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The Evolution of an Oenophile
© by Linwood Slayton
Do you remember when we used to sip Bali Hai, Boone's Farm (apple), Ripple? Those were the "acceptable" wines of the time - wines sold for an affordable price for those of us on a shoestring budget in college. I can recall hanging out on the "yard" at Howard University in Washington D.C. and looking down my nose at the brothers who were guzzling Thunderbird ("what's the price? thirty twice!) or Mad Dog 20-20 (Mogen David 20% alcohol, I believe).

Candidly, I guess I had the makings of a "wine snob" even then. Truth be told, once you develop an appreciation for wine, you are embarking on a never-ending quest for something a little better than what you drank last week, last month, last year - even 30 years ago.

As I reminisce a bit more, I can recall my next "major" wine moment. I had graduated from Howard and was attending a party where the ladies were drinking Chablis. Mind you, this was one of those "fancy" parties where they were serving the drinks in clear plastic cups - not plain ol' paper cups. The guys, of course, would not dare drink a "ladies" drink - we were into bourbon, scotch, rum, gin or vodka - "real liquor" for "real men"(?) Every now and then we would buy a bottle of Mateus Rose (in the pretty and fancy shaped bottle) or even a bottle of Harvey's Bristol Cream or Cream Concord, if you really wanted to impress the lady you were visiting. (Circa, 1971-72)

Fast forward to the mid-1980's: by this time, I had moved to Atlanta and was an attorney. I began to be exposed to German wines at that time and they were far better to drink than Riunite or Canei or the sweet "pop" wines in favor at that time. I remember my first bottle of Blue Nun, a Liebfraumilch that was slightly sweet but tasted so good. I then experimented with the Rieslings and Kabinetts and Piesporters - all slightly sweet but in varying degrees and relatively mild in terms of alcohol content. Much thanks to my mentor, John Turner, Wash. DC.

Some time thereafter, my journey accelerated and I was exposed to California Chardonnay and French Pouilly-Fuissé as "better" white wines. Mind you, at parties, hosts still served "jug" wines or "box" wines of unknown vintages, again mainly for the ladies.

Then the White Zinfandel explosion hit the streets of Atlanta and everywhere else I travelled. All of a sudden, it seemed that everyone was into "white zins" and again it was the ladies who spearheaded this movement as I recall.

I moved from the white zins very quickly back to my Chardonnays because I had evolved away from the sweeter wines. It took me several more years of being strictly a white-wine drinker to develop a nose and a taste for red wine. There is no question that red wine is an acquired taste that grows on you over time. My early red favorite was Cabernet Sauvignon but it was often too heavy and undeveloped to really appreciate it without food. I discovered Merlot, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir and began to develop a sense of their likes and differences.

The transition to finer wines - especially red wines - was smoother when I began to learn to appreciate a good bottle of wine with a good meal. I had to literally force some of my friends to stop ordering "cocktails" before dinner at a nice restaurant and to pool the funds spent thereon for a good bottle or two of wine to enhance our dining pleasure. For many of my friends, this was their first real taste of the "good stuff" - at dinner with good people and good conversation, Isn't that the best way to enjoy fine wine? It is for me!

I have much more to learn and many more wines to taste and savor. That is the fun of it - every bottle of wine is different. I am just beginning to delve into wines from France and Italy. I always try to find a wine that is truly a "best buy".

So, here I am today writing about wine, exploring the nuances and subtleties of wine and "preaching the gospel" of wine to all that will read or listen to what I have to say. Why?

Wine, for me, is a treat - a treasure if you will - that has withstood the test of time. Wine has a tradition, a history, a culture all of its own. One can not appreciate history and culture - European, African, Asian - without understanding the role wine played, from the Last Supper to a Champagne toast at a Bar Mitzvah or at your daughter's wedding.

In future columns, I will endeavor to share my experiences and personal perspectives on wine based on my culture and the shared tastes and values of my friends. It is my hope that someway, somehow, I will touch the soul of somebody who will get the "bug" and, in turn, ignite a similar passion in their friends and associates.

It's funny, if someone today were to ask you "what's the price?" and you responded "thirty twice", we'd be talking about a $60 bottle of wine. Back in the day, I would have been called a "wino" ... today I am an oenophile. How times have changed!

April 25, 2001

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