Over the past six months, I’ve been spending the majority of my Friday nights with a “new” friend of mine who is originally from Atlanta, Georgia. Tall, active and practical in mind, she values a night nibbling on a macrobiotic dinner followed by a short yoga session, well above a dinner spent at an exceptional five star restaurant with a wine list larger than the entire series of Tolkien novels combined. So when Friday night rolls around, and she asked me the big question, “what should we have for dinner?”, I get excited! Considering that I live with a man who wants on his tombstone “I lived by ham, and I died by ham”, I absolutely adore an evening where I can allow my internal vegetarian out of the bag to bask in fresh produce, tofu, tempeh and whatever else may constitute a new macrobiotic creation. It’s a night to purge my system of the gastly meat byproducts hardline vegetarians plug their noses at and an opportunity to simply sit and enjoy the company of a lovely friend.
Yet one cannot fully cleanse their body without a glass of wine, can they?! I need those fabulous red tannins to slowly ease their way into my blood system to protect my heart and cleanse the arteries Thankfully, M. agrees with me and has made sure to always provide me with the honors of opening a bottle of wine the minute I walk into the door. The quality of the wine, however, can range from divine to questionable. Considering that her husband only drinks watered down beer with a large dash of lemon Fanta (called a Clara in Spain), while she generally drinks tea, their wine stash sits on top of the refrigerator to slowly die a horrid heat and vibration induced death. Nasty image, isn’t it? So, I have opted to do my best, as a loving and considerate friend, to slowly work down their collection of Spanish red wines, all in desperate need to being enjoyed. In fact, I find our new Friday night custom rather fun and adventurous, as I never quite know if she’ll pull out a bottle of 2005 Abadia Crianza, yipes!, or a bottle of 2005 Muga Reserva, ahhhh, so good!
Last Friday night, however, she placed in front of me the infamous El Coto, known far and wide among Spanish wine lovers as an exceptional red Rioja. I, personally, would call it plonk, fit to be used only in my vinegar jar, but hey, that’s just me. So in honor of her generosity, while a bit fearful to offend her in her own home, I asked, “Hey M., I really appreciate you sharing your wines with me, but to be honest, that is the only wine I cannot palate. Would it be kosher by you if you pulled out a second bottle?” With a sweet and understanding smile on her face, she replied, “Absolutely!” Reaching high above the the refrigerator, she pulled out a 2004 Roda I from Rioja. This is a wine I adore, having tasted it several times over the past few months, and was absolutely giddy with excitement when she asked, “Is this okay?” in a wide-eyed and curious tone. “That will be more than fine. Actually, I’d say that would be perfect!”
Now mind you, Roda I with a baked white fish over a bed of polenta alongside a thinly sliced cabbage, onion, carrot and tomato salad is not the ideal combination, but I didn’t care. Seeing the bottle of Roda I next to the El Coto, I coyly opened both bottles and asked her if she wouldn’t mind doing a little experiment. “Sure, why not?” she replied.
Pouring her a glass of El Coto, she sipped it cautiously and commented that it appeared to be a “fine” wine, translating to “I have no idea what I’m supposed to look for, so I’ll tell you it’s fine so that I don’t feel like an idiot.” Handing her a glass of Roda I, she smelled it with her nose a few inches away from the glass, swirled the glass awkwardly, and then took a sip. A few seconds past until a large grin slowly appeared across her face, “Yummy!” Taking the glass away from her again, I handed her the El Coto and asked her to taste the wine a second time. Smelling, twirling, tasting, her nose immediately crumpled up like a pug dog, followed by a high pitched comment of, “Ahh, that tastes really thin and kind of empty.” For a burgeoning wine lover, I thought her comment was dead on. It is rather thin and hollow, but what was more inspiring wasn’t so much her comment, but her continual reach for the Roda I, rather than the El Coto, throughout dinner. For a woman that typically drinks no more than a half a glass over the course of the evening, I was astounded by her appreciation of the wine. She was hooked, and for the very first time, understood the difference between a quaffable wine and a wine you want to sip throughout the night.
Have you ever helped a friend turn the corner in appreciating wine? What about you? When did you first understand the difference between a fabulous wine and a drinkable wine?