Asked and Answered: Dara Answers All Your Peskiest Wine Questions.

I can hardly believe it, but we are today celebrating the sixth anniversary of Wine & Dine. I know sixth anniversaries don't usually get a lot of fireworks and silver loving cups, but this particular sixth anniversary is sentimental for me, because we have here the writings of San Francisco-based wine critic Tim Teichgraeber, the person who introduced me to wine as something dynamic, historical, and interesting—and not just stuff old rich people went on too much about.

I can't remember exactly how it all started, but I do know it began, as so many things do, in the back of the 7th St. Entry after a show, when you find you are having one of those Minneapolis days where the city is almost too small to sustain believability. I had already been a restaurant critic for a few years, and had begun to regard wine lists with suspicion: What was I not understanding about what they said? I felt that so much in restaurants conveyed bucketfuls of meaning, from the hand towels in the bathroom to the font on the menu, but the wine lists were largely unclear to me.

Sure, there were short ones and cheap ones and ones that went on for days, but what did they mean, and what were other people reading on them that was invisible to me? With such things in the back of my head, I was introduced one smoky night to Tim, who was then writing wine reviews for the Pulse. We discovered we lived not 200 feet from one another and had half a dozen friends in common. He mentioned he would be tasting a case of wines the next day; while he would need privacy during the day in order to take notes, I was welcome to drop by in the evening to taste them all.


Winner, 2007 James Beard Award for Journalism

Everything he said sounded completely mad: He was going to taste a case of wine? In a day? And take notes? I spent the next day, a Sunday, wrestling with plaster and taping drywall seams in my house. And though I tried to bow out 10 times, there's only so much protest you can muster when your furniture is on the porch and a friendly glass of wine awaits a few doors down. I do remember showing up with so much plaster on my jeans I couldn't sit down on civilized furniture.

Which was fine, as Tim didn't have any. Tim was rather punk-rock in those days, especially for an attorney. He had been in the band Gneissmaker, and his apartment was one of those $2-couches-and-state-of-the-art-speakers boy apartments. I remember Tim cursing his roommate's slovenliness and checking on the Riedel stemware drying in the sink. He explained to me that he had special stemware for his wine, and special washing-up liquid for his stemware, and that there were some who believed good glassware should not be touched by soap, and that he had to keep his Riedel in cardboard, lest his roommate use and destroy it. I thought he was insane; I thought he was Felix Unger, minus the comedy.

Tim led me in a quick tasting through his assembled wines, about which I remember absolutely nothing, except that they were red. We dumped them in the sink, and I went home that night pretty sure I had met the most eccentric member of my generation.

However, deep within me something must have stirred—or it might have just been laziness. I had no livable living space in my house, and was perfectly happy to spend half a dozen afternoons over the last bit of summer tagging along behind Tim as he went to various private tastings, listening to things he said about wine, and observing the group dynamics of industry wine tasters. I was fully convinced that never had a group of people been so entirely, brimmingly, laughably full of it. The silly things they said—what were these anonymous red fruits? It sounded like something you found in the bottom of the Frankenberry box.

At the time, in the late 1990s, New Zealand whites were either a new thing or a newly popular thing, and we encountered many. People often claimed the wines smelled of lychee, and I thought they were mad, crazy, delusional. I knew what lychees smelled like, from having eaten them in various Asian restaurants, and I knew what wine smelled like, and it didn't smell like lychees. It smelled like wine, and maybe, if you pushed it, a little bit like something that had been cleaned with a lemony substance. No lychees, no lime, no petrol, whatever that was, no ginger, no vanilla, nope, nope, nope.

These people, I thought. These are the most absurd social gatherings ever. They are to the Emperor's New Clothes as the sun is to a match's flame: They all decide something and it gets echoed the world over and billions are spent, careers are made, all on nothing.

Then, one day, out of nowhere, on perhaps my 30th white, it came rushing in, unexpected and unbidden: Hot damn, lychees! There were lychees in that pale glass! In moments all the rest followed: limes, vanilla, lemon rind...I was changed. I saw, or, rather, smelled and tasted, life in a whole new way.

Next Page »