On August 28, 2010 , I quit drinking alcohol. This decision proved to be problematic as I am locally known as Mrs. WINEormous – wine writer, blogger and avid taster. I knew I would be making some lifestyle changes but was determined to maintain my social and professional contacts.
Initially I stopped attending Tuesday afternoon wine tastings. Then I turned down tasting events. The last to go was my beloved Women’s Wine Council, a monthly gathering of 6 writer friends who meet to taste and review wines, creating our own customized food pairings. It is a jovial group with lots of lively conversation, unbridled opinions and more often than not, brilliant insights. Four months I spent, observing my friends from afar resigned to my fate as a staunch nephalist (abstainer from alcohol.)
I bemoaned my fate to Mr. WINEormous – why do I have to choose between my health and my wine? Then I got new A1c blood test results that monitor my diabetes. For the first time in more than twenty years I was re-diagnosed as a CONTROLLED diabetic. My thrill to receive this news overcame any desire to drink. I sailed through the holidays,concocting festive mock-tails and still pairing food and making wine recommendations for all.
I kept my faith that I could and would return to wine and food writing once again. Sure enough. I received an email invitation from Linda Kissam, wine council leader, inviting me to return, this time to bring a non-alcoholic beverage and food pairing to bridge a selection of Smoking Loon wines. I was ecstatic.
First I surveyed the selected wines. Smoking Loon is an offering from Don Sebastiani & Sons. The Women’s Wine Council (WWC) were to taste five of these reasonably priced (under $10) wines – 2008 Chardonnay, 2009 Pinot Noir, 2009 Merlot, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel. Since it was January, I decided to contribute a hot spiced cranberry cider, using traditional wine mulling spices.
My food pairing, selected to “bridge” the wines and cider, was a spicy hominy, green chile and cheese casserole created by a Southern Facebook friend. I eagerly entered the tasting determined to make intelligent and insightful contributions as a nephalist. I do not think this would have been successful if I had never tasted wines before. This time I relied solely on color and smell of the wines, taking a glass with a small pour – observing, swirling and aggressively sniffing each wine. Then I took a bite of the selected food pairing – sniffing, chewing, letting it linger in my mouth as I inhaled the wine aroma once again, then swallowing. I reluctantly, but cheerfully passed my glass on to a neighbor as I worked my way through the five wines.
The Chardonnay was delightful to smell with both tropical and citrus nuances. I judged it to be crisp and very food friendly. It paired nicely with my Hominy Casserole, as well as mushroom risotto. The Pinot Noir was described as being fruit-driven with spicy notes. My sniff test detected an intriguing complexity. I tried some sage cheese, wine-cured olives and dried fruit, finishing off with a piece of homemade fudge – all very friendly to my olfactory senses and my companions’ taste buds. A fruity, yet herbal scented Merlot led me on to pieces of meatloaf, more cheeses and fig jam and crackers. The tasters also gave a nod to these pairings.
I was on a roll with my fine-tuned “sniffology.” Next came the earthy dark fruit of the Cabernet Sauvignon. Savoring the rich aromas I stuck my nose deep into the wine glass, paused, and bit into an apricot sage shortbread cookie. Ah, nirvana. This was the unique combination I had been seeking. Now I was full-on smelling, tasting, snorting, nibbling, sniffing, savoring everything in sight.
Verging on sensory overload I approached the final wine, a 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel. Now back in the day a good California Zin was one of my go-to favorites. I eagerly breathed in the familiar aromas of rich raspberry with a hint of cinnamon and cloves. I could picture the gnarley, twisted old vines with their earthiness and pungent leathery smells. I could mentally taste this wine and knew it would be my favorite paired with anything on the table but ideally embracing the rich sinful fudge – 3 kinds of fudge – plain, with nuts and with dried fruit.
I would love to stop here and say all agreed with my pairing choices and I reigned triumphant but alas there was one thing that tasting had over smelling – the finish. All tasters agreed that the initial sip held all the promise I perceived but the finish on the palate didn’t deliver.
What did I learn from this experience? I still love to share the friendships surrounding wine and all of its nuances. I still love to prepare and enjoy food that has been created to complement wine. I think I was a better listener at this tasting, relying and considering the opinions of everyone before making snap judgements of my own.I believe I was able to participate, make a contribution and most of all enjoy the experience. Thank you Women’s Wine Council for encouraging me to remain Mrs. WINEormous Thanks to Corie Maue for the photos.