Life was easier before my wife found wine. Dinner was simple: green pepper steak, rice and fresh green beans and a salad or a casserole or roast or seafood. Beverages were simple: milk for the kids, water for all, and coffee for me. She drank no coffee then, nor does she now.
I’m not exactly sure when things changed. We left Michigan, moved to California, and had our first Thanksgiving in San Jose, eating turkey at my sister-in-law’s. She served us our first wine, Pink Chablis. My wife decided then and there that she would not become a wine drinker. Later she discovered Bali Hi and then Weibel’s Green Hungarian. The Weibel wine was a game changer.
I’m not sure anyone makes a “Green Hungarian” wine any more. I’ve also no idea what grapes went into the making of that wine or why it was called Green Hungarian. I need to Google the wine and the winery later.
Those were the early days of California’s Napa Valley wine, and not even a Robert Mondavi winery back then, but there were lots of grapes in Napa and around the state. We lived in San Jose, but we drove to Napa to visit a few wineries and sample. My favorite winery back in those early days in the mid ‘60’s was Louie Martini Winery in the valley. Actually, I’m still a fan of the Martini family wines, though I’ve no idea if there are any Martini family members still involved with the winery.
That was then, when we arrived in California. A few years later Napa began to change. Wineries were popping up in all kinds of places in Napa Valley, and the mogul, Robert Mondavi opened his winery in 1965, in the Oakville district.
Change was good. We visited the Mondavi tasting room ourselves one day. We arrived, walked into an empty tasting room and looked around wondering what was up. Robert himself entered. He handled the tasting bar, took us outside to the production facilities and spoke almost to himself about what the plans were for the facility and the grounds. I’m not totally sure of the dates, but I think that was in 1971.
By this time, our interest in wine had begun to develop; at dinners and at gatherings with friends and family, the beverage of choice had shifted from water and coffee to wine: white wine with fish and chicken, red wine with everything else. Also, at this point, the wine was often Gallo’s Hearty Burgundy or the jug wines from either Almaden or Carlo Rossi. Back then, a bottle of Mondavi’s Reserve Cabernet was $5.99 and a gallon of Carlo Rossi was sometimes on sale at $.99. Clearly the bottle of wine was for special occasions and the gallon was for sharing with friends at a party.
Even at this point, we were not yet addicted to food and wine pairing mandates; frankly, we rarely drank wine with meals except for holiday and special occasion meals. Wine was more a social event beverage. Then came Georgia.
We moved from California to Georgia in the mid ‘70’s, shipping in the moving van cases of the gallons of Almaden red wine and a few cases of special bottles from the closet floor in our California home’s master bedroom
At this point, we were still not really wine folks, but this is the beginning of the shift from simple to complex in the food and wine pairing meal mess. Neighbors, who became friends and remain so to this day, were from everywhere in the country: Illinios, Colorado, Kansas, Connecticut. Atlanta and the south were becoming civilized, thanks to air conditioning.
One of our new neighbors returned to the US from his work assignment in Johannesburg, South Africa; he and his wife brought home with them South African wines. Thanks to their cellar, I tasted my first Pinotage (a kind of grape) wine, and with Ben and Jutta came many friendly evenings and talks about wine and food.
It was a Delta pilot neighbor who brought us our first Washington wine, a Chateau Ste Michelle Sauvignon Blanc. At this time his scheduled route was Atlanta, Seattle, then Seattle, Dallas, Atlanta. We had the Sauvignon Blanc at his house. He had prepared a meal of grilled lemon chicken and grill-fried potatoes and onions. Here too there was talk of food and wine and what went together and what did not.
Our move to the N.Y. Connecticut area brought with it three additional aspects of wine and food enjoyment. The northeast has a rich Portuguese/Spanish, Italian and German heritage population and of course wines of the countries. Here, we really opened our eyes to the international wine world and I drank my first Ribera del Duero wines. Also, our son’s girl friend at the time worked at an upscale restaurant and often brought us some of the wines they served. Those were the real eye openers.
By the time we moved to Washington in the late 80’s, we’d been not only educated, we’d been indoctrinated. And after we joined the Wenatchee Enological Society in the early ‘90’s we became interested in all aspects of wine other than just the drinking of it, and began to research and study it. It’s impossible now, for example, for us to just toss chicken thighs on the grill, cook ‘em up and serve them without fretting over what wine to serve with the meal. How is the chicken prepared? Are there sauces with specific flavors or aromas? Was the chicken marinated in a red wine, or an Asian spice? What were the principal spices in any marinade? Will there be heavy greens as sides? And on and on.
As I said at the beginning, life was easier before my wife discovered wine. What I didn’t say was how much I appreciate her skill at sorting through the details and creating wine and food pairings that always please us and our friends.