I didn’t drink alcohol until I was in my midthirties. Didn’t have any ethical issue about it, I just never liked the taste of alcohol and didn’t see any need to force past that. In high school and college, watching friends occasionally partake of the excess of youth, drinking far too much and doing stupid things combined with vomiting, the appeal of drinking was lost on me.
Nevertheless, in my thirties I found myself growing more and more curious about wine. Some close friends were serious wine drinkers, talking the talk of nose and finish and mouthfeel and all the other esoterica that’s so easy to make fun of. I just didn’t get it, but it intrigued me.
Now let’s back up a few decades. I’ve always been a tea drinker. In my youth I wasn’t fanatic about it, but I enjoyed having a cuppa with my grandma. In college, when I spent a school year in England, my fondness for tea served me well. I drank tea a few times a day. After coming back to the States, I still had a cup now and then, but it wasn’t a huge habit.
Things started coming together about thirteen years ago. We moved into our new house and there was a tea shop in the neighborhood called TeaSource. I walked in and started chatting with Bill, the owner. In five minutes I learned more about tea than I had known in my entire life. He explained to me that there’s basically only one tea plant and all the varieties come from different aging and processing of the tea, as well as environmental differences that affect the taste depending on where the tea is grown. Because of that last fact, teas are often named after the region they come from, because their environment produces distinct qualities.
A light went on. “Wait, that’s like wine,” I said. From my friends, the wine drinkers, I’d learned that although there are more distinct varieties of grapes, the environment they’re grown is very important, and many wines are named after the regions they’re from. Suddenly I got something about wine that had always alluded me. It’s easy to be amused by fancypants wine talk, but simple old tea had allowed me to make a connection I could relate to.
I was a stay-at-home dad, so I put baby Ella in her stroller and went to the TeaSource almost daily. As I tried more and more teas and developed my palate, I understood more about the subtleties one can taste with some effort and practice. My wine curiosity grew. Then, a couple years later, when Ella was old enough that Sandra and I could take a short vacation without her, we went to San Francisco.
Enter The Godfather. As Francis Ford Coppola fans, we couldn’t be in San Francisco without eating at his restaurant. And there on the menu was a taster’s special for his wines. Four small pours of different wines, and you got to keep the glass. Seemed like it had to be done. As a neophyte, by the time I got to the Zinfandel, I was a bit overwhelmed. The zin just about knocked me out of my chair. So strong, so spicy. But when we got back home and told our wine-drinking friends, there was no looking back.
I quickly gravitated to cabs and zins, the strong stuff that knocked me for a loop at Coppola’s restaurant. It was a source of amusement to all my friends who’d known me as a nondrinker forever. And, with no tolerance, I felt silly in the melon after half a glass of high-alcohol zin. I discovered the appeal of a mild “social buzz” that was not taken to the regurgitating end that teenagers often do. But I do love the taste of wine.
Which brings us to the present. I have a wine fridge to keep my favorite reds in the low sixties, the proper serving temperature. I talk the wine talk some times, but still find it a bit silly. And that’s how I became a wine lover by drinking tea and watching The Godfather.