In 2006, my wife and I met in NYC. Our earliest dates took us to nice restaurants around the City, where I constantly tried to impress her with my worldliness. The truth was I was more of a farm boy than a city slicker: I had never even looked at a wine menu before meeting her. While I knew enough about beer and whiskey to get what I wanted at a bar, I knew absolutely nothing about wine, and the options presented were always extremely overwhelming, especially with the added stress of trying to impress this woman. What is the difference between a Merlot from California and one from Oregon? How do I know if a wine is a "good" vintage? White with fish, red with meat, but what do you do about pasta? How do you even make sense of French wine? I muddled through the best I could, but despaired of ever really making sense of it all. I was just a farm boy, pretending to be a grown-up in the big City.
Eventually, I decided to take the big step and introduce my girlfriend to my mother. At the time, my mother was living in hills outside of Ithaca, NY, in the heart of the Finger Lakes. On that first trip, we ended up on the wine trail around Cayuga Lake. Although I didn't expect much in terms of the wine tasting, we immediately fell in love with the entire experience. The casual pace of the region was a welcome respite from the bustle of New York City. The views of the lake and farmland from the steep hillsides was breathtaking. And the wines were approachable, easy to drink, and tied so closely to the land, that the mystery I'd always felt was soon dispelled. I had found enjoyment in wine!
Standing with a small group of strangers in their new tasting room, we were given the opportunity to try several wine and were persuaded to try their award winning Rieslings. The juxtaposition of the 2009 Dry and Semi-Dry Rieslings brought everything into focus for me. In those moments, I could literally taste the importance of a mature vineyard, of matching the climate to the grape, and of paying careful attention to the craftsmanship of the wine. Even the elusive "terrior" made sense to me, as I could taste hints of the shale that permeate the hills of the region. Sitting in that tasting room, enjoying samples of the wonderful wines in the warm fall sun, and watching the harvest of the grapes, my appreciation for wine became a passion, and my understanding of the farmers who have built this industry one grape at a time turned into respect.
Learning what I liked, and why I liked it, I took that experience and started to explore wine seriously, expanding my knowledge a little more with every glass. I'm still new to this, but I've come a long way. Friends and family often turn to me for wine suggestions and I'm able to distill a wine menu pretty easily now.
My wife never complained during those early days as I bluffed my way through wine menus throughout New York City. Only recently she admitted that, although she always loved wine, she felt just as ignorant about it back then. Five years have passed and we're now laughing at this stress: as we continue to learn about wine we realize it's not so difficult, after all, and it's much more enjoyable than we would have imagined.
Nathan Ophardt is an architect, blogger, and fledgling wine hound. Along with his wife Tina, he is exploring the wide world of wine on their blog, LocalVinacular.com.