5 Ah-Ha Wines

Ah-Ha and Uh-Oh: Grape Introductions

            I refused training wheels when I began the learning-through-tasting process.  By that, I mean, I was a freak of wine nature when it came to which grape got me into “real” wine.  I started with the King of red wine – Cabernet Sauvignon. 

            Before I accepted the arduous labor of drinking wine and paying attention, I was a “pink drinker.”  A normal Saturday would find me cruising with a box of Fetzer White Zinfandel, (i.e. alcoholic koolaid).  I was so unashamed, I would even give the koolaid as a gift for a housewarming party, or bring it as my contribution to a wine tasting.  My robust personality probably made people assume I was kidding.  That, and my red plastic cup, usually hid the fact that I was actually drinking the pink drink.  This former version of myself all shifted one fateful evening.  I remember it like it was yesterday.

            A couple of friends, lets call them Ted and Ralph, had invited me join them at nice French joint called Le Reve in San Antonio, Texas.  Before I arrived, I had no clue they had been chugging whiskey on the golf course all day.  Nor did I know that they had ordered a (very expensive) bottle of 1997 Stags Leap Fay to pair with our French dinner.  I had spent the afternoon trying to decide where to do my out-of-country internship, and had missed the golf-partying. 

            I was surprised to find Ted, sans fiancé, completely off his gord.  Ted was a Texas gentleman finishing up dental school and he enjoyed golfing about as much as he enjoyed single-barrel bourbon, which was a lot.  His girl didn’t let him out of the house much, and I was starting to see why.  By the first course, Ted stumbled to the bathroom to begin the ritual known as worshipping the porcelain Gods. 

            That left Ralph, me, and the Fay.  Ralph was a few years older age wise, but about twenty years older street wise.  I took a bit of a shine to Ralph, mainly because I wanted to learn what he knew about wine.  I asked him if I could try the Fay, and Ralph boisterously ordered a “Bordeaux glass,” from the waitress.  I was confused  because there was already a empty wine glass in front of me.  But like most of my Wine Blonde moments, I played along like I knew the skit.  The waitress hurried back, grabbed the Fay, and poured some into the enormous glass goblet. 

            I eyed the wine, fearful of its heavy red color and sure-to-be bitterness.  Continuing my masquerade, I swirled the wine in the balloon glass, and stuck my nose into the rim.  “Wow,” I thought.  “Flowers, some toasty scents, and maybe some fruit.”  It actually smelled like perfume (kind of).  Then I went for the taste.  “No ickyiness,” I blurted out.  Ralph laughed.  He was handling his liquor much better than Ted, and had enjoyed good wined for a while.  For me, however, it was an eye-opening experience.  The wine didn’t even taste like alcohol.  It wasn’t bitter, tart, or unbearable.  Quite the opposite: it made my mouth water and then coated my palate with fruit, finishing long and gently. 

            It was like a baptism, an awakening, a realization that White Zinfandel wasn’t real wine.  It was my “Ah-Ha” wine moment!  Fay was the perfect trifecta to our impromptu date.  She was smooth enough for the lamb, yet hearty enough for the tri tip.  She even stayed around for dinner and complimented the dark chocolate sin cake very nicely. 

            What didn’t compliment the sin cake was the angry French manager asking if we knew the young man who was asleep in the bathroom.  I sunk into my chair, as Ralph burst into laughter.  “You okay to drive?” he asked me.  “Yeah, I’ve only had a glass.”  So, after espresso, water, and a few minutes, I was nominated as the sober person to drive the guys home. 

            The scene that ensued was mortifying, embarrassing, and humiliating.  Even that is an understatement.  Ralph literally had to fireman carry Ted out of men’s restroom of Le Reve into the parking lot.  And the worst part?  Ted’s pants were soaking wet… and not from water.  In his drunken stupor, he had pissed himself like a three-year-old.  So you can imagine one grown man carrying another grown man (with a wet crotch) over his shoulder as if he were saving him from a burning building.  Ralph thought it was equally disgusting and hilarious, as he struggled to keep from dropping Ted on the pavement.  I tried to act like I wasn’t with either of them until we got to the car. 

            Ralph plopped Ted, butt first, into the passenger seat of my white jeep wrangler.  At that very moment Ted lit up with awareness and shockingly said, “Uh-Oh,” as he blasted whiskey and Fay all over my dashboard.  “UH!”  I schrilled, realizing that getting mad at Ted in that state would be like scolding a dog an hour after it chewed your shoes—neither would remember what they did wrong.  It was a long and quiet ride back to Ted’s house.  I was thankful his fiancé was awake to take care of her man-turned-baby.  She overly-apologized for him, and in that instant, I actually felt sorry for Ted for the lashing he was going to get in the morning. 

            Once he was out of the car, I backed down his driveway.  My thoughts went back to my Fay “Ah-Ha” moment, and I thought, all-in-all, the night was worth it.  I had started the night as a White Zin loving Wine Blonde, and ended it as a Cabernet loving Wine Blonde.  If there was one wine this good out there, more must exists— all over the world.  The journey had begun, and I had an idea of where I wanted to do my internship abroad.