A sportswriter recently told me that before he took his job he had never paid much attention to sports and had never played a sport. He said he still not know how to build an offensive line or teach a zone defense. He has prevailed by reporting scores, game highlights, and presenting stories about the athletes and coaches he covers.
I could have transposed his comments into my wine writing. I have never really harvested a grape nor worked in either a vineyard or a winery, though I have consulted for restaurants and taught wine appreciation classes for several universities. I also organized winery visits for various interest groups from time to time.
I was never good at chemistry, and my farming skills were limited to tomato and cucumber patches in my family’s back yard during the Great Depression. Consequently, I cannot read the instruments that measure ripeness or Ph levels, sugar content, or even evaporation rates. In general, I cannot by sight tell a Pinot Gris from a Riesling on the vine, though I can recognize rot and a few insects.
What I’m getting at is that I have become fairly good at sharing experiences, telling stories. Because of my love of wine, I pursued it in much the same way that art critics chase Old Masters and avant-garde newbies, the way my sports writer reports competitions and athletic achievements.
On my own, I met producers in Europe and across America. I observed them at work — in winter, spring, summer, and the autumn harvests. I know the rhythm of their work, their issues, and their achievements. I admire their products and find that they are best when shared. Like the sports writer who appreciates a home run or a no-hit game, I appreciate a wine producer who creates a delicious, often memorable experience, and these are the stories I like to share.
No, I have never been employed in the wine profession nor schooled in the arts of production, except vicariously by visiting, talking, asking, sniffing, and tasting, all of which is much easier than tilling the soil, spraying the leaves, cutting the bunches, and toting the crop to the winery. But I have been blessed because most of the producers I have met appreciate my stories, and I have made hundreds of friends by telling those stories.
After two years of intensive research, Ben-Gurion University staffers told us what many of us already knew — or at least wanted to know. Those who drink wine every day have more beneficial levels of good cholesterol than those who don’t and better metabolism. They also sleep better. So there. Enough said.
The 224 participants in the two-year study were required to eat a Mediterranean diet and drink their choice of five ounces of water, dry white wine, or dry red wine daily. They were selected because they had a controlled profile of type-2 diabetes so the researchers could assess the effect of wine on the cardiovascular diseases common to such physical conditions.
Of course they were monitored closely concerning vital signs, liver functions, and other essential aspects of bodily health. The reports of the study I have seen did not specify what kinds of wines the patients drank, merely referring to them as white or red. They did make a point of saying that the wine drinkers fared much better than those who drank only water.
There were also descriptions of bad effects that could result from consuming too much wine as well as the loss of benefits from drinking too little. The “too much” and “too little” definitions seemed to be identified in the limit of a single five-ounce glass a day.
Some of us feel that five ounces a day is a bit restrictive, but we do take comfort in having serious evidence backing our long-held contentions that consumption of wine is beneficial.
It’s early for New Year’s resolutions, so I’ll just call this a resolution. I shall drink more Zinfandel in the future. It isn’t that I don’t care for the grape, it’s just that I have never had proper opportunities to experience it. Most of my wine teeth were cut in Europe. And it was in Europe that I met the Mondavis and Cakebreads and other Napa producers whose invitations took me to their territory where I constantly worked at comparing how New World varietals compared with Old World varietals. Not only that, during my re-entry to America, White Zinfandel was all the rage, and I distinctly did not care for it. I ignored “America’s grape.”
Last night’s bottle of 2013 Zinfandel from Napa’s Oakville Winery brought the above into focus. I had even ignored the Oakville Winery, mostly because I spent time with their neighbors, mentioned above. The friend who had left this bottle in our home was a Zin aficianado and had tried for several years to convert me. Though he made progress, I still always went to my old faithful Cabernets, Pinot Noirs, Rhones, Nebbiolos, and Grenaches.
I recalled a “wine-tasting” dinner in Bloomington in the late 1990s where the host repeated his favorite mantra: “Zinfandel is a red wine; Zinfandel is a red wine.” He told us how varied it can be depending on where it’s produced and the quality of harvest conditions. Though he and his wines pleased me and I did buy a few bottles from time to time, I tended to pass right by the Zin shelves when shopping for wine. Same with my biannual excursions to Napa and Paso Robles — here and there a sip of Zinfandel but a lot of focus on my long-standing favorites.
In the quiet of our dinner last night — no guests, no family running in and out — we savored the pleasantly sweet impact on the tongue, the lingering fruity impact on the palate, and the soothing length of the finish. If I had been guessing, I would have said “Italian.” After all, the grape has its birthright in the Italian Primitivo, but this was not the Primitivo I had met in Italy’s boot country. Nor was it what I had become used to in the more traditional French varietals. I realized I had been missing something that needed to be dealt with, an exciting discovery for an aged wine lover who had begun to feel he had tasted it all.
Zinfandel will probably not really replace my regular doses of Cabernet, but it will certainly be a more frequent presence at my dinner table.OLDER POSTS »