The first sip of wine

The other day, as I sat down at the Wine Cellar reading about some of the new releases coming out of France, a young lady came down the stairs. She walked around the store and looked at many of the labels, pausing here and there to pick up a bottle, spin it around and read the bio on the back label. This is not uncommon and I asked her if there was anything I could help her with. She shook her head and moved along the inexpensive wine bins then slid past the Ports and finally, with a sharp 180-degrees went to the Barolo. She stayed for a while looking at labels and picking up bottles.

I'd bet she was in the shop more than 20 minutes checking things out. Finally, I came around the counter and asked her again what she might be looking for.

She had quite a sheepish look on her face and admitted to me, that it was her 30th birthday and she had never had a sip of wine! She had been reading my columns and other wine writers for years but had never had a glass of wine touch her lips. She said that she wanted to know what all the "hype" and "hoopla" was about.

This is heady stuff for an old wine guy like me and I just stood there speechless. I had three open bottles in the fridge and time on my hands so I asked her if she'd like to taste a little wine while she was there. She looked at me, then at the walk-in box and said a very steady "Sure. That'd be nice."

As I walked to the cold box I explained to her about alcohol and wine and responsibility with wine drinking and she nodded and said that she understood all of that very clearly. I took out three bottles and put them on the counter, grabbed a glass from the rack then checked her I.D. and saw that it was indeed her 30th birthday. Now, it was my turn to do this thing correctly.

How does one introduce wine to someone who has never smelled or tasted good vino? A miss shot might turn her away from the grape forever, and first impressions are very important in learning about something, especially when we are looking at the appreciation of something that can be as complex as wine. I didn't want to overwhelm her with oak or heavy tannins or huge, explosive tastes so I went with a very silky Chardonnay with lots of creamy and buttery flavors. I also had a very sweet wine open but after tasting a sweeter wine, everything else would have been drier and tasted sour on the palate. So, with a steady hand, I poured a little sip in the glass and handed it to her.

This was a big moment for the two of us. I was hoping that she'd very much like the wine so that this world would open up to her. I hoped she felt the same way, although she wasn't saying anything. I explained how to swirl the wine and how to let the bouquet come up from the glass so that she could appreciate the nose of the wine.

She did as I instructed then took a sip of the Chardonnay. She let the wine swirl in her mouth then swallowed. It felt like an hour before her face showed any response to the sip. Finally, she put on a big smile and nodded, "I like this wine, this is lovely!"

I debriefed her for a while and asked her what the tastes were that she liked in the wine and she had a very difficult time in describing the flavors she was tasting. That, I said, was lesson two which we would be doing at a later date. We tasted the other two wines, which she said she liked as well and purchased one of them. We were both pleased and she walked away happy, vowing to come back soon and learn more about the world of wine.

I wonder if she knew how much she had made my day!

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