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"Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

Ernest Hemingway, American author, 1899-1961.

Buying Wine

Winery Insight Featured Article - May 2006 by Timothy O. Rice


There is a first time for everything.


I cannot say I recall the very first bottle of wine I bought.  That occurred at some point in my college days, most likely while buying beer and spirits for a party, and I doubt that it was a wine I would like to remember. 


That was at least a decade after Ernest Hemingway, quoted above, died.  Wine in America wasn't much at that time.  Ripple, Boone's Farm, and Richard's Wild Irish Rose are names I remember from college parties, and since I did not think I liked wine, they probably reinforced my feelings about wine.  When someone I knew wanted something a little better, they bought Lancer's or Mateus, both Portuguese imports with unique types of bottles.  I drank beer.


Sometime in the later 1970s, after I was out of college, I do remember a particular bottle I bought.  I was going to visit a friend and stopped in a liquor store.  I still do not know why I bought that bottle; I thought I was buying beer when I went in.  Somehow it caught my eye.  Maybe it was the label.  Maybe it was the display.  Maybe it was the name, sounding a bit more exotic than Budweiser.  No matter.  I walked out with a bottle of a Hungarian red wine called "Magyar Red".


My friend Fred looked at me funny when I brought it in.  But we were young then, and after a few comments, we found a corkscrew, opened it up, and poured two glasses out.


I wish I could say great things about that wine.  I wish I could extol the nose and describe the hints of this and the ripeness of that.  I can not.  All I really can say is that it was dark red and dry.  Really dry.  Very, very dry.  The kind of dry that makes your tongue shrivel up and your cheeks pucker in.  I suppose we might have tossed it after that and gone on to something else, but ... well, I did mention I hadn't bought the beer, didn't I?


So we finished the bottle, and I seem to remember it was a large bottle.  After a while, it somehow tasted better, and at the end it really seemed okay.  I never saw another bottle of Magyar Red that I recall.


That was about it for my wine drinking for a few years.  About 1980 I took a trip to California and I remember Gewurtztraminers fondly from a trip to Sonoma.  I had family that came back from Germany and would sometimes pour wine, but I really preferred beer.  Sometime in the 1980s I drifted into drinking more and more wine; then visiting wineries.  Nowadays, I drink very little beer and have a small cellar racked down under the stairs in my basement. 


We were in a wine store this past weekend, and I was remarking to my wife that I had it bad.  I just like walking through the aisles and looking at the bottles.  With enough money in the bank, I would be in danger of becoming the worst of wine collectors, with a temperature-controlled room full of wine I would never drink.  As it is, my inability to buy all that I see probably saves me a lot of trouble, and I have no qualms about drinking what I have.


As we were talking, we began to discuss how we decided to buy a particular bottle.  Sometimes we do a little research, sometimes we go to tastings at wineries and in stores, and sometimes we have a discussion with the wine salesman in the store.  All have their attractions and benefits.  But we both agreed that sometimes we see a bottle and we just want that one.  The label is pretty, or the shape is unusual, or the colors seem so striking.  No particular reason to think that wine is better or worse than another Pinot or Cabernet or Merlot.  No knowledge of the price even -- just a glance as we walked by and suddenly it was that one we wanted.


We do not do that a lot; we try to be a bit more structured in our picks.  Yet every once in a while we simply lay our hands on a bottle because we feel like it, and take that one home.  I suppose you might say we had been caught in the marketing trap, and that some packaging designer had done his work well.  I agree ... and still there is something more.  A hint of mystery, perhaps, or a sneaky desire to find some unexpected gem.  After all, that unknown bottle might have something really good to share.


After all, I still remember Magyar Red with a sneaking fondness, close on thirty years later.  Maybe I can find that again.  If only I could remember who made it!

 Last modified: August 07, 2007