Angers, Beirut, Bekaa Valley, Bourdeaux, Burgundy, France, Georgia, Greece, Malbec, Mendoza, Monetier-les-Bains, Napa Valley, Oregon, Paris, Pfalz, pinot noir, Portugal, riesling, Rioja, sagrantino di Montefalco, tempranillo, Umbria, Willamette Valley
My first significant memory of “wine” was in 1988, the day after I had landed in Paris on a high school foreign exchange trip. I was there to spend six weeks with a French family who lived in Angers, in central France, but first, a weekend in Paris.
Family friends had hosted a young Frenchman in their Texas home a decade before, and they gave me his phone number, encouraging me to call him while I was in Paris. I remember being reluctant to cold-call someone I didn’t know last-minute on a Friday evening, but he was immediately welcoming and kindly invited me to join him and his friends for dinner.
It was early July, an evening with warm breezes and the lingering daylight of northern European summers. We sat on the patio at a bar before heading to the restaurant, and the group, all around 30 or so, ordered apéritifs. I had no idea what to order, but my host suggested a glass of rosé. I remember sipping my wine, listening to the group chatter in French (and my brain working overtime to try to translate, largely unsuccessfully, the rapid-fire conversation around me). It was probably the first time I was out in such an “adult” fashion, apart from with my family. And what a place for such an outing, a tree-lined terrasse in Paris, the sun setting in the summer sky.
My other memory of rosé is later that summer traveling with my French family from their home in Angers to their summer home in Monetier-les-Bains, a village in the French Alps near the Italian border. On the drive down, we spent the night with friends of theirs, a family that was renovating a small chateau. That evening, both families gathered at a table outside for dinner. It seemed to me to a quintessentially French experience, simple, fresh food eaten en plein air with glasses of rosé.
The memories all have fuzzy edges now, but those were my first lessons in how food and wine interact with culture and community.
In the years since, my wine education has been uneven, largely self-taught, and probably not the preferred path of a true connoisseur. For example, I’ve never been to Napa Valley or visited the famed Burgundy or Bordeaux vineyards in France. But I have been to the Bekaa Valley in the mountains above Beirut (twice), and traveled around Malbec vineyards in Mendoza.
My journeys have introduced me to Willamette Valley in Oregon and its pinot noirs, tempranillo from Rioja, sagrantino di Montefalco from Umbria, and rieslings from the Pfalz. My travel wish list includes checking out the usual suspects, of course, but also detours to less-familiar terroir like those found in Greece, Portugal and Georgia.