I have a friend of the family who has been near and dear to us for the last 38 years. His name is George, he is British and of modest means, but he sure loves his wine, and scotch, and port, and brandy, and madeira, and pretty much anything alcoholic.
George moved to Ottawa a few years ago and so we do not get together with any frequency like we used to in years gone by. For the last 30 years I was a long standing member of The Opimian Society of Canada, which is a wine appreciation society and wine purchasing co-op. Through the society we would purchase private label wines and for several years much of my wine consumption was purchased through The Opimian Society. It naturally progressed to the point where I was purchasing wine through my membership not just for myself but for friends and family as well, George included.
George took the old “I’ll have what he’s having” approach and simply had me purchase for him some of whatever I was buying for myself. This would inevitably lead to funny situations at delivery time when I would have 15 – 20 bottles of wine for him from 4 or 5 different types of wine. Even though he knew what he had bought when paying for the wine 4 or 5 months earlier when the order was placed and paid for, by the time it was delivered a few months later George had usually forgotten what he had bought and what he was picking up. Hence the phrase “Do I like that wine?” became a regular part of our pickup and delivery conversations.
This led to two funny situations with George. The first funny moment occurred when we got delivery of our Bordeaux shipment one year, and there were 7 different wines for George, mostly red. George asked me if I would label the bottles with stickers telling him how long to keep them, for special occasions or for everyday drinking, etc. Being one who always likes to please, I obliged and labeled the bottles. Of course I took it upon myself to label them with creative language that I knew George would understand, and maybe even find amusing.
Several months later George called me one day to tell me what had happened on this hot date he had with his new girlfriend. He had reached into his closet (George’s wine cellar) and pulled out a bottle of what he thought was his best wine. George had obviously not read my label on the back of the bottle which clearly said “To be drunk with cheap hooker” meaning this was not a bottle of the best, and he had some tall explaining to do when his girlfriend read the back label.
Some years later circumstances allowed me to play another good prank on George on that same theme of “Do I like this wine?” Going through my Dad’s wine cellar I came across 5 bottles of 10 year old Beaujolais Nouveau, my Dad did not drink red wine and this was gifted to him, so he just let it rot in his cellar. The wine was worse than vinegar. I threw out all but one bottle, saving that one bottle for a “special occasion”. I had something in mind for an upcoming dinner party we were planning.
A month later we hosted a dinner party for 5 other people, George among them. I poured everyone a glass of red wine in the kitchen and brought the glasses into the dining room two by two, of course saving George’s glass for last. This was early December and we were actually tasting a young Beaujolais Nouveau recently arrived. George of course had been served up a glass of “not so new” Beaujolais Nouveau.
The real Beaujolais Nouveau was just as one might expect: fresh, light, young, not very complex, fruity but no body and no aftertaste, a little barnyard and vegetable in taste. But just for sport we all went on and on about what a great year this would be if this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau is any indication. For about 5 minutes George just sat there in bewilderment, politely sipping his wine, trying not to show how awful it tasted, nodding his head in agreement with all the praise being dished out for this great wine, yet quietly trying to figure out for himself what was so wrong. It makes me laugh even today some 15 years later when I see that perplexed look on George’s face as he wrestled with how he was either going to drink this glass of vinegar or disagree with our collective assessment of this fine bottle.
Finally the moment passed and George simply blurted out that there must be something wrong with his glass. Well that was it for our straight faced masquerade, we all burst out laughing, and after the dust settled I poured George a glass of the good stuff.
So there is a purpose to this story. “Do I like this wine?” is really a very curious question to be asking because everyone is different, and very seldom will two different people’s taste buds be completely alike. While husband and wife might like the same red wines, husband may only like a Chardonnay in white wine while his spouse actually hates Chardonnay but adores Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. Personally I like just about everything alcoholic, but for some strange reason I just don’t like Scotch.
So each of us has our own unique taste buds and our own unique taste preferences. The best way to determine what you like and what you prefer is to try many different types of wines and spirits, and through a process of elimination keep coming back to what you like. There is so much choice in wine that you could easily drink a different wine every time you drank a glass of wine and never drink the same wine twice. In order to really appreciate a great wine, you do need to have tasted a number of average wines. This forms your tasting reference points, you need to have those. If you only ever tasted great wines, they would all seem average to you, and you might end up very disappointed at not being able to find a better wine.
George has tasted some pretty gruesome wine in his days, so I am pleased to advise that George has a good broad based point of reference which allows him to appreciate all the great wine he drinks when he visits our place. George is one of our most appreciative guests, and he always comes back for more, just not as often now that he is living in Ottawa.
When George used to ask me “Do I like this wine?” what he really meant was “Will I like this wine?”. Knowing George’s tastes I could always reply with confidence “Yes”, after all I would never steer him wrong now, would I?