“When I was growing up in New York City, the only wine I remember was this awful sweet, syrupy, sticky stuff. It was Mogen David or Manischewitz or something like that. I dreaded Passovers, in part because of the long ceremonies that my uncle would hold. But the wine, well, that’s what I thought wine was.
Fast forward: I spent a year in New Guinea teaching young Papua New Guineans about botany. I was about 30 and had malaria three times. Anyway, I travel a lot and you get these gamma globulin shots for hepatitis, and one day my doctor said: 'You know, your liver enzymes seem quite high.' He detailed all the possible things that could cause this – hepatitis, various viruses – which made me almost faint.
I’m a biologist, so I figured, liver and alcohol don’t get along too well. So for the next 15 years, I didn’t touch a drop of alcohol, not even if it was in cough syrup.
It turns out that I’m a celiac; I’m gluten intolerant. So I realized, okay, I can drink alcohol. But I couldn’t drink beer or any of the distilled spirits made from wheat, rye or barley, so that leaves mostly wine.
By chance, a friend invited me to City Club in Fort Worth [Texas], to their biweekly wine luncheon. Remember, I didn’t know what real wine was. Most of the people there had a lot of experience. This woman sitting next to me said, 'Smell the wine you’re drinking now. Do you smell the grapefruit?' I said, 'Yes, I do.' She said, 'Well, that’s a Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc. Once you know the smell and taste, you’ll always be able to recognize the grape.'
It was a revelation, matching the way it smells and tastes with the grape. I said, 'Whoa! This is what wine is!'
As a result of that, I now have an 800-bottle wine room and I’ve become a bit of a wine connoisseur. If I had to pick a favorite wine, I’d say the 2000 Bordeaux. The Burgundies are great, but I can’t afford most of them. I have good taste. I just don’t have the wallet to go with it.”
As told to Erica Berenstein
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