Last weekend, we had the good fortune of visiting Walla Walla, Washington for two days with the noble purposes of tasting local wines and spending time with our good friends, Wendy and Brian. Just show up, taste wine, and repeat. Interspersed with great food and strolling around tasting rooms. What a life, right?
And to make it even better, Brian had completely scoped out our personal winery trail, so all we had to do was follow along. Considering that there are 140+ wineries in the area, a well thought-out plan is the key to success, as well as avoiding alcoholism.
NOTE: We did not visit all 140 wineries.
With the precision of military maneuvers, we started our weekend journey with several downtown wineries.
I quickly realized that wine tasting is really fun, but it’s weird. It still goes against my very core to taste a wine and then pour out the rest. But I did, just to prove that I wasn’t raised by wolves.
After going to a handful of wineries on Friday afternoon, and being shocked that my husband, the El Cheapo wine guy, would actually buy wine that cost more than $20/bottle, we had a fantastic meal at the legendary Saffron restaurant, where we had full glasses of wine instead of mere tastes. Thank god. It doesn’t get better than this.
Saturday morning started with a hearty, mostly savory meal at a local breakfast place that was fabulous. My strategy was to eat well at breakfast, so that I could keep from stumbling before noon. I didn’t eat or drink anything weird. My palate was rested, satisfied, and raring to go.
We started at 10:00 am. I’ve got to admit that my morning alcohol consumption to date has largely been limited to the very occasional spicy Bloody Mary or modestly spiked coffee. But when in Walla Walla…
We started tasting at L’Ecole 41 winery. The whites tasted fine, but the reds were tantamount to vinegar by the time they hit my palate. What was wrong? Had I lost my touch? This is not my first rodeo.
Nope. I had to admit a terrible, terrible truth:
I am a great wine drinker but a really lousy wine taster.
Normally this wouldn’t bother me much but, in just a few weeks, I’ll be joining a group of 11 other delightful people in Spain for a 12-day culinarily-oriented trip, which will include such delights as wine, beer, olive oil-tasting, vermouth-tasting, and other seriously fabulous foodie activities. I suddenly realized how ill-equipped I am for this trip:
I have chronic TBF: Taste Bud Fatigue.
I was almost as upset as when I discovered how many calories are in cheese.
In spite of my irrational exuberance at signing up for this trip, I have many food-related flaws to report, in addition to TBF, so please don’t hold them against me:
- I once broke a week-long fast with Pringles potato chips. I bought them, sat in my car in the parking lot, and ate all of them…like a four-year-old with a plate of brownies.
- I have essentially no sense of smell. It wasn’t always this way, as I have a distinct and disgusting memory of the smell of Pine Sol in the girls’ outhouse at camp in 1964. But, alas, an illness when I was in college robbed me of it. Let’s put it this way: If I can smell something, it’s on fire.
- I have been known to drink champagne with Oreos. Don’t judge me. Have you tried it?
- I have really poor knife skills, mostly because when I chop onions, I’m crying and can’t see what I’m doing. The likelihood of my chopping an onion properly is right up there with my ability to come up with one more unique password.
- In addition to growing up eating spicy food in Phoenix, I’ve continued to bombard my palate in my adult life with chronic overspicing, no doubt to make up for my lousy sense of smell. But then there was the Flu of 2013, when I literally lived on cough drops for a solid month. After that, I couldn’t taste anything for at least six months.
- I just found out that I am not a Baby Boomer, but a Generation Joneser. This means I truly came of age during the birth of Cheez Whiz, Fresca, and Tab, which may explain a lot.
- I cannot drink red wine for at least a month after running a half marathon. Figure that one out.
- Sadly, I even have poor relations with some of my kitchen appliances. For example, I still have a scar from that Pop Tart injury I sustained back in ’71. Some things never heal.
- And you should see the scar from the cut I got from the wine bottle foil. Not pretty. (Note to self: Pack more Bandaids.)
But enough of my flaws. Little did I know, back in 1994, while we were living for a few months in Santiago, Chile, that the seeds would be planted for this upcoming trip. I remember standing in Alvaro and Marisa’s kitchen, watching Alvaro make tortilla española and baked fish. While he prepped, I was drinking my share of his wine, and taking notes, which sadly turned out to be mostly illegible. But it whetted my appetite for Spanish food. A bit later, the tapas craze only made it worse, since I would be very happy to live on appetizers forever. So I guess I’ve been jonesin for Spanish food for a very long time.
So, with this remarkable trip to Spain looming in my future, I sway between irrational exuberance and flat-out insecurity. There are a few people on this trip taking suitcases designed to carry 6 or 12 bottles of wine! And Iest you think I’m kidding, here’s what the larger version looks like:
People who own such suitcases deserve them and I applaud their commitment and expertise; I, on the other hand, will barely have enough room in my borrowed suitcase for a half-dozen packets of saffron.
But, don’t give up hope on me. There is one wine that I tasted with my whole being and will never forget. It was a wedding gift from Gary’s brother – a 1945 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. So, in 1986, I took one bite of our first homemade Beef Wellington, took a sip of the decanted wine, and immediately stopped eating. I just drank the wine. I couldn’t smell it but it was like drinking velvet. I heard the angels sing.
OK, so I’m a little impaired in the smelling and tasting department. But the real power of wine and food tasting comes from its ability to bring us into present time, instantly. To remind us to stop and enjoy whoever we’re enjoying it with. To share that experience, as a rank amateur like me or as an expert like you, may be all that matters. And this, I am very good at.
If my only superpower is my ability to make wine disappear, maybe I should pack a cape.
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.