Probably everyone who gets hooked by the intrigue and challenge and pleasure of wine has one of those aha! moments that marks a turning point in their appreciation of it.
Mine came about in the early 1980s and involves a bit of a tale. I was on a beach in Greece in late July and a few pages of the Herald Tribune came hurtling along, driven by a strong wind. Nobody came running after, so I laid hold of them and began reading. One item was a review of a new wine bar in the sixth arrondisement, the area of Paris I was most familiar with. I’ve got to go there when I get back to Paris, I said to myself. But I still had a few more weeks in Greece. The temperatures were extremely high, even at night. I began to tire of Greek salads and vowed never to eat them except when in Greece. I longed for lettuce.
At last my return date arrived. Flying over the Alps, wistfully gazing at all that cool, comforting snow I formed my plan. The flight seemed to be on time. I would get to my friend Mary’s as quickly as possible, drop off my suitcase, and go directly to the wine bar. And I did. From Mary’s it was a direct shot to St. Germain des Pres, the metro stop nearest my goal.
I found the wine bar, just off the rue de Buci, and seeing there was service outside in the back, I stepped out and surveyed the terrace. Only one small table vacant, and it was mine! When the waiter arrived, I knew exactly what I wanted – a glass of Sancerre, something my friend Michelle had introduced me to at that funny little place near Le Croix Rouge. When it was brought out, held aloft on a small bar tray, I could not have been more content. The glass fogged up from the chill of the wine, little drops of condensation had begun to form. I watched every moment of the waiter lifting it off the tray and placing it on the table in front of me. I took a sip, and placed it back on the table. My, was I pleased with myself. And then I glanced around at the dozen or so other tables. To my horror, everyone else was drinking red wine. Hmm, I thought, there’s something more I’ve got to learn about here.
My project of discovery intensified. When I got back to Cambridge that fall I made the rounds of store tastings and haunted the bookstore shelves in the wine section. And I continued travelling, observing, and learning more.
One instructive experience was brought to mind recently when I had a delicious bottle of the 2006 Aglianico rosé from the Cantina del Taburno in Campania. In wine, the epiphanies never cease.
Once again in Paris, a friend and I decided to try a small Italian restaurant on the Île St. Louis. It was apparently a one-man operation. An Englishman, who looked very much like Sting, was both waiter and chef. Seeing the first Australian wine we’d seen on a winelist in Paris, we ordered it. His shipment hadn’t come in that week he told us, but as we had ordered the veal chop, he urged us to try the Aglianico. This might have been the first one I’d had. Aromatic and spicy, the aglianico grape makes a highly enjoyable red wine, and as I just found out, an equally good rosé.