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Dry red wine: An acquired taste?

I still remember my first real taste of dry red wine. At the time, I knew white zinfandel and asti spumanti, and that was about it.

I asked a waiter to recommend a wine with dinner, and he pointed me to a merlot. That was nearly 20 years ago during the big merlot boom, and I failed to even finish the glass.

While I can't tell you what the brand was, I remember absolutely hating it and thinking to myself, "People actually like this stuff?" My, how things change. Now, I can hardly imagine not liking dry red wines - everything from cabernet sauvignon to chianti classico.

So what is it? Is it an acquired taste, as so many say? Do tastes simply change over time? Or do you learn to appreciate fine wine much like fine art or fine food?

I believe it's the latter. When I was younger and more foolish and I was forcing down beer even though I couldn't stand the stuff, that was an acquired taste. I don't believe wine is as much acquired as it is learned.

One person stands in front of a Monet and raves about the "warmth" and "depth of emotion" he sees in it. Another looks and says, "It doesn't even look realistic."

One person sips Bordeaux and speaks of leather and tobacco, balance and finish. Another takes a taste and remarks, "That stuff tastes terrible." I thinks it's interesting that many people who appreciate the arts also love wine. In the same way, it's no coincidence that so many foodies, or avid lovers of the culinary arts, are also often enthusiastic lovers of wine.

Unfortunately, that sometimes leads to the whole "wine is for snobs" mind set, and it simply isn't true. What is true is that there is a gap between those who really understand wine and those who don't.

Think of this: On any given night, there are people in three-star or above restaurants spending hundreds of dollars on a single meal and thinking rather smugly that those people who eat fast food just don't know what they're missing.

At the same time, there are people in fast-food restaurants thinking rather smugly that those other people are wasting all that money eating strange food that doesn't even taste good.

Therein lies the gap. To me, it's more about understanding than snobbery. People who consider Applebee's a special treat wouldn't understand my saying that I have eaten a salad at a fine restaurant that was better than anything on the menu at Applebee's.

They would call me a snob and assume that I am some rich guy who has always been that way. And they would continue to assume that wine is only for people who live a certain lifestyle.

The truth is, wine is for everyone. If you never learn to like dry red wine, but you enjoy the wines you do drink, there is not a thing wrong with that.

On the other hand, if you continue to learn about food and wine and expand your horizons, you might just find, as I did, a whole other level of enjoyment that you never imagined possible. I sure am glad my first glass of merlot wasn't my last.

Write me at goodellwineguy@sbcglobal.net with your thoughts, questions, or just to talk wine. Until next time, happy pours.