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Posted on Jul 15, 2016

Not always a matter of red and white

I like my job a lot. Almost as much as I don’t like wine.

So when my boss sent me to interview a winemaker a few weeks ago, I was, shall we say, rather conflicted.
Several generations of my family have tasted enough wine (and a share of some of its stronger cousins, too) to make up for my non-drinking ways, and then some.
So my not liking wine never bothered me much. Nor did the fact that I must be the only Chilean male I know who doesn’t.
Clinking glasses is a big deal to us Chileans. We make a toast to everything. New car, new bride, new job, New Zealand? You name it, we follow it with “Salud.”
Chile, in addition to being a Catholic country, is one of the world’s top 10 producers of wine. Many areas of Central Washington remind me a lot of the old country.
Some of my Chilean relatives could not believe I did not have wine (or any alcohol) at my wedding. And about a year before he died, my dad complained to me that his new girlfriend’s doctor did not let her drink wine. He grunted, “Now I got nobody to make a toast with.”
Here’s to not rushing to divorce. Clink!
But all that mattered little when I got in my car and drove seven miles outside of Quincy to talk about wine.
Questions to ask buzzed around my head, one more snarky than the next.
I realized that snark was probably going to get me banned from the winery like Paul Giamatti’s guzzling of the spit bucket got him nixed in the movie “Sideways,” so I decided to keep it polite, and toss softball after softball if necessary to keep the peace.
Ninety minutes of vino chat later, I started to realize that this was more than a job for the man I was interviewing. This was a passion. He felt about a glass of his wine the way a parent feels about a child. He even told me, “these are my babies.”
Well, his babies, along with the bottled progeny of every vintner in the world, have spent the last 37 years exiled from every grocery list I have ever written.
For a change, I decided to engage him in a little show-and-tell. I asked, what do you see when you look at a glass of wine?
I was expecting him to wax poetic, like my idol Neruda and his “Ode to Wine.” You know, “starry child of Earth, smooth as a golden sword.” That kind of deal.
Instead, my oenophile friend pulled out two pretty glasses, poured a little bit of Malbec in one and Syrah in another and nudged them toward me.
He taught me about colors, flavors, smells, the purpose of the shape of the glass, and the key to tasting wine, really tasting it: Keeping it 12 seconds in the mouth.
Let me say now, 12 seconds is about 11.5 seconds longer than the last time I had wine in my mouth in 2002. If I remember correctly, I described the experience as licking a grape’s rear end.
But I couldn’t chicken out now. The guy had been awful nice and patient with me. And this wasn’t Franzia out of a box; the man had made this with his own hands. In the spirit of Neruda and his lifelong love of the working man, I picked up the Malbec and then the Syrah. Twelve seconds each. I had a watch and everything.
This is wine? This? Hey, this is actually good.
Granted, the Malbec was more sword than golden, but the Syrah was actually kind of fun, especially for a newbie like me. I almost, allllmost asked him about the price of a little bottle, but that time, I chickened out for real. No matter the price, a DUI was gonna be far more expensive.
I drove out of that winery, thinking about my dad and how he would have liked to clink glasses with his son, just once. We never did, at least not wine.
I also thought how I now could get handed a wine list at a restaurant and not look like an 8-year-old. I officially had a type of wine that I liked.
I told a couple of my relatives and they were less than impressed, knowing about my streak of non-wine years. Oh well, they’ll get over it in time.
And if they don’t, as we wine-drinkers like to say, “que syrah, syrah.”

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