This month’s wine writing challenge is Traditions, and I can’t think of a better way to honor tradition than to tell you how I got into drinking wine. Really drinking wine, that is–not the sneaking sips out of everyone’s glass when nobody was looking drinking wine…
Picture it: Holland 1994 (and before you write in correcting me that it should be The Netherlands, please know that I lived in the province of Zuid-Holland, so…Holland). I was a Rotary International exchange student. Even though “no drinking” was one of the five major rules of being an exchange student, I had the great fortune of having host families who took that to mean no excessive drinking when they were not around. Nearly every evening meal included libations of some sort (beer was an equally popular choice). My counselor’s family preferred beer and sweet sherry. My first host family loved white wines, especially white Burgundies. My second host family prided itself on serving the appropriate drink for whatever dish or course, such as the occasion required. For the record, I never appreciated this until our 12-course Christmas dinner, with–oh yes!–12 different wines and apperifs! But it was my third family who taught me about wine and thus, my third host family is why we’re here today.
When it came to wine, my third host family only drank two kinds: Champagne and wine from the Rioja. My first night in the house, my host father took me to the wine cellar and asked me to pick something to drink with dinner.
I was at a loss. First of all, I am from a family of beer and whiskey drinkers. The wine drinkers (at least when I was growing up), leaned heavily towards the sweet stuff and I certainly didn’t see anything that looked like it was sweet. Secondly, I was wracking my brain to remember everything my second host mother lectured me about in terms of pairing wine with food, but I COMPLETELY forgot to ask what was for dinner. However, both of those were trumped by my awe of staring at the most wine I’d ever seen in my life outside of a wine or liquor store.
Finally, I grabbed the nearest bottle to me and held it up for inspection. Hmmm…it was red and from Spain and I was quite sure I wouldn’t like it, but I was committed to my choice.
I held it high, like a trophy I had proudly won!
My host father asked why I picked that one.
I hung my head and lowered the bottle.
Ik weet het niet.
I don’t know. I shrugged, he chuckled, and we went back upstairs with my prize bottle, where he made me open it so it could decanteren. What? So it could…what? More chuckling.
Breathe! It needs to breathe!
At this moment, I was starting to panic that I selected a $300 bottle of wine. My host mother sensing my panic, assured me that I made a good choice, as it was the house favorite and not to worry, she was sure they still had 5 or 6 cases left.
I’m sorry, 5 or 6 what? Yes, yes, I knew what a case was, but the thought that anyone would have multiple cases of wine at one time and then have numerous cases of THE SAME WINE…and then to think to that they had a particular amount left, but not even be sure?!?
I was stunned. I was flabbergasted. I.WAS.SPEECHLESS!
My host father decided that he would take me under his wine wing and teach me all there was to know about wine. He and my host mother patiently answered a plethora of questions about wines and grapes and buying and collecting and serving and tasting and on and on until finally I asked about their wine room and how they kept it so well stocked.
Oh you know, we make a trip to Spain every year.
He said it with such aplomb and nonchalance that I was picturing all of Europe flocking to the south to stock on on wine. I was–at that very moment–planning my move to the continent!
So you just drive the car to Spain, load up, and drive back?
Well, we stop in Champagne on the way back as well.
I’m sorry. You drive the car to Spain, load up on wine, swing by Champagne buy a bit more and then come back?
HA HA HA HA…of course not. We take a trailer, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth it. That’s why we have the big BMW.
So let me get this straight. You hook a trailer up to the car, drive to Spain, load up on wine. Drive to Champagne, get more wine and then drive back?
More or less, yes. We love Spanish wine–and well, who doesn’t love champagne?
You are certainly right about that [champagne]. Wait, wait, wait. Start from the beginning, alstublieft.
Well, it started over 30 years ago–on our honeymoon. We drove to Spain and just fell in love with the wines from Rioja. On that trip we came back with a couple of cases of tempranillo, and since it was our honeymoon, we stopped in Champagne on our way back and got a few bottles of champagne as well. We loved that trip so much, we decided it would make a great yearly trip. So, every spring on our anniversary we would get in the car and head to Rioja for wine. Soon it became our little tradition. Every year , however, we came back with more and more wine. Finally, we just stopped pretending and stressing about getting it to fit in the car and bought a trailer. Of course then we needed a bigger car to be able to pull it back through the mountains. Now there’s no stress, a lot of room and we are able to purchase enough delicious reds, whites, and bubbly for the whole year, and in the process, get a vacation. Beautiful country, beautiful wife, beautiful wine–life doesn’t get any better than that.
No…no, it certainly does not.