chris' parents house in the North Bay, and we tried some delicious wine that was a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery was in Sonoma County, and all their wines were apparently just fantastic. As Chris had some business to attend to in Santa Rosa, we thought it might be nice to drive the extra twenty minutes and cruise by this land of delightful grapes. 

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The resulting adventures have sparked yet another time, money, and imagination consuming passion of mine. This post marks the beginning of a series of posts about our experiences in Napa and Sonoma Counties and other wine country locales. There will be posts about biodynamic and sustainable wineries, local restaurants and shops, wine varietals, tastings, tours, bottling, and more. I hope to take you on the trip with us as we explore and learn more about wine and the lives of those who live among the grapes. Hopefully it will prove interesting, whether you are a certified oenological expert or a wine neophyte, or even if you're somewhere in the middle, like myself. And if you don't like reading about our adventures, well, at least we'll have enjoyed some good wine.