Why Wine?

23 Oct

The world of wine is beyond fascinating to me. It is daunting yet welcoming, infinite yet personal.  Wine is an experience all in itself.  While it is often pictured with a food pairing, the depth of the world of wine is far-reaching.  Imagine walking into a store like Walmart or Target and, at first, only understanding what is going on on the first shelf of Aisle 1.  But you keep going back.  You won’t let the big-bad store intimidate you.  Soon you’ve mastered the first aisle and you’re confidently moving on.  One day, maybe, you’ll have the entire mega mart at your disposal.  The only thing that matters is that you go back and continue your journey, because wine is certainly that: a trip through countries, regions, cities, varietals, vintages, colors, smells, and tastes.

My first step into the world of wine came during my junior year of college.  Before then I hadn’t drunk much wine in my life.  I remember at my first communion drinking the wine and hating it – little did I know that 45-times-sipped church wine wasn’t the best representation, nor was it a very good idea to base my judgments on my memories from 2nd grade.  Fast forward 13 years later and I’m standing in World Market in Raleigh, North Carolina staring at a monstrous collection of wine with no clue what to buy my girlfriend Taylor’s mother for Easter.  No way I can show up to the house with nothing in my hands!  Thankfully Taylor pointed out that her mom was a fan of riesling – not that I knew what that even meant.  She helped me pick a bottle and it ended up being great.  I left that market with a glimmer of hope – the door had been cracked opened into the world of wine, but I was still far too intimidated to push forward and jump in.

A few months later I’m in Beijing, China and my fellow interns and I walk into Med, one of Alan’s restaurants, and see a wine tasting going on.  Now, try to picture this: Med is located in a complex called Block8 which has 6 different venues within the one building.  The entrance to Med is right off the side of i-Ultra Lounge, and directly to the left of the entrance is a private dining room surrounded by a floor-to-ceiling, wrap-around, glass-enclosed, mahogany wine rack.  Alan isn’t classified as a Master Sommelier (because they actually have those), but he is a master sommelier, if you know what I’m saying.  The guy knows a ton about wine, loves to drink it, loves to pair it with food, and loves to teach about it.  It all kind of hit me that day, as I was standing there, surrounded by thousands of bottles of beautiful wine, looking in on a wine tasting in the restaurant of my mentor who was so immersed in that wonderful world: that was a place I wanted to be; I was ready to take the plunge.

One year after and I’m sitting at a beverage tasting at Blue Smoke.  As a manager, every month or so we’re required to give presentations to the entire service staff about a specific wine, liquor, beer, etc.  More than any restaurant that I have ever seen, Blue Smoke emphasizes the importance of teaching the staff, and in doing so fosters not only a great knowledge of what is being sold, but also a sense of community and shared purpose among the staff.  The masterminds behind the program at Blue Smoke are Beverage Director Tinika Green and GM Kari Matthews.  They do a tremendous job in both sharing their knowledge of beverages to the staff and also pushing the rest to delve into their world.  I remember it clear as day.  Even a few months into my tenure at Blue Smoke, I still was mostly partial to drinking sweet white wines.  It was during a tasting that we were learning about a Valpolicella (actually an Amarone from the Valpolicella wine-making area of Italy) when my eyes were opened to the full world of wine.  I turned to Tinika and she saw my face nodding, she said, “that’s good right?”  I didn’t even know what to say.  I had discovered the first aisle of my Walmart.  My appreciation for wine hit its first peak and it hasn’t stopped rising since that day.

Wine is a journey.  There is so much to know about it, and it is my firm belief that nobody will ever know everything about it.  Very few will ever even master it.  But to love wine is to love life, because wine is one of the most beautiful creations of this green earth.  It means something different to everybody who drinks it.  But all should respect it, and in doing so, should seek to understand as much of it as possible.

I’m happy to say I’ve got to be somewhere near aisle 4 or 5 in my Walmart of wine.  I’m comfortable drinking, tasting, describing, and teaching about wine.  I’m nowhere near where I want to one day be, but I’m getting there.  A few weeks ago I was in Shanghai, China at the grand opening party for Alan’s restaurant Haiku.  I was drinking a glass of wine and talking to my friend, one of the bartenders.  He asked me what it tasted like and I explained to him the fruits it tasted like in Chinese.  He read the bottle (which I could not read) and looked up in amazement.  I had described the wine exactly how it said on the bottle – in Chinese!  I acted confident and that I knew that would happen, but it actually surprised me a little.  I was proud.

I’m getting there.  The best part about it is that there’s nowhere to get.  It is just more knowledge and more understanding – and along the way, a lot more wine!

In a Vietnamese Restaurant in Shanghai, China

Enjoying Fresh Coconut Juice After Two Delicious

Glasses of Wine – Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon

Richard and I at Block8 in Front of Med’s Beautiful Wine Cellar


2 Responses to “Why Wine?”

  1. Taylor October 24, 2010 at 12:20 am #

    Love this! I remember that day in World Market and also being super overwhelmed. I definitely need to keep discovering more about wine, I still haven’t really explored reds (except red cat of course). That’s awesome that your work teaches the staff!

  2. Leila October 24, 2010 at 3:04 am #

    Taylor, I love that you just mentioned red cat.

    Ryan – you should really check out the book ‘Windows on the World.’ it’s like an amazing wine index of everything you need to know but teaches in a way that’s definitely not boring. when i worked at the steakhouse every server had to buy a copy and we studied a chapter a week and were tested on it, it might have been a pain sometimes but we learned so much, maybe vaulted door should give that a shot 🙂

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