A month ago, at age 46, I uncorked my first bottle of wine.

Sure, as a teenager, I unscrewed a few bottles of Boone’s Farm, also known as I-don’t-care-what-it-tastes-like-as-long-as-it-is-cheap. This, though, was the first time operating a cork screw on my own.

As an adult, I had always stuck to beer. Now I’m not talking about something boldly sophisticated like Guinness. Nor did I let my taste buds explore the diverse flavors of local craft brewers. Boring, bland Coors Light or Bud Light was what my unimaginative lips uttered at any social gathering.

As my 30s eased into my 40s, my beverage of choice became a point of consternation with some of my girlfriends. “What?! You’ve never gone wine tasting in Napa?!” and “You don’t know the difference between a Pinot noir and a chardonnay?

One entertaining extraordinaire friend in particular always fretted about how my preference for beer would disrupt the natural flow of her wine-abundant dinner parties. To humor her, I began to sample. As a newbie, sparkling wine and sweet wine were the most palatable.

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Thanks to the tutelage of patient friends on the East Coast during the past couple weeks of vacation, I now know you inspect a cork instead of smelling it and that you swirl a glass to let the wine breathe.

I also know that Riesling wine is one of my favorites. I’m still working on developing a friendship with red wine, although I do enjoy a few sips of red with Trader Joe’s vegetarian chili. I’m a firm believer that crunchy ice makes everything more wonderful, so no surprise that I love Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw red known as Two-Buck Chuck before the price hike — if it is blended with tons of ice and with the California wine slushy mixes I picked up at the Harvest Festival at Cal Expo.

On the last day of my 2 1/2 week vacation in North Carolina, I even visited a winery for a tasting, and left a long while later giddy by the new experience and from all I had learned. While officially licensed as a winery, this place was actually a meadery, meaning its alcoholic beverages are made from fermenting a combination of honey and water. No grapes in this concoction, but the experience for the taste buds is quite similar.

Becky Starr of Starrlight Mead in Pittsboro, NC, co-owns and operates one of 150 meaderies nationwide, up from just 50 meaderies in 2006. Becky and Ben Starr, who are transplants from Southern California, got into making mead after tasting it at a Renaissance festival and discovering a dearth of it available for purchase. Just 2 1/2 years after opening their business, the Starrs are increasing production capacity so they can better keep up with demand.

Like with wine, my favorite meads were the sweet ones — Semi-sweet Blackberry Mead, Sweet Peach Mead and Spiced Apple Mead. This last one can be consumed at room temperature, chilled or warmed in a Crock-Pot for fall and winter holiday gatherings. Now I’m looking forward to trying a chocolate version that Starrlight will have ready for Valentine’s Day.

I was slow to embrace wine — made with or without grapes — but what fun I’m now having with my education.


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