#MWWC13 – Serendipity is Fantastic!

8 Dec

MWWCThere’s a self-abusive, yet strangely entertaining, monthly event in wine writing circles called the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. I’ve copped out the last few themes but was recently shamed and frankly harassed by last month’s winner, Anatoli of Talk-A-Vino. As the worthy winner, Anatoli got to choose this month’s theme – Serendipity. Serendipity – I distinctly remember a children’s book about a sea creature called Serendipity but that plagiarized story might not qualify. After all, unlike me, the sea creature did not partake of the grape in it’s quest for purpose. So…….

About 20 years ago, I became inspired to learn and experience wine – which, for me, is somewhat the same thing. I learn through experiencing as much as reading, listening (I’m a notoriously poor listener), or taking courses. I was mistakenly looking for the experience that warranted paying more for a wine. What qualities can you experience with wine? Does price matter? Is quality all just marketing hype to justify higher prices? Is quality discernible only by those that make wine their life, that truly understand wine? Or, could a schmuck like me discover it? I’ve since realized that those were the wrong questions but.

Let me explain. I grew up in a family that valued quality over price. Not that they’re mutually exclusive, or that we lived in opulence – we certainly didn’t. It’s just that my parents always discussed ‘stuff ‘ (as my father would call things) in terms of how good they were. Oh, we still got the car serviced at Crappy Tire and we collected green stamps but quality was king – not cash. In fact, price was never mentioned out loud. Boasting about a bargain was gauche. And, I realize that might be more a generational thing than about my family in particular. Or, maybe it was just life before Costco and recreational shopping – a rant for another time.

So the concept of quality being intensely personal, I wanted to know what quality wine smelled, tasted, and felt like on my terms just for me.

Well, in this market way back then (I believe I started this during the Summer of the Short Corn), I thought the easiest place to bump quality without bankrupting myself was Australia. It was immensely available here. Plus, the labels had the name of the varietal, the region and that’s about it. That theoretically meant that I didn’t have to take a correspondence course in French label nomenclature to move my quality needle. The predominant thinking at that time with neophyte wine wannabes in my world was that Wolf Blass Yellow Label was the best wine on the planet. Seriously, stop chuckling, people told me this. After I got over the fact that a wine could be called Wolf Blass, I tried it. If it was a little better than Le Piat d’Or, what was it that made it that way? After a couple bottles (not consecutively), I thought, “This stuff isn’t thaaaat much better. It doesn’t have a quality that I can clearly identify or that I value more. I don’t really like it much either.” I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. Chalk it up to following the herd and failing. Did I give up? No, I picked myself up and surfed the shelves for wine in the $15-$20 range with high scores. That shotgun approach not surprisingly didn’t work either. Well, maybe I just couldn’t afford quality and should go back to making my own screech and porch climber. Maybe I wasn’t able to decipher wine – identify quality, get my head around wine. Or, maybe quality wine is a myth perpetrated on us all by the cult wine industry or the bloody Bordelais like the myth that McDonald’s food is actually made from……….food.

But, wait, there was a new product line at the mothership (the Liquor Control Board of Ontario for those that don’t follow me) called “Vintages” – wines and spirits that have some caché, may be in small supply, and unfortunately, in most cases, cost more. So, I wandered out on one of the first days of the new releases for Vintages and stumbled around following the masses. Correction: there weren’t masses, there were about six of us. It is there that I bumped into a guy in the middle of the aisle. I’d like to remember that he was about my age, handsome like me, with my regal bearing. But, the fact is he was about 45 with a baseball cap on backwards – covering, I believe, a balding pate. Now, the acceptable age for backwards baseball caps in my world is 35. Any older and, dude, you’re working too hard. He was loading a single wine into his cart – maybe a dozen already in there when I stopped him from his mission and asked, “What is so special about that wine?” He straightened up and said, “This stuff is fantastic, man.” That was it. No, “This brilliant straw-coloured, Marlborough single vineyard wine’s nose carries fresh cut grass and a hint of grapefruit, the latter replaying intensely on the mid-palate”? Nope, instead, “This stuff is fantastic, man”. Fantastic? Hell, that’s what I’ve been looking for! Wine can be fantastic? It was a bit out of my price range at $21.95 a bottle but I thought (and here’s a sample of the twisted rationalizations that wine buyers the world over utilize):

