When (and why) my wine and then rosé obsession began
Happy kick off to summer everyone! Bringing the story back to me on this one.
As some of you know, I was born and bred in Anheuser-Busch Country. What does that mean to the rest of you? What, everyone didn't grow up dreading the foul smell of fermenting hops and barley during the factory tour, only wanting to pet Clydesdales?
Being born and bred in Anheuser-Busch Country means you grew up near an Anheuser-Busch plant. I was born in ManchVegas (née Manchester) New Hampshire, and I grew up 20 minutes from the Anheuser-Busch plant in Merrimack. What does this have to do with wine? Absolutely nothing. Other than most people did not drink wine where I grew up. You drank Bud.
Again, I am from hard-core Bud Country. One more time: HARD-CORE BUD COUNTRY. ALL CAPS. And all flavors and forms of Bud. There is Budweiser, the King of Beers. Then there is Bud Lite. Bud Kinkers (16 oz). A rack (6pack) of Bud. As in: "Guy, I gotta couple racks of kinkahs for the night. You?" Yup. (Remember, New England.) And there are the Ponies -- the little cans and bottles. There is the more expensive Michelob when we all got high school jobs and had some money. Then Mich Light senior year when the Bud calories were creeping up. Finally, the $6 12-pack of Natural Light "Natty Light" in college when we didn't have any money again. There it is.
How did I get from Bud Country to wine country? Let's start with PART 1 -- or said another way -- when did it all move from beer to wine?
A specific memory from high school is the sound of the old-school pull tabs ripping off the top of a Bud Kinkah can. We would collect these tabs and create long chains to be strung all over our bedrooms -- the silent code that it was beer, not Coke, that we were drinking after our parents dropped us off at the Game Room. Yes, mom, I drank beer in high school.
As for wine, the 2-liter Sun Country bottles don't count; back then we were drinking whatever we could get into our hands. And for some reason, getting sweet wine coolers was easier to procure than beer. The scuzzy, creepy guys hanging outside Talbot Street Market (near my parent's church!) tended to be more down with getting us wine coolers than beer. Unclear why?
This changed during the infamous Woodcrest Court (where I grew up) Taxi Scheme of 1986. We somehow figured out taxi drivers were delivering alcohol to people's houses. As I was the tallest then (and, alas, never since), I was the one quickly dressed into whatever-dad-who-was-away's grown up clothes to shuffle out to the taxi driver, greet him in my lowest voice (which never got really low) and hand over money. He would go into the trunk and load me up with a couple cases of Bud. Ingenious! Until they caught on, and every taxi service in southern New Hampshire shut it down. But, by then, we had older friends, and beer was what we drank.
Back to Woodcrest Court. I was lucky to grow up with about 30 or so fellow menaces all around my age, and to this day we are all mostly in touch. Back then, every weekend was going from house to house in the neighborhood to hang out and pool hop. And, drink our illicit Bud stash. This one's parents went to dinner? Done. We're coming over. That one's parents are at the grocery store? Be right there. They will be home from work in an hour? Let's do this quickly. I think you all get it...probably since most of you reading this did the exact same thing. Again, sorry mom!
One family specifically became the center of my teenage years. (This is where we concocted the Taxi Scheme.) This incredible Greek family was steeped in the strong tradition of sharing food and drink with loved ones regularly. There were always family and friends at the house; everyone was always included, and I had been welcomed into the fold since birth. And, with the variety of Greek foods and traditions I had adopted (I make a killer pastisio!), I also adopted their love for wine. The other Greek neighbors had the same aura (my cohorts Paulina, George and Maria) and the families were frequently together. In my little Greek village in Bud Country, wine began to represent love, family, friends, food, music, singing and laughter. And...what else matters?
[I also adopted the concept of a Greek Goodbye: (n) 1. The goodbye ritual when one leaves a party. It is mandatory to give everyone in the house a hug and a kiss. This can include strangers and anyone who may be working the party. 2. As this can last almost an hour, you will need to perform at least one more round before exiting. 3. It is disrespectful to have been there so long without saying goodbye one more time to those whom you hugged and kissed first. 4. Either people with you are completely on board, or this ritual will drive them completely crazy, and they may leave you at said party. Optional uses: bars, restaurants, inappropriate retail, coffee shop or work experiences, etc. Antonym: see: Irish Goodbye]
But, I digress. Two of my friends in my anchor Greek family were identical twins, Stephanie and Daphne. Steph and I ended up in college together. Although that was my bartending era and had more cash than most, as I was paying for school, I was on a budget. So Steph and I would scheme to ask Daph (who also was working) to send a little money for groceries for the week. Then Steph and I would take the $100 or whatever and blow it on one lavish meal of lobsters, steak and wine. While our other friends were drinking Natty Light. And looking at us like we were nuts.
Steph and I eventually became roommates when we moved to Boston a couple years later. Whereas our college friends still were into Bud Lite keg parties with Red Solo Cups, we would show up with a big 2-liter of wine, usually cheap California Merlot or Australian Shiraz. Enjoying wine became part of the post work or work-out ritual in our Charlestown apartment. And, part of our ritual together ever since. "Do you want a glass of wine?" frequently follows our first hug and kiss hello. (And the Greek Goodbye between the two of us now means I never leave and will sleep over for that one last glass of wine.) It was right after the Charlestown era when I had my breakthrough Sancerre moment, and everything changed -- and I officially emigrated from Bud Country.
PART 2 -- Why did the wine obsession kick in?
This is where I come out as a geek. A nerd. A bookworm. Or whatever the hip, young people call people like me now, to which I have no idea. Because geeks, nerds, bookworms by definition are always just a little behind what the hip curve thinks. Anyone who knows me since I was young will attest: I love everything related to school.
