How a Wine Newbie Got an Unexpected Education

A writer finds a surprising source of knowledge and kinship in a big-box wine shop, meeting a teacher who inspires with his grandfatherly wisdom.
Illustration by Eddie Ortiz

When I was in my early 20s, I thought entering adulthood was simply a matter of checking tasks off a list: Graduate college. Get a job. Go somewhere— anywhere—that wasn’t my hometown.

Also on the list? Learn how to drink. Properly. Outside of house parties in dingy, dark basements via red plastic cups containing questionably colored elixirs.

When I moved from Nebraska to Arizona for my first postgraduate job, I was determined to evolve toward drinking something refined and sophisticated, which, to me, meant wine. But I had no idea where to start. Aside from a few glasses (okay, bottles) of Tempranillo consumed over the one summer I spent studying abroad in Spain, my experiences with wine had been limited.

One day I stumbled upon the tasting table at my local outpost of a chain wine shop, where an older gentleman named Ron was sampling out wines. He shared detailed descriptions, pairing ideas and tidbits of wine history. His knowledge was encyclopedic. And yet, he spoke with an air of nonchalance that made the experience feel casual and not at all high-stakes, a luxury I may not have been afforded had I walked into a tasting elsewhere. Thanks to Ron, I never felt like the wine newbie I really was.

Life After Being a Sommelier

Soon enough, I was attending the store’s tastings regularly, hopeful that Ron would be at the helm, pouring a new glass of something red and dense. I looked forward to my weekly crash course in a new grape, a new region, a new winemaker. This was what an education was really supposed to be like.

I also felt a strange kinship with Ron. Both of my grandfathers passed away before I was born, and as a first-generation American, I didn’t have other grandparent-firgures nearby. But Ron was the grandpa I always imagined having: He was bespectacled, drank good wine, smoked good cigars and had a graying, slightly unkempt beard.

I never talked to Ron about anything other than wine. I never revealed that he reminded me of the grandfathers I never knew. Instead, I just absorbed his wisdom. I took it with me as I moved into other refined and sophisticated spaces, writing about fashion and culture, all the while letting my love for wine reveal itself slowly and steadily, like a bold Bordeaux that lingers long after the first sip.

Published on February 5, 2018
Topics: Last Drop

The latest wine reviews, trends and recipes plus special offers on wine storage and accessories