  1. ‘Fantastic’ is what I’m looking for:
  2. It comes from New Zealand and we Canadians identify with Kiwis – we both sleep with an elephant;
  3. Marlborough is a cigarette but, on balance, I need this wine; and,
  4. I really need this wine!

cloudy baySo, I picked up a bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. Can’t remember the vintage. I can say now that it had such a sense of tension, power, and place. But back then, I thought, “This is freakin’ fantastic!”

The neat thing? I found quality. Let me rephrase that – I found something that was a ‘quality’ experience in my opinion at that time in my life. It might have had something to do with who I had it with or when I had it. Scratch that too – it definitely would have had a ton to do with all that. And although it was priced higher than I was used to, I experienced that it was worth the extra. I was cool with that too.

So, there began the never-to-be-completed journey. Of course, I realize that wine’s a bit more complex than “It’s fantastic, man” and I don’t exactly feel the same way about Cloudy Bay now. But the point is that that’s when I became a believer. I believed that great wine was out there  and, more importantly, that I could really experience and recognize it as such. And, it encouraged me to try and learn as much about wine as I could. Because when it’s good, it’s really fantastic, man.

To paraphrase Mr. Webster, ‘Serendipity’ means finding something of value where you don’t necessarily think you’ll find it – a nifty happenstance. I started a search for quality on the wrong terms, with the wrong ideas, and the wrong tools. In my search for ‘quality’ I bumped into it lurking underneath the word – ‘fantastic’, spoken by a guy with his damn cap on backwards. Who would have thunk?

Anyone else who went looking for noses of fig paste and long finishes end up finding fantastic?

serendipity

Images courtesy of: http://www.goodreads.com ; http://www.vintages.com

9 Responses to “#MWWC13 – Serendipity is Fantastic!”

  1. talkavino December 8, 2014 at 4:03 am #

    Great post, Bill! I have to honestly admit that for years, I had been an arrogant idiot and made a number of stupid remarks about Cloudy Bay, such as “why would anyone pay so much more for the bottle of NZ Sauvignon Blanc, when so many wines are available a lot cheaper” – until I actually tried it. After that, the only thing I could say was “It’s fantastic, man” 🙂

  2. the drunken cyclist December 8, 2014 at 10:56 am #

    Reblogged this on mwwcblog.

  3. GFwinecountryliving December 16, 2014 at 10:59 am #

    Great entry. Loved your writing. And…congratulations as this month’s MWWC winner!

    • Duff's Wines December 16, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

      Thanks for the comment and for dropping by. The challenge begins now in choosing next month’s theme.

  4. dracaenawines December 16, 2014 at 6:02 pm #

    Great entry! Well deserving of the victory! Congratulations

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. #MWWC13 Time to vote! | the drunken cyclist - December 9, 2014

    […] Duff’s Wines: #MWWC13 – Serendipity is Fantastic! […]

  2. #MWWC13 Reminder to Vote! | the drunken cyclist - December 13, 2014

    […] Duff’s Wines: #MWWC13 – Serendipity is Fantastic! […]

  3. Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #13–The Results | the drunken cyclist - December 16, 2014

    […] Duff’s Wines: #MWWC13 – Serendipity is Fantastic! […]

  4. Riots for Tradition - Dracaena Wines - December 31, 2014

    […] writing a spectacular piece on “Serendipity.”  You can check his fantastic entry out here.  When he announced his topic, I have to admit for the first time since I have been partaking in […]

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