Roll Out the Barrel, We’ll Have a Barrel of Fun
Confession: I haven’t always known much about wine. And to be clear, I still have lots to learn. For many years (let’s say beginning in college), I was primarily a beer drinker, with some tequila thrown in here and there. I do recall hosting a dinner for friends during my Junior year and serving up some pink, boxed wine with the spaghetti meal. We thought we were so classy. And didn’t Mad Dog count as wine at that time?
As many do, I went through a Chardonnay phase for a bit in my mid twenties (largely thanks to my mom) and then moved on to Merlot not long after that. I didn’t linger there long. When I met my future husband, his brother was working as a sommelier at a high-end restaurant in San Francisco. Visiting him meant trying wines we’d never heard of. One year, we discovered Caymus Conundrum, a white blend that we first tried at a trendy San Fran restaurant. I didn’t know what was in it, and I didn’t care. It was tasty and easy, and we could find it at the right price in restaurants on the East Coast where we lived.
There was a period during my late thirties during which a friend of mine suggested that we get into rosès, so I did. They came in funky bottles and were almost cloyingly sweet, but they were fun and, note this pattern, easy and gave us something to order when we didn’t know what else to get.
About that time, my husband and I entered a dark period during which we only drank Miller High Life because we were collecting points to purchase a fire pit (think cereal box tops but for adults). We did this for, I’m not kidding, a couple of years until one of us discovered that the fire pit we so desperately wanted and that required a ridiculous number of High Life points was only 18 inches in diameter. We immediately spent our points on light switch covers, coasters, beer mugs, a picnic blanket, and a t-shirt that reads “The Official Beer of Todd and Caroline.”
Flash forward a few years when I applied to work at what was then 4.0 Cellars: I really knew almost nothing about wine. I knew there’s white, red, pink, dry, and sweet, and I knew wine is made from grapes, and I knew it’s aged in barrels. But honestly, I didn’t know a whole lot more than that.
Thank goodness the then-GM really, really needed servers. He promised I’d learn what I needed to know, and almost seven years later, it turns out he was right. Where once I drank boxed wines and celebrated the joys of sweet rosès, these days, I can talk about the number of grape names versus the number of genetically unique varietals. I can identify the top white and red varietals, discuss the difference between a blush and a rosè, and explain the ways to make a sweet wine. I can identify some aromas and can even pick a couple of specific varietals out of blends. Still, I don’t know a lot…but I sure know more than I did.
And I love learning more. So, this month’s first Wine Club Sunday was pretty special for me because I got to do something I’d never done before: I got to spend the day offering barrel tastings to our club members. Before this, I’d never even done a barrel tasting myself.
I’d heard of the bung and the bunghole but didn’t know that the tool used to draw wine (or any distilled spirit) from a barrel is called a thief. I didn’t know how to use a thief (and spilled quite a bit of wine trying to master it), and I didn’t know that my thumb would have an almost-permanent imprint after using the thief to provide tastings to club members for five hours. So worth it, though. Everyone, my teammates included, loved trying a new, single-vineyard, Brennan Cabernet Sauvignon straight from its French oak barrel.
Our first barrel tasting at TWC was a success, and, I’m hoping it won’t be our last because it’s a great way to get closer to the actual process of wine making and try a wine before it’s fully finished. So, whether you’ve participated in a barrel tasting before or not, be on the lookout for another one coming your way at TWC. It really was a barrel of fun.