Let me just say that you guys sure don’t make it easy.
About two dozen of you entered the very first Food Gal contest, “Whine, Wine, and Thine,” which asked you to share your favorite memory about wine.
Your anecdotes variously made me laugh, drop my jaw, brush away tears, and just plain grin from ear to ear.
Your passion and honesty made it very difficult to whittle the list down to just three winners. Basically, I wanted to give everyone a prize. Since I can’t exactly afford to do that, I am amending my prizes to include not only first-, second-, and third-place winners, but also TWO honorable mentions, each of whom will win one food or wine book from my collection. The rest of you already know that third place garners you two such books, second place wins three said books, and first place gets a whopping four books.
Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for participating. For those of you who weren’t victorious this time around, don’t worry. After the great response to this one, I’m sure I’ll hold another Food Gal contest in the months to come.
Without further adieu, here are the winners:
HONORABLE MENTION #1: Natasha 5-Star Foodie