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When the Wine You Hate is the Wine You Love

I immigrated from the wine of my semi-misspent youth when I had a glass of “white wine” when dining out with friends in Philadelphia. My regular wine tipple up to that time had been the universal Boomers’ favorite, Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. This glass of white was not significant; it was a wine that had no particular character (looking back with today’s eyes), but I remember enjoying it because it came out of a bottle that had a cork and wasn’t cloyingly sweet.  It was a real wine, and I never drank the Strawberry Hill again. I don’t remember the friends, the restaurant, or the name of the wine, but I remember the moment.

Many years, a marriage, several children, and a divorce later, I was out on my own again, this time as a single mom.  I worked very hard to take care of my family; at one point, I worked the day job (the one with the benefits and pay), moonlighted as a bartender, and was attending the University.  I sometimes had textbooks on my bar well! When I was offered an opportunity to be a bar manager, I had the chance to seek out and discover different beers, spirits, and wines for the establishment.  As  the manager of a relatively new and vibrant nightclub, I was courted by different distributers, and carefully chose what was going to be served in an urban nightclub environment.  During one of those times I was given a glass of Chardonnay.  Unlike the white wine I had been sipping from time to time, this wine was a rich and luxurious experience, with nuanced fruit and an amazing character.  I don’t remember the distributor, the restaurant, or the name of the wine, but I remember the moment.

Several years passed, and although I was no longer a bar manager (two full-time jobs, three children, and schoolwork equaled “walking pneumonia” and a firm reprimand from my doctor), I still enjoyed the occasional glass of wine, although I hadn’t again found anything like that Chardonnay that opened my eyes to what could be possible.  My wine of choice was wine “spritzers,” a cocktail of the house white wine, club soda, and a twist of lime. Not very alcoholic, and it made the wine palatable. I would have the occasional wine cooler (remember Bartles & Jaymes commercials?) but never forgot the experience of a great white wine with the the distributor.

I was frustrated with my lack of career movement at the day job, and my best friend – who, coincidentally, now lives in Paso Robles – wanted to introduce me the Human Resources Career Counselor.  She had met him, and was very impressed with his professionalism, knowledge, and caring attitude.  It took a while, but I finally decided to talk to him.  My girlfriend went with me to my appointment, and when the time came, we walked into his office.

Whammo.

One look at the tall, burly, bearded man took my breath away.  I quickly recovered, and we sat down and talked career for about an hour.  When my girlfriend and I left, she looked at me and said, “well, I certainly felt like a fifth wheel.”

“What do you mean?”

“You remember the scene in The Godfather when Michael Corleone sees Appolonia for the first time? How his friends called it ‘the thunderbolt’?”

“Yeah? So?”

“Well, that’s what I saw there. You and him both. It’s like you two looked at each other and after that, I didn’t exist any more.”  She was laughing as she said it, chuckling with glee.

I was embarrassed, but she was correct.  In spite of it, the counselor and I cultivated a great platonic friendship which lasted for years.  Yeah, if you haven’t already guessed, it was The Wineaux Guy.  We were both in relationships, but we enjoyed each other’s company.  In fact, he’s the one who encouraged me to move to Las Vegas.  The town was at the front end of a coming boom, and he felt that I was likely to find more opportunities than I would at the University.

One day we went out to lunch – I had the afternoon off – and he produced a bottle of wine.  It was red.  I made the usual “I don’t like red wine” comment, and he just gave me a toothy, bearded smile. He poured the wine into the glass, and I eyed it suspiciously.

He picked up the glass, swirled, sniffed, and sipped.  “That’s how you do it.”

I did, and then tasted it.

Whammo.

This was so very different from the red wines I’d tasted up until that time.  This wine was delicious!  It was an “I get it!” wine. Epiphany.  Many years later, he said the best thing about that lunch was the expression on my face when I got it.

I remember the company, but don’t remember the restaurant, or for that matter, the wine.  But I remember the moment.

The kids and I moved to Vegas, where I established my own life, and was married and divorced again.  After several years of marriage to a man whose idea of drinking wine consisted of boxed White Zin on the rocks, I was ready to renew my affair with real wine.  During the year or so of getting reestablished, I began to really learn about wines and focused on what interested me.  While I dated from time to time (with one longish relationship), I decided that in order to do what I wanted, I’d have to go it alone. Every now and then I’d get a bottle of Chard, but I was always disappointed. It seemed that “Chard” consisted of wines that tasted vaguely like the boxed “Mountain Chablis” that I’d had or the anonymous bottles of character-free Chardonnay.

My first white wine was a generic white wine that was different from the sweet stuff I’d been drinking. The Chard I had with the distributor was life-changing, but I never found it again.  But I never stopped trying.

And then one day while having dinner with a date, I ordered a glass of Chard off of the menu.

Whammo.

As soon as it hit my palate, I knew that I’d hit pay dirt.  Rich and luxurious, it catapulted me back to that wine that had forever changed my perception of what a white wine could be.  I asked for the menu, and learned that it was a Chardonnay from Napa. I later learned that this quality of Napa Chard didn’t come cheaply.  I’ve since refined my palate, but not my desire for beautiful, rich, life-altering Chardonnays.  I thought it was all Napa Chard, all the time.

And then I had a Montrachet.

I remember the company, the restaurant, and the moment. Most of all, I remember the wine. I stuck my nose in the glass and was hit with spring flowers, lemon blossoms, vanilla, and citrus. On the palate, it was rich without butter, oaked without visions of baseball bats, and had a mouthfeel that spoke of finesse, rich elegance, minerality, and freshness. Compared to the teen attitude Napa Chards I had grown to love, this was an adult wine and its rich but comparatively minimalistic character has stayed with me.  Montrachet is a dear (that means expensive) wine, and should be carefully cellared and coddled, and should only be drunk with the most cherished of friends.

If I could, I’d have a case of Montrachet and would be ready to snag a bottle to share with friends. Alas, in my current state (pre-lottery), that’s not possible.  The best I can do is start a Montrachet fund and save for the purchase of a new bottle from time to time.  As it is, my best bottle of Chardonnay is a 2010 Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Vineyard. {{{Chalk Hill}}}. Yum. But hey! It’s less than $20, and its low price makes it a wine that I can have regularly.

I had grown to really dislike Chardonnay and had happily declared myself an ABC’er (Anything But Chardonnay).  I thought that the one Chard I’d had with the distributor had been a one-off, and compared to the sweetish, acidic, lemonade-y stuff I drank after that, I had no reason to think otherwise. And then the Napa Chards (yes, I still love the overdone!) and the miracle of Montrachet have changed that. Although red wines are still and always my first choice, I won’t turn down a good Chard; indeed, I will sometimes seek them out.

I said all that to say this:  You are sure that you hate a wine, but you may just hate the way the grape was treated when being made into wine.  All it takes is one time to taste that grape that has been carefully crafted into a wine that suits your palate. And then,

Whammo.

I guarantee that you’ll remember the moment.

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