Just as I came to writing and to fatherhood later in life, so too did I drink from my first truly memorable bottle of wine as a more ripened man.
I was in my mid-forties, judging from the bottle that I saved, a Domaine Deslines Saint-Chinian, 1996. Its sepia label pictures a crudely drawn image of a woman, wrapped in a shawl, her face to the wind, with rolling hills in the background. She holds a glass of wine, as if it shields her from the harsh winds. In the European tradition, this bottle contained a blend of grapes: 50% syrah, 25% carignan, and a “field blend” of grenache and cinsualt filling it out.
While I don’t remember the circumstance of first tasting this French red wine, its effect was my realization that I was drinking something subtly but significantly different from the single-grape California cabernet, merlot, or chardonnay wines that were de rigueur at bars, restaurants and grocery stores stateside. “I’ll have the house merlot,” was the lexicon of the day. (Some of us baby boomers thought this showed sophistication.) Of course, I didn’t know merlot from Merlin the Magician in those post-Ripple decades. I doubt if many of my Midwestern brethren did, either.
Today, I remain partial to Old World (Europe) over New World (the U.S., South America, South Africa, or anywhere, really, outside of Europe) wines. As well, I tend towards wines from smaller vineyards: Line Cauquil, in Southeastern France, was then less than 25 acres.
Regarding my philosophy of wine, I’m a believer in the debatable concept of terroir (the land, the weather, the feel of place relative to the importance of a given harvest), and partial to grapes from old vines that can be varied, complicated and a celebration, sometimes, of uneven weather and rough terrain. There are times I’d rather a wine taste of slate and young raspberries than ripe cherries and rich chocolate.
That empty bottle, which sits by my desk as a reminder of what turned me from imbibing in brewed grains and cereals and distilled spirits to fermented grapes, has been my touchstone for wine. For the past decade and a half, I’ve been on a search to find reasonably priced wines that don’t pack a wallop and assault my senses like a herd of bulls, but come in, with apologies to the American poet, Carl Sandburg, on little cat’s feet.
What I hope to share with you in the months to come is my modest attempt to find elegant little wines –and the occasional great big one – that make life, for us wine drinkers, a little better.
Ernest Hemingway wrote, “In Europe we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary.”
That’s pretty much how I look at and drink wine, though not as prolifically as Hemingway, who had his issues with moderation. Speaking of which, I want to acknowledge that wine isn’t for everyone; drinking anything alcoholic isn’t for everyone. Moderation is a good thing. So is abstaining, for whatever reason.
But for you dads that like a “nice” (an adjective describing wine you’ve no doubt heard from a server or sommelier, and which I vow to never use again) glass of wine with your dinner, or whenever, this column is for you. While I tend to like a wine that arrives in my nostrils and taste buds as if through a side door, with a polite yet complex look upon its face, you may prefer a wine that comes through the front door, full of great stories and raucous laughter. I’ll try to find, and write about both kinds, as well as those in between. I’ll write about New World wines and Old World vines that are interesting, unique, and, given those diapers and sundry kids’ items we need to buy, affordable.