What is the wine of choice for someone during college? Woodbridge? Sutter Homes? Perhaps, if you are lucky, Yellow Tail or Little Penguin? So the first time I actually had a delicious red wine in college I was immediately taken over to “the dark side.” The College of Wooster and Wooster Inn, in Northern Ohio, hosts wine tasting classes and dinners with the Executive Chef and Sommelier, Ken Bogucki. It was the first time they had tried the classes and gave a special discount for college students. Therefore, I cannot tell you exactly how much this specific bottle cost, but all I know is I would pay triple to have the same experience.
We showed up at the little inn on campus and were led to the dining room. There were a few local community members but the majority of us were college students. What a daunting task, properly teaching twenty-one-year-olds about not only wine, but how to actually drink it: clarity, brightness, color, intensity, rim variation, legs, bubbles, oh my!
Then the Wooster Inn wait staff paraded out nine classic whites. Ken would ask us the simple questions: what does it look like, does it have a lot of legs? If it does what does that mean? “It has a higher alcohol content,” the room would respond. I was being edged closer and closer to the dark side because we also had a delicious plate of food in front of us and were told to sample the Bridlewood Vigonier and then sample it with this certain kind of cheese. “Damn,” I thought, “people said wines change depending on what you are eating but I never believed them!”
We left that night after sampling 13 white wines and my mind was changed about them. I was not yet pushed completely to the dark side, but on the buzzed walk home, my roommate and I laughed and got excited about the wine dinner we were going to prepare.
The following week we showed up and sampled New World reds. All of them were delicious, but the week I was really looking forward to was the following week: The Wines of Italy and Germany! When that week finally came, I was prepared. The notes for this week were extensive, three pages of information about growing wine in Italy, the regulations, the four categories of Italian wines, including something I had never heard of, Super Tuscans! Then we got to the tastings.
I was pushed closer, closer, closer to the edge and then we reached Aurora Barbera d’Asti 2003 and I was pushed over the cliff. My notes have smiley faces and stars and lots of exclamation points all over the Italian wine page, but next to the Barbera d’Asti it says “Clear, bright, ruby, vanilla, try with Italian sausage or pepperoni – WITH CHOCOLATE!!”
The Barbera d’Asti was just the red that did it for me. I had never tasted a wine that changed so drastically based on how it was paired. For a college student with a limited palate, it was mind-blowing. This wine sticks out in my mind. I have had many a good wine since this point, but this is the wine that kept me coming back for more. This is the wine that had me drinking only Italian reds for over a year. When I moved into my apartment a year later, I found this wine and toasted to my new living space.
As the Italian and German wine tasting night wound down and the volume in the room revved up, I knew I was transformed into a wine drinker. Ken would ask us a question about clarity and no one would answer. We were sipping, tasting, pairing, asking for more of certain kinds, and I had truly been pushed over the edge.