Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How I Learned About Wine.


Many people ask me how I learned about wine. My stock answer when I do not feel like going into the whole story is that "I drink the stuff." Flippant as it may sound, it's the truth in a nutshell.

The long of it, though, is that my father has been into wine since I was very young. I recall that when I and my siblings were 9 years old, our father would offer us a small glass with dinner when he was having some. Naturally, my brother (older than I by 11 months) and I would accept since we wanted to feel grown up. As we got older, we started liking wine's effects, and, eventually, its taste.

By around high school and college, we'd have wine with our dad during dinner (not everyday; wines were mainly French, with a bit of Spanish and Italian thrown in). We took it for granted and viewed wine as a nice beverage to eat with, but never really bothered to learn about it (i.e., we'd not take note of vintages, origins, producers, etc.) - it was just "this one's good, that one not so good." You get the picture.

Having graduated law school in March 1991, I took the bar later that same year, got married in January 1992 and moved out. I started working in ACCRA the day after Catha and I arrived from our honeymoon (Egypt and the US - my dad also wanted us to spend some days in Paris but Catha didn't want to as it was way too cold there at the time). From then on, I couldn't rely on Dad's collection and had to buy my own wine (he gave me a bunch of bottles to start off though, and would occasionally bring nice bottles when he'd come over for dinner).

My new independence brought about the necessity to start really learning about wine. Obviously, as a young lawyer, I was earning very little. Thus, I had to pick and choose, carefully taking note of which bottles I liked so I could buy them again. This rudimentary knowledge progressed slowly - it was only in 1994, when I moved to my father's law firm, that I started making enough money to afford what I used to enjoy from my dad. I started regularly buying the 1855 classed growths wherever I could find them, but, still paid little mind to vintage traits - it was still pretty much "this one's good, that one not so good."

Thereafter, around 1995, Tonji, a very close, longtime friend, got into wine and started buying and reading books about it. I had never read any wine books until he lent me his that time. That was the start of my current geekiness - I devoured all the information I could get my hands on. Throughout this whole time, I continued imbibing, but, at that point, got more selective in purchasing and careful about proper storage and service.

The rest, tritely put, is history - traveling to and tasting through the wine-growing regions of France (i.e., Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Loire, Alsace), California (Napa & Sonoma) and Spain (Rioja and others) is a relatively recent development - circa 2001 (Napa/Sonoma) to present. I return to Bordeaux and Burgundy as often as I can, but not as often as I'd like, and, the past 2+ years, due to Miguel's influence, I've been obsessing over Riojan wines.

Along the way, I've been fortunate to have met and become friends with some confirmed winos with whom I further explored the wonders of different regions. With Bernie, the Stockbroker and Doc, I "explored" the wines of the Rhône and Burgundy regions; through Jerome I learned more about the wines of the Southwest France, Provence and Alsace; through/with Miguel and, of course, JC de Terry, the wines of Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Priorat, Rías Baixas, Bierzo, the País Vasco, etc.; through Aaron, the world of finer cava; and, through/with the Vigneron and the Grand Crew, I deepened my knowledge of Bordeaux by a great extent and honed whatever little blind tasting skills I have.

That all said, one thing remained (and remains) constant - I drank the stuff; one cannot truly learn otherwise*. In my opinion, one cannot truly know wine through books or professional reviewers - no matter how popular or revered. One must drink and pay attention to what is in one's own glass - that's really the only way.

* I vividly recall attending a lecture of a so-called local wine "expert" on Spanish wine around a couple of years ago. He made a statement to the effect that the best Priorats can age up to 10 years. I then asked him what the oldest Priorat he's ever had was, and he answered that it was a 1999 Cims de Porrera Classic. I wondered how he could make such a pronouncement when he never had any older Priorats (top producer or otherwise). Just for the record, I and a few friends have had top Priorats years older than that, and they were very fine indeed - not that I consider myself an "expert" on Spanish wine. In that regard, as far as I am concerned, when it comes to the the wines of Spain, the only expert in the Philippines is Juan Carlos de Terry.

10 comments:

Aaron said...

This is a great post, man! Very poignant (and in some parts, pointed, haha). Can't wait 'til Friday, to drink more of the "stuff"....

Gino G said...

This deserves a space in a lifestyle section of major daily. I agree with Aron, very poignant indeed.

jimaraneta said...

if only i enjoyed writing more, my how i learned about beer story would follow the same pattern. read all the books, tried the different beers in all my travels.. the only thing different aside from the beverage is that the influence was from my abuelito. my dad does not drink :-) excellent read!

Anonymous said...

YES, so true!!! I tell the same thing to german wine-newbies.

Martin

Miguel said...

Great Post....very true indeed...

Chris Y. said...

Excellent post, Noel. It was a very nice read!

R Schiffman (Brownbag) said...

This was a very enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

i just caught this piece, noel. very nicely said. some wonder why i obssess so much about tasting wines blind. as you yourself said, "one must drink and pay attention to what's in the glass." excellent note! -jojo

Socky said...

Love this post! Wine is a long, personal journey - no shortcuts. Gotta drink the stuff!

Ines Cabarrus said...

Agreed that this is a great post...I truly hope my own journey can be just like this. I think it's great that we have such a fun and helpful wine community in Manila- sharing knowledge and bottles along the way. :)