There have been a few interactions in the store lately that have caused me two dwell upon some early experiences in my booze education. We had a customer in yesterday carrying Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible, scavenging through the aisles in search of the varietals she needed for her studies. Seeing that book instantly brought me back to Millbrae, summer of 2007, when I lived with my wife (then girlfriend), our one small room in the basement of our landlord’s house, skimming that book under dim light through the characteristics of each grape, running back and forth to Safeway, purchasing bottles that hopefully fit the description. I was still going to grad school, working part-time, so spending $16 on a bottle of Bonny Doon Cardinal Zin was absolutely crazy, but I so badly wanted to know what it tasted like. That’s how my wine education began. Not at a dinner table, or in a beautiful wine cellar, or in a fancy restaurant, but rather on an old double mattress, in a dank, underground bedroom, with whatever I could find at the supermarket.
While stocking the liquor shelves in the afternoon, I overheard someone discussing wine glasses and how they needed to get a set for their home. It was clear this person was new to the wine game, but he was adamant about only drinking “high-end” stuff. Therefore, he was only interested in glassware that could support wines of quality, not low quality glass for drinking the rinky-dink, everyday slop. Besides the misguided belief that fine wine cannot be enjoyed from an eight-dollar wine glass, the unnerving part of that conversation relates to society’s obsession with only drinking the “best,” while skipping over the unimportant parts.
Crime author Jo Nesbo has a character in his book Nemesis who only buys greatest hits compellations on CD because he doesn’t have time for anything but the best. I laughed out loud reading that. There’s no way to understand context if you haven’t experienced everything, but sometimes people are more concerned about appearance than actual understanding. You can’t understand Steinbeck just by reading the Grapes of Wrath. You’ve got to read Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row, and East of Eden too, even though they’re not as famous. Buying a fancy camera with expensive lenses won’t make you a professional photographer. You still need to understand how to use a standard manual SLR before you’re ever going to take better pictures.
When I look back at drinking inexpensive wine from mis-matched glasses on the floor of my overcrowded bedroom, I don’t think of those times with any sense of embarrassment. Realizing how my experience has led me to different tastes only makes those beginning stages more important. I could never realize the beauty of the Ridge Geyserville had I never tasted the Cardinal Zin. I would never appreciate Tavel rose were it not for the jugs of white zinfandel I chugged during college. Don’t feel the need to pretend you’re not from humble origins if you are. Those roots are requisite for any serious appreciation of booze. Any embarrassment or regret should stem from never having had those experiences, not the other way around.