Classes have begun. My back tingles in anticipation of hunching for hours during late night writing sessions while my brain savors a few fleeting moments of peace before entering the hum of heavy caffeine intake. For now, however, I am sitting at my computer, sipping red wine with more thought and concentration than ever before. I am indeed drinking on a Sunday evening when I have class in less than 24 hours. Maybe I should read about the history of US foreign policy or Latin American democracy, but savoring a glass or two of wine may count as studying, or practicing, for another class: Wine, History, and the Environment. At least, that is the most appealing rationalization.
My 21st birthday fell on September of last year, and I have certainly taken advantage of the privilege that comes with reaching this milestone age. Eating out now involves beverages. I can enjoy the Springer Special, a blend of tequila and ginger beer, or a Belgian Pale Ale called “The Moan” at the High Horse while sharing a heaping plate of beef nachos with my friends, or digging into a beet and arugula salad topped with crisped goat cheese. I might order a Dark and Stormy while at Bistro 63 during a TYPO with my history professor or even pick up a six-pack of Heinekens at Russell’s to share with my parents over a meal of dim sum at Oriental Flavor. However, I have yet to delve into the magical world of wine. (For anyone under 21, I sincerely apologize for outlining the wonders of finally being of age, but your time will come soon enough. And, being able to drink at dinner is not necessarily the best liberty because beverages introduce a whole new level of expense to meals that suddenly has the check adding up far too quickly…)
But, I must return to this luscious glass of $6.99-a-bottle red wine, which may be a bit sweet for me but satisfies my romantic desire for the mystical juice. I entered Wine, History and the Environment because of a distinct interest in the product, as well as a desire to gain understanding I sorely lack. Part of this gap in knowledge is due to inexperience, I simply have not tried enough, but another reason is that wine is a daunting drink. Wine is never simply wine. After spending years watching my sister order bottles for our family, I have realized that there is a plethora of factors to consider, like vintage, region, and vineyard. The sheer multitude of details continuously overwhelms me, and in the past I have usually just allowed myself to order the comfortable drink, beer. Thus, my wine class is not simply a way to fill my history major and research paper requirement but rather a means of challenging myself to leave my comfort zone and enter the esoteric world of wine.
And so, I embarked upon this journey of discovery by throwing myself into an exciting, and potentially embarrassing, situation. I went to a wine tasting … And it wasn’t so bad! Who knew that we had free wine tastings available right in the town of Amherst? I certainly did not, until Professor Martini and Professor Lopez informed our class that if we were of age, we should make our way to Amherst Wines & Spirits between 2:00pm and 5:00pm on Saturdays for free tastings of the subject of our study. With classes barely begun and a Saturday afternoon open for adventure, my friends and I swiftly speed-walked amidst the gusts of snowflakes, down North Pleasant Street and through the town of Amherst until we reached one of my favorite new shops in town, Glazed Doughnuts. There, we banged a right, walked under the balcony above the cluster of shops, past the guitar store, and into Amherst Wine & Spirits.
As my eyes flitted about the store and from one wine label to another, each detail they caught further reminded me of how little I know. How can I distinguish between zinfandels and merlots, much less ask for one over the other? Would I rather a burgundy or a pinot noir? How should I know? Soon we wandered over to the register, where the owner stood with four ready bottles of wine and an offering of freshly sliced baguettes from Henion bakery. It was time.
He poured a small glass for each of us, and I realized that I knew nothing of the etiquette of wine tasting. I had heard about swirling the wine in the glass, sniffing it, swishing it, gargling it, spitting it, but what should I do? I gave the glass a twirl, inhaled the heady scent of red wine, took a sip, savored the slight bite of alcohol while scouring for other flavors, and swallowed. Soon I had finished the glass, not realizing until I had sampled two more that the silver pails standing beside the wine might be for the rest of the glass after we had tasted as much wine as we needed. Eventually, we had tried the four Spanish reds offered, and we returned to investigating the red and white wines, as well as other beverages like sake, port, and grappa. I enjoyed reading lyrical, handwritten descriptions of various wines and eventually chose a $6.99 bottle of French red wine and a $9.99 bottle of Italian red wine. Although a number of wines reached prices above a college student’s tight budget, many of those offered lay within an affordable range.
At this point in my incipient relationship with wine, I hesitate to recommend a particular wine. I will note that my glass of Baron d’Arignac may be a bit too sweet for my taste, but I also know that the owner will gladly help anyone who might request his aid, as I saw when my friend queried about a spicy red. As I continue in the quest to learn about wine, I hope to be able to propose various selections for certain meals and palettes, but for now I shall merely implore that you try tasting wine at Amherst Wine & Spirits, should you be of age. I am sure that you will find a bottle you like for a reasonable price.