Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Walla Walla and the Big, Badass Grape

today, tonight, i went to my first wine tasting. before you say "no way!", let me assure you it is true. i learned how to taste wine from my dad and i trust my palate enough to be willing to say "ick" or "yay!" to a wine, but i have never, in my life, gone to a formal wine tasting. i've been to nappa, sonoma and australia, all good places for good vino, but, as i said before, never to a wine tasting.

there's this place here in town called CELLAR RAT. cute name, cool place, a place i got into by chance when looking for a really good bottle of scotch as an office gift for my very deserving manager. i walked in there and was enchanted. i love good wine stores. really love them. i like reading the taste notes, talking to the sommelier (my dad used to be one, so i think that's why i have a deep affection for them), and purchasing labels that intrigue me. because of my walking into this wine store and getting seduced by it, i signed up for what they call a reserve list, get little updates from them every week about the WOW (wine of the week at a killer price) and, also, little inside scoops about wines that are limited and needing maturity or way out of my price range. so, what did i do? or do i do? i go, i buy and, something i have never done before, put the wines in my basement to mature. yep, you read right. i'm maturing wines in my basement. on top of towels, leaning a tad forward so the wine stays in contact with the cork (cuz the guys at CELLAR RAT told me to) and resting there for the next, oh, five or so years... maybe even more.

last week, i got an e-mail from CELLAR RAT giving me a nudge that a washington state winemaker, nicknamed "merf" (no, not SMERF, but MERF), will be coming into the town, will be at CELLAR RAT and the first 15 folks to respond could get in. it was a private tasting for the reserve crew (of whom, i keep forgetting, i am one) and they wanted to know if i wanted to come. it took me a good half hour of focused consideration to decide whether i was going to this. it's one of those things that kind of has me giggle like a little girl when i imagine myself actually doing it. i am VERY chi-chi, poo-poo lala in my tastes when it comes to this kind of thing and i am intrigued by it, but it was also one of those things that kind of needs someone to share it with. i'm at a point in my life where i am looking at my life and wondering how i got here, in a way. how i got to be the age i am without any significant other besides my kids. and, sometimes, i am lonely. and, sometimes, i am sad, because of it. i am here in a town that still feels almost as strange as it did the day we landed at the airport to move here and i do have two children i need to spend more time with even in the best of times (these are not the best of times) and, well... i'm complaining. i need to move my rubber "complain reminder" bracelet from one wrist to the other. sorry.

what has that got to do with going to a frigging wine tasting? well, as i said about a lot of times up at the top, i've never been to a wine tasting, let alone a chi-chi, poo-poo lala private one and i took this major leap by emailing back to them telling them i wanted to be there. i pressed send and sat back in my chair wondering where i got this courage to jump into this shit without really knowing what i was doing. they said in the email that i would hear within 24 hours. when i didn't, i felt a bit of relief, because it meant i hadn't gotten my name in there in time which meant i could save myself from doing something that terrified me. i'll explain why in a second.

i got a response on friday letting me know that we were on and to be there at six o'clock. my heart raced and i responded "great!" then had the whole weekend to freak out about it. i was terrified because i knew that i was going to be walking into a room with people who absolutely knew what they were doing, would be chatting about "the nose..." and "the acid..." and talking up tannins like nobody's business. i know the general idea of tastings -- you swirl, shove your nose deep into the glass and sniff, sip and roll a little air over the wine to get a sense of its flavor, let it bloom in your mouth, fill you, swallow, do it again a couple o' times, then dump the sucker into the cute bucket in the middle of the table (or there should be a bucket, but what if i was wrong?). you're not supposed to drink the entire taste of each glass, cuz then you're getting drunk and not really tasting anymore -- not only that, we had a shit load of wines we were tasting and while i'm just as happy to have a buzz on as anybody, i'm not a philistine, ya know, and, like i said, i'm into this fa-la-la-la-la fancy stuff. i like being poised and studious and elegant in these settings. i didn't say i am those things, i just said i like to be them. people have told me i am, i hope i am, but what do i know? i'm not looking at me from the outside. my concern was i'd do something incredibly stupid and out myself as the novice i am.

i think a lot of my friends would be shocked to discover my trepidation and shivery wierdness as i prepared to surmount this challenge of the grape. i also have never had raw oysters, sitting at the bar at sushi restaurants intimidates me and i am always prepared to fail at making a really good turkey whenever i cook one. whew! that feels better getting that off my chest, so let's move on. i had a blast. a sedate, well-bred, demure and pricey blast, but a blast nonetheless. i was alone, i didn't know anyone and i decided the best thing to do was to just sit, listen and learn. and, as i had played around with at home and learned, the whole "swirl, shove, sniff, sip, sense, swallow" thing was correct. i was blown away a bit by how many of these guys (i was one of two women in the room and the other one was a chick who had come with her boyfriend/guy and wasn't tasting, just finishing his when he handed it to her) finished their glasses. when i got in the room and saw these sheets of paper with the various wines on them and a pen to write notes with, i was instantly worried i was about to be graded. yeah, don't laugh, but i was. and, of course, i wasn't. by the end of the tasting, i was writing stuff down that felt real, right and very involving.

but, truly, i went through the most extraordinary gamut of emotions you could imagine. i couldn't figure out where to sit where i wouldn't be called out for any reason. i was worried they would go around the table and ask you to define exactly what it was about the wine that appealed or didn't appeal to you. i was worried i would spill the wine, knock over the water, fart loudly, burp wetly, snort laughter or talk when i should listen. i did what i thought would be best. i just let it wash over me and not worry about it... after the first 30 minutes in the wine shop, that is, because the tasting was really at 6:30, not 6:00 and the time was misquoted. well, i take that back. i was worried about it for the first 10 minutes as i wandered the place, gazing at labels of wines, liquors, high end beers until i looked up and saw two people i really, really like -- sergio and emily -- and we began chatting. and, ya know, talking to them mellowed me out. it made me feel good about being there. not just good that i was going to be tasting some yummy wines, but good about myself for overcoming my own personal hurdle. i was proud i showed up proud i didn't rush home and hide (like i thought about doing). i was glad i had done this for myself. it makes me look forward to what other leap i might make.

i bought a few bottles. which will, once again, go onto a bunch of towels and into my basement. one day, i'll buy a wine storage thing, since i appear to be really into this collecting shit. but, for now, i'll just prop them up, take a deep breath, and figure out what other gourmet magazine, conde nast lifestyle actions i can take to enhance my chi-chi, poo-poo lala image.

i'll send you an announcement when i know.

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