And, back when I was young, I most certainly looked the part. Black rimmed glasses (the 1970s pre-hipster version). Ill-fitting mismatched clothes (rust courdoroys come to mind? Yikes.) Pocket protector (yup!). Tens of different types of pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, etc. A Trapper Keeper was my prized possession. Now, I did slightly break out of geekdom in high school by becoming a linebacker of our football team (and was terrible) and the student council treasurer of the high school (and made *very* questionable uses of student council money. Something about a Taxi Scheme. Whatever. It's a blur. Alexander Hamilton I was not.) But ultimately, I just enjoyed doing homework and reading books.
And nothing has changed. I still can't catch a ball, and a gift certificate to Office Max (Post-It Notes! Index cards! My Pilot pens!) is The. Best. Gift. Ever.
It also explains what may seem like a haphazard path of career choices. The commonality is that all paths allowed me to dive deep and STUDY. Making hundreds of color-coded anatomy flashcards as a personal trainer. Studying Freud and Jung in graduate studies. Reading every book published to master Adobe Photoshop. My entire life has been filled with these pens, notebooks, index cards and a kaleidoscope of colored highlighters and Post-It notes. Studying wine was the perfect path as it's impossible to fully master. YES!
Again, my gateway drug into fine wine was a bottle of Blondeau Sancerre. I just didn't know where to go from there. I saw the rabbit hole, I wanted to be in the rabbit hole, but I didn't know how to jump into the rabbit hole. Back then, wine studies were still relicts of the mid-century/elitist/closed-off Private Club requiring a magic key and password for entrance. I had neither.
Suddenly, a new reason to spend hours in Barnes & Noble, study wine books and load up on index cards and highlighters again! #wasfiredup
Soon after The Sancerre Experience, we took a trip to Paris. I purchased my first wine book, "Great Wines Made Simple" for the flight. Andrea Immer is a Master Sommelier who had a TV show on wine that got me hooked. She didn't discuss the "degree of the slope" or "pH levels." She didn't describe wine using words like "flagstone" or "cacophony". (FOR NO ONE CARES.) She spoke "real" English (versus "wine" English) in a very unassuming and approachable way. Her intro to wine book was my first purchase into the rabbit hole.
I read the entire book on the 7-hour flight. When I got off that plane, after one book, my wine knowledge (probably a 3 or so on 1-10 scale) went up at least 2 points to a solid 5. After one book. I was in Parisian cafes reading the French wine lists, understanding the differences between Vouvray and Quincy and Muscadet, between Chinon and Beaujolais and Anjou. After one book, I understood body; I understood basic flavor profiles; I understood the importance of place. After one book, I knew enough to make me a little dangerous, but I saw the true vast depth of what was out there...and what I did *not* know. (Did I say that right, Socrates?) Complete game changer. Into the rabbit hole I went.
PART 3 -- why rosé?
Andrea Immer got me down the path of wine. Now, let's talk rosé. A few years later, I was entering my Masters of Social Work, as my original plan was to be a psychoanalyst (years of studying. Hooray!). Right when school started, I had a barbecue at my house for my newly-met schoolmates. One of my new friends, Magali, was born in the south of France near a famous winery, Chateau Saint André de Figuière. The winery's Magali Cuvée (cuvée is a typically a blend, so in this case it probably means grapes from a couple of the best lots. Although it could be from just one specific plot.) was one of her parents' favorite summer pinks. Thus, her name. She brought two bottles of her eponymous rosé, and she explained to me for the first time the romanticism of southern France. Taking out someone's boat for a lazy afternoon. Laying out on the white sands in the hot sun. Eating bouillabaisse made with the recently shucked seafood. The smell of lavender, thyme, rosemary and basil. And through all this, everyone drinks rosé. I was transfixed.
I was fired up to try it. About an hour later, I pulled the chilled pink bottle out and opened it with my new friend. She was excited to get my reaction as she drifted into her own Provençal haze of happy with her first sip.
Me? I didn't like it. At all. I don't remember at this point why, maybe I was expecting sweet and I got dry so was confused? Maybe at that point I still didn't know what good, real wine was? But regardless. Don't make me go back to Bud Lite.
"You are kidding me!" She was shocked and confused. "Really? No. no. Stick with it for an hour. This is a true Provençal day." Or something like that. The sun, the blue sky, friends, laughter, piles of fresh food. Very similar to my Woodcrest Court experience, actually. "You *will* like it," she insisted. Sound familiar to some of you? Ha!
Sure enough, I remember sitting on the picnic table with rosé in hand. My new friends were laughing and enjoying. The warm, sunny Massachusetts weather was at its September best. I remember feeling happy and content. I got it, and I was in. Rosé is not just a glass of wine. Rosé is an experience.
Problem was back then, in 2001, French rosé was pretty impossible to find. White Zinfandel was still dominating the pink market. Deterred, I moved on from rosé to wines and varietals in other regions as my exploration of the wine world became a full-fledged hobby (Austrian Grüner Veltliner became my next obsession). I thought the curious, herbaceous pink wine was a flash-in-the-pan in America.
I was very wrong. Rosé would re-enter my life as a random, surprising symbol in the subsequent stage of my life which, little did I know at that BBQ, was right around the corner and would dominate the rest of my 30s. Again, not as something to drink, but as something that was part of a much larger experience. That story is next.
Keep texting, FBing me, and sending pictures and stories of what you guys are enjoying! Anecdotes and pics will be making future blogs! And, thank you all for the love sent back as I continue down this path. Peace to all!
P.S. As a reward for this slightly-too-long entry, enjoy this link. It is both hilarious and freakin' true: