Does everyone remember their first kiss? Their first girlfriend? Their first car? Of course you do.
Now, how about your first wine? I don’t mean the first wine you ever consumed, but rather the first wine that opened the door into the world of wine. A decent wine that took you beyond $4 swill. I mean the first wine you bought as an adult, a wine that you actually put an effort into buying and a wine that launched your love of wine.
Ahhh, I remember it well (sort of). It was the Fall of 1993. Nirvana’s “In Utero” had just been released. Heart Shaped Box, All Apologies – I was rockin’ (all music references, for those who aren’t 90’s rock savvy)! Wow, has it really been almost 17 years?
My favorite spot
I had just turned 21 and was playing in a band, working part-time as a courier, going to college part-time, and having a good time long before blogging, Twitter and Facebook were household terms. I lived above a bar in Vancouver, British Columbia, only 15 minutes from Lollapalooza ‘93. Good times.
Anyways, I digress. Back to the wine. I was in the government-run liquor store and instead of buying my usual 12 pack of malt liquor or “Old Style” Pilsner I wandered into the wine section. After a few minutes, something caught my eye. I’m not sure what it was, but there was something about its simple label.
It read: Wyndham Estates Bin 555 Shiraz.
I bought it but can’t for the life of me remember what I paid, but it was somewhere in the wheelhouse of $20. I was so poor that this was really a big expenditure, and I drank the wine out of a coffee mug! I remember it being rich and fruit forward, much smoother than the home-made Portuguese wine of my teenage years, and without all the sediment to go with it. As much as I liked it, I couldn’t afford it as a daily drinker. Malt liquor or cheap vodka was still the best option when considering the “bang for your buck” effect. Yeah, “It’s a long way to the top (if you wanna Rock ‘n Roll…)
Another one of my favourite spots
This became my go-to special occasion adult beverage. Eventually I began exploring other Australian Shiraz’s. Rosemont Estate, Penfold’s, and others. As my palate evolved, I began drinking Wolf Blass Yellow Label.
Then I stepped away from Australia and into France. My discovery of Vin de Pays allowed my young palate to drink high quality, affordable wines. Why had I been subjecting myself to all that torturous vodka and malt liquor?
Fast forward to the year 2000. Having just moved to Phoenix, Arizona, I found myself in the grocery store looking at all the wines for sale. Wyndham Estates Bin 555 wasn’t to be had. The wine steward asked me if I needed any help and I asked about the missing wine. He looked it up in “the book” and said he would try to find the distributor and put in a special order for me! Great! Nothing like moving to a new city and having something to remind you of your old home.
Well the wine never arrived. Apparently it was not being distributed by anyone in Arizona. Maybe a year later I was in a different grocery store and I saw Bin 555! I was excited and reached for the bottle on the shelf, and then I saw the price… $6.99!
What?! I was stunned! I’ve been in love with really cheap wine all this time? Oh No! But then I started to chuckle…the other wine steward had been sent on an expedition to find this apparently very good “must have” wine and probably eventually discovered the price and slammed his book shut in disgust!
Why the big price difference? In British Columbia wine, beer and spirits are regulated by the government. Wine and beer can only be purchased outside of a restaurant setting in special “Cold Beer and Wine” stores, or specialty wine boutiques. Spirits can only be purchased from government owned liquor stores, which also sell wine and beer.
The dramatic price difference is specifically due to taxes. Canada implements taxes on things like alcohol and cigarettes, known as a “Sin Tax” and in general, Canadian taxes are higher in order to promote the social systems programs, including things like health care. If wine is a wrongful sin, then I don’t wanna be right. As a Canadian and resident of British Columbia I was long subjected to higher mark ups and limited government selection. My move to the United States and Phoenix specifically allowed me access to a wider range of wines. Phoenix is actually a key market for many Californian producers. I was no longer restricted to a handful of producers from each country, known for quantity rather than quality. Case in point: Every year I make a trip back to Vancouver and make a point of visiting the BC Liquor stores and I always see almost an entire isle devoted to the usual suspects of Auzie fruit bombs and hidden around the corner or behind the apple cider is US and French section. But I digress, that is a subject for another post.
What was your first “real” wine? Was it a single bottle that opened your eyes and made you realize your love? Or was it a single experience or series of experiences that forced you to realize your love for this crazy juice?