“Wine to me is passion. It is family and friends, warmth of heart and generosity of spirit”Robert Mondavi

Open your mouth. Breathe. Insert your nose into the wide-brimmed Bordeaux wine glass. Inhale. Inhale and devour the power of this essence of the clear, deep red fluid with the aroma of blackberry, currants, her, the earth, everything. Swig the glass around and allow the feeling to swell and coat the sides. Breathe. And take it. Surrender and accept it. Take the smell. Place upon your lips, disperse in your mouth, and bring it to your heart. Swallow and be alive.

This is the journey that started thousands of miles from here. From cool breezes and fertile soil, vines of grapes to wine on your table, from God’s creation and man’s manipulation of the evolution of the natural, wine is a very beautiful and ancient thing. It has become the elixir that enhances the flavor and vigor of meats, cheeses, and even crème brûlee. And now, I joyfully travel this journey to learn and develop my taste; to France, California, Australia, South Africa, and yes even Long Island.

I’ve reflected on my own personal evolution of wine interest and the palette of my tongue. I’m not afraid to admit that my taste were birth from the common Rosé and White Zinfandel to more sophisticated, yet often accessible big Cabernet Sauvignon, smooth Syrah and others – that don’t come in wine boxes nor 2 gallon jugs. My earliest memory of wine were blush wines (those sort of pinkish wines that were generally served very cold – often times family members would put an ice cube to keep it as such – now the image scares me). Over the years, my taste has deepened and discovered the magic of the grape.

My own primer of wine is rather simple and honest. For I am not the luxurious sommelier (expert wine steward) at the most expensive restaurant; I am just a simple man with a passion for good food and expressive spirits. Often times I can’t notice the difference between one grape varietal from another – unless it is obvious – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are different types of grape (you could tell by their color – as the former is a white wine and the latter is red). But from time to time, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot can be sinfully close in flavors. It’s only obvious since so much can affect the taste of wine – the weather, soil, sun, the region, the cuvee (the blending of other grapes), vintage and storage methods, and I’m sure even sister Moon influences the taste.

Don’t be afraid to put you nose into a glass of wine and take a whiff of the aroma and preview its sensual grip. Remember that taste is something that comes from and is expanded by the sense of smell. It is truly a requirement. I’ll admit it can be difficult to pick out certain flavors like black berries and oak the first times around. Hell, just smell what the wine is offering you. Just like a woman offering you gifts accept it and be grateful. Perhaps you cannot vocalize what she is telling you, the wine, but by learning to smell the wine; followed by tasting it, the contents of your glass will take on greater significance as well as enhance the coupled food. In time you will learn a new vocabulary. And just as I have evolved from White Zinfandel to Zinfandel (note – Zinfandel is a red wine with similar characteristics to Syrah – please don’t confuse the two), you can learn what makes you happy and what doesn’t. Then you will become bold – pairing a red wine with fish – such as salmon or tuna. Say word!

When she is in your mouth, the wine, let her move from the front to the back. If you have guts then learn to “aerate” the magic and expose yourself to her offerings. The taste may be indescribable, but in time you will learn about this thing called tannin. Tannins are most noticeable in “big” red wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon it comes from the stems and skins. It will be in the back of your mouth. I’d say slightly bitter and strong. Tannic wines are not for the faint of heart. These are those wines that are bold, heavy, and are always paired with beef and lamb dishes. Yeah, I’m talking about red wine – my personal favorite. Over time these wines mellow and develop complex taste.

And about those white wines, temperature is very important. It’s critical. I’ve tasted many a white wine – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc right out of the refrigerator and the outcome was not much flavor. After say 10 minutes surrounded by room temperature my glass contains a wine with depth and new flavors – usually the things listed on the back of the bottle, the book, or the website. The general rule is white wines should be taken cool, whereas red wines are best at a certain room temperature but often a bit lower. I’m currently working on expanding my interest in the White – aside from sparkling wines. While they can be enjoyed throughout the year, I find white wines perfect for late spring and summer excursions and interludes.

Removing the pretense is a good thing to discovering this brilliant creation. Take personal notes on what type of wine, vineyards, or even country/region that makes you go “un, na, na, na, na”. Try different things, different wines, and don’t rush the drink. Take your time.

Wine as a sauce, truth in flavor should always reside in your memory, especially when it comes to cooking. Wine goes with food. It’s a crass statement but you can quote me on this – “Wine is a natural, God given MSG for the food we receive.” Yeah, I know it’s out there but it is so true.

As with the majority of everything in this world, this document is simply to tempt you, to spark a thought. It will not satisfy your new desire to learn about the vast array of wines; its taste, spirit, reasons, or combinations. For those who are new to the crushed, fermented grapes, please take it slowly and dive into a new, wide abyss. Please go beyond the rip-off “wines by the glass” at the corner bar. For starters take a chance; spend no more than $14 on a bottle and take one home.

You don’t cook. You know the number to your local Chinese Take-Out spot. Pick up a bottle of Syrah (Personally, I consider it extremely flexible) or even a standard Chardonnay and pay attention to the new flavors that explode from such a familiar dish as beef with broccoli or sweet and sour chicken. You could also make wonderful discoveries from that left over pizza pie in the refrigerator coupled with a clean California red. Take some time and develop your own combinations – likes and dislikes. Then you start to open yourself up to new things – food, drinks, thoughts, and even people. Discover the passion that exists in a bottle of wine.