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We never stop learning. Even when drinking. Or maybe especially when drinking.

September 20, 2011

Empty bottles, also known as "dead soldiers," at end of a lavish dinner.

“We never stop learning, do we?”

That was not the sentence I had expected to stop me in my tracks Sunday evening at a private dinner overflowing with spectacular wines, amazing food and, well, all sorts of merry-making that only moneyed seem to get to enjoy.

Yet, there I was, with a glass of 1981 Chateau Margaux in my hand and a mind for anything but educational experiences. For those of you who are not wineax (a playful and pretentious spelling of wine lovers or, to be more correct, winos), Chateau Margaux is one of the five top wine producers in Bordeaux, and a bottling from 1981 means that it had been aged 30 years and was only now getting ready to drink. Bordeaux when it is only a few years old, is among the most sought-after wines in the world, so you can imagine how rare, even intimidating, a 30-year-old version would be.

You will not find such treasures at my house. I only have the space to store wines for up to a few months at the most. Then they seem to get swallowed by more and more books, the latest deluge of which occurred because of the last days of the Borders going-out-of-business sale. I’ve amassed so many in the past few weeks that I could start my own store. But I digress — as I often do.

So, there I was at this special dinner, sponsored by the food and spirits festival that I serve on the board for. (Advertising break: The organization’s name is Culinaria, and we present a festival each May in San Antonio. Come, join us for the next party. Another digression and another serving of apologies.)

At the end of the evening, I mentioned to the friend who had selected the special wines served in our group (aged German rieslings, little-known Champagnes and a luscious Burgundy) that I had managed to score a taste of 1981 Margaux from another group also enjoying themselves that evening.

“I was in college back then,” I said. “And I’m in college now. How sad.”

“Well, we never stop learning, do we?” was Woody’s reply.

God bless Woody de Luna.

He was an educator before he became a wine educator. And he’s getting ready to move into another area of the wine education business in the near future.

It’s all about learning for him. Each grape harvest that Germany brings in offers something new in the world of rieslings for him. Each new bottle of wine, no matter its origin, could prove to the “Lafite of rosés” or a stunning Burgundy that’s redolent of damp forest floors, mushrooms and who knows what else grows in the woodlands of his palate. (Woody’s reputation for being one of the world’s greatest riesling experts has spread far beyond San Antonio. I once visited a tiny winery in Germany, Weinhaus Hans Wirsching, and was not overly surprised to learn that he had dropped in some time before to taste their various bottlings.)

His curious nature has often sparked mine. When you get into the wine world, you have to discipline yourself, learn the lingo and, most of all, apply your knowledge to the product. Don’t know what star fruit, or carambola, tastes like? Then how will you know when you encounter that flavor in a New Zealand sauvignon blanc? It has a unique taste that is distinctly different from the usual passion fruit, gooseberry and grapefruit flavors you’ll find in New Zealand white wines, and if you can make that distinction, then how you can help someone who likes that flavor (or who loathes it) find a wine that suits his or her tastes.

Why is this important? Have you seen what wine prices are like? And would you trust your hard-earned money to someone too lazy to learn what he or she is selling? You want a wine merchant who knows what’s what. In the same way you want a tailor who can make you look slimmer or a car mechanic who can fix your alternator. People in each of these professions have to keep educating themselves on changes in their industry. Otherwise, you could end up with a bustle to slim you down or a mechanic who repairs the alternator but messes up the car’s chip-driven engine system. And let’s not get started on doctors who don’t keep up with the latest medical techniques or lawyers with no notion of the latest court rulings.

We all have to keep on learning, within our profession or beyond its boundaries. It’s just that we sometimes need to be reminded of that.


From → #CMC11

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