(Much of what follows was inspired by — or should I say is the fault of — blogger-turned-author Jenny Lawson, who wrote "Let’s Pretend This Never Happened — A Mostly True Memoir," and whose stream-of-consciousness style of writing is similar to my own, except hers is much funnier. And a fuller exploration of her book will follow in next week’s column. But reading her work has freed me to use the voice inside my head OUTSIDE my head, which has been really liberating. So for this, I thank her. At least thus far. Let’s see what happens.)
Our friends Ann and Michael came over for dinner a few weeks ago. We were having venison (yes, OC, I’m talking about venison AGAIN. I eat a lot of it. I TOLD you that. Don’t think it’s weird. It’s not! It’s delish!), so naturally, because I love the combination, I paired it with Shiraz. Well, a Shiraz and a Syrah. And that’s where the problem started. Well, not really a problem. Just a difference of opinion. A pretty STRONG difference of opinion. Anyway ...
After the appetizer, which we paired with the J.J. McWilliams Cabernet Merlot, which is still pretty much my husband’s favourite wine (he particularly likes that it’s $9.99 a bottle, but it’s full of big jammy fruit and is pretty robust for that price, even though, to my taste, it’s a little rough around the edges, but we were having the old bread-and-oil-and-balsamic-and-garlic dippy thing, so I figured there was no point ‘wasting’ really good wine on something vinegar based), I started to prepare the main course, venison backstrap with chive mashed potatoes and peas. In order to cleanse my palate — not an easy task after the balsamic and garlic — I opened two reds, the 2010 Wonderwall Shiraz from Margaret River, Australia, and the 2010 Zuccardi (Serie A) Syrah from Argentina. I essentially gargled with a couple of small mouthfuls of each alternately in an attempt to rid my palate, as much as possible, of the vinegar and garlic residue. (I didn’t spit the gargled wines out, though — this was a party! So there was no need to behave. AND I was alone in the kitchen at the time.)
Then I tasted them in earnest.
First the Wonderwall, which boasted a lovely big black fruit aroma with what I thought was a touch of anise. It had a sort of bitter edge — almost juniper-esque, which was odd, but interesting. There was a hint of oak and a pepperyness, too, which I didn’t mind. At $16.06 a bottle, I thought this was a pleasant change of pace.
But then I tried the Zuccardi (Serie A) Syrah. It didn’t have quite as much aroma as the Wonderwall, but it did have a chalky consistency that I kind of enjoy in dry wines. And while the flavours of the two were quite similar (although the Serie A lacked the juniper quality, which was fine by me), the Syrah was smoother. It was just a little less sharp. And I was delighted, especially for $14.14 a bottle.
"The Zuccardi is IT!!" I wrote in my wine notebook.
Just about then Ann came into the kitchen to see if she could help with anything. I had dinner pretty much under control, but I insisted she try both of the wines without my telling her what they were.
She did. She shrugged, unimpressed, after a few sips of the Serie A Syrah. But when she tried the Wonderwall Shiraz, her face lit up.
"This is great!" she said in her always-elegant English accent. "The other one is much sharper."
Surprised, I shook my head. I thought she must be confused. And with my tongue loosened somewhat — but only somewhat — by the bit of wine we’d consumed to this point — I said, ever so delicately, "No, no, no, no, NO! The OTHER one is SMOOTHER! Try them again."
She did. And glared at me indignantly.
(Well, no — that’s a bit strong. Let’s try this:)
She stared at me, her eyes wide with horror.
(Over the top, Diane — far too melodramatic. Try again.)
(Sigh. OK. But this is getting tedious. Here goes:)
She looked at me, eyebrows raised, her expression coolly indignant.
(Oooh! That’s like from a SPY novel! Nicely DONE, Di! Well WRITTEN! Good JOB!)
"No, no, no," she chided. "THAT one is MUCH sharper than this."
And I’m like, "WTF?" You’re NUTS! You’ve finally gone off the deep end, girlfriend."
But of course I didn’t say that out loud. I managed to rein in most of my amazement, and said, directly but gently, in that hip, spy-novel sort of way, "I do believe, my dear, you’ve lost your mind."
Well, no. I really didn’t say that either. What I said, I think, was, "Really? You think that’s smoother than this?? I think this is WAY smoother than that."
We went back and forth on this a few more times — several, in fact. Before the main course. During the main course. With the meat. With the potatoes. With the date and goat-cheese salad. And still we felt the same.
She loved the Wonderwall Shiraz. I thought it was OK. I loved the Zuccardi Syrah. She thought it sucked.
Which only goes to prove, for like the hundred-millionth time, that taste is a very individual thing. Whether it was due to either/or of us having more or fewer taste buds, or whether they’re located in different places, whether they’re sensitive to certain sensations and not to others, no one will ever know.
But we know what we like and we aren’t willing to compromise on it. Which is exactly what everybody should do. Try new things, and try them often. If you get a great new surprise, and can add to the library of wines you enjoy, terrific. But don’t pretend to like something you don’t.
Ann and I won’t compromise. And our dilemma that particular night had an easy solution. I handed her the bottle of Wonderwall Shiraz to drink, and kept the Zuccardi Syrah for myself. Both of us were happy. And neither was offended the other didn’t share her opinion.
(Although I think we both secretly thought the other was crazy... )
» Diane Nelson is a long-time journalist and former Sun staffer who really likes wine. A lot. Chat with her online at www.vinelines.ca