Chef Matt and I are not big drinkers. On the rare occasion that we open a bottle of wine, it will sit on the counter and further ferment, almost full, for two months before it finally comes to rest at the bottom of our garbage disposal.
During our epic Napa vacation, however, I woke each day feeling like I'd been marinating in a cask of wine. We Ping-Ponged up and down Highway 29 in Napa Valley, armed with a tourist brochure highlighting all the vineyards offering free tastings, and sampled dozens of reds and whites, and a few champagnes. The exotic thrill of a mid-morning haze lured us down canopied driveways, into stone buildings or wide porches with a view of the valley, where the ancient spell of wine swirled about us like wind and neatly carried us away.
My wine education began, as many others' have, in college with a box of something pink and ridiculously sweet. It wasn't until I spent a summer in Germany, drinking red Argentinian wine late into the evenings, that I understood how wine should be acknowledged as its own course, alongside appetizer and dessert. When I drink a glass of good wine with a good meal, it seems to seep into the miniscule crevices between food-flavors and complete by way of complementing.
The allure of wine is much the same as the allure of food: enjoyment tempered with education. I can enjoy food without feeling compelled to learn, but when I understand how to parfait flavors or appreciate textures, eating is less an act of sustinence and more an act of gratification. Wine becomes more complex as the secrets behind aromas and tastes and pairings are revealed, and I am tempted to savor its complexity with greater care, just as one would sip a fine whiskey or take tiny bites of a dense chocolate fudge.
Neither Matt nor I have sophisticated wine palates -- although I must admit I was duly impressed with his ability to isolate flavors in every wine we tasted -- but we both love the aura that accompanies wine-drinking. I feel more companionable with a glass of wine in hand, more aware of fermented grapes' place at a wedding in Cana and centuries of Tuscan dinner tables and homemade presses in 1920s cellars.
We left Napa with a rather embarassing number of bottles, especially for two people who drink more Coke than wine. But we couldn't help ourselves. We simply could not leave to memory wines tasted in a replica Italian castle, in a migrant-owned vineyard, or on a sunny patio where I was reacquainted with Chardonnay, so we filled our wine rack with images of Napa, suspended for a time in divine gold and scarlet liquids.