The Secret Life of a Gateway Wine - Coming of Age in a Life of Wine

From On the Wine Trail in Italy
March 19, 2017 - 10:45am
Living in a country that is geographically isolated from much of the world by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, many in America tend to live inside their heads. It’s funny that for those of us who love wine, the head is the receptacle for the precious liquid. If only it could occasionally be utilized as a way to flush our system and give us a more outward perspective. For some, I am sure it does. But the monkey brain inside of us, it chatters away.I was talking to a group of young wine professionals last week, just relating the differences between now and then - then being the time when I was their age. Maybe younger. I was talking about wine and what my gateway wine was,  a path which eventually led me to tables where an obscene array of aged and (often) great Barolo and Barbaresco were there for pure enjoyment. By chance, my gateway wine was a bottle of Thunderbird. I was riding with my dad, must have been 10 or 11. We lived in the desert, Palm Springs. My dad was a real estate broker. He had a “spec” house in Rancho Mirage, coincidentally, within the Thunderbird Country Club neighborhood. My dad would go over there to check on the house, do a little painting or repair, generally putzing around, trying to stay out of trouble. The house was empty, not far from Sinatra’s house at the time. In fact we often saw their comings and goings from our house. And there was plenty of that in those days.But on this day, it was hot. Over 100°F. And I was thirsty. So I looked into the refrigerator and saw what looked like a bottle of something that might quench my thirst. I thought it odd that the bottle said Thunderbird, same as the neighborhood. Maybe it was from the Club. So I opened it up and took a swig.I still remember that moment. Cool, fizzy, fruity. Followed by a wave of unforgiving, burning alcohol. I took another, smaller sip. Same cool, fizzy, fruitiness. But the finish wasn’t as severe. Still, I longed to quench my thirst in the relentless heat of the desert. Thunderbird wasn’t going to quench it, not this day.It wasn’t my first time to taste wine. Our Italian-American family had plenty of wine at the table. One uncle was a trader in the business and fancied himself an aficionado of the vine. And all these stories you hear about the Italians giving wine cut with water to their kids, not in my family. We never got the watered down version.M

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