Do you remember your first taste of wine? I do, vividly. It was offered to me when I was around 12 by my best friend’s (now my stepbrother) grandfather, a self-made man of German ancestry who, by dint of hard work had created a paper company from scratch. To instill a sense of hard work and perseverance in his grandson he gave him a kit from which he had to build a model of a four-masted schooner from balsa and other kinds of wood.
One afternoon while I was keeping my friend company, his grandfather stepped from his study with two small glasses of a yellow liquid that he had apparently been drinking. He asked us to take a small sip. It was awful, sweet but at the same time with a bitter taste that totally put me off.
If I hadn’t moved to Spain, this sensation might have defined my attitude toward wine. I know that it has for lots of people. I didn’t drink any wine at all during high school and college because I ran track and cross country. I didn’t turn 21 until my senior year in college and when I did start drinking, my beverage of choice, like everyone else’s, was beer, not wine. I only started to drink wine after I moved to Spain in 1971 because it was plentiful, good and cheap. A glass of ordinary red cost 1 peseta, about 0,6 euro cents. My girlfriend (now my wife) and I could eat and drink all night for less than 100 pesetas (less than 1 euro).
I also vividly remember the simple pleasure of drinking red wine at the dining room table at the boarding house where I lived for six months at the end of 1971. Once in a while the owner would give me an empty bottle and ask me to go around the corner to the local bodega to get it filled from a tank behind the counter. After my wife and I married in 1973 our house wine was Señorío de los Llanos from Valdepeñas that we bought by the three-pack from our local supermarket.
Back in those days before my professional involvement with wine, our attitude toward it was as a simple, tasty accompaniment to lunch, dinner or an outing with friends that got our tongues going. We didn’t ‘taste’, we just drank and enjoyed it.
I’ve always been amazed that I got into the wine business with so few years of previous practical experience but necessity forced me to catch up fast. Now I smell and taste every liquid that I drink as if it was a wine tasting. Frankly, I’m beginning to think that it’s a stupid thing to do. When I took a step back from the front lines of the wine wars, I told myself that I was going to ‘enjoy’ wine again rather than look at it with a professional eye, nose and palate. This means not paying much attention to what wine writers and magazines say about any given wine.
If there’s one thing that almost 40 years in this business has taught me is that tasting is subjective. I’ve always believed in my own palate. Too many wine lovers have forgotten this simple truth, tending to rely on a so-called expert’s opinion. This is why so many uninspiring wines (in my humble opinion) have filled the shelves at wine shops and supermarkets. The next time you like a bottle of wine, tell your friends about it. We have to make word-of-mouth the driver of sales in the wine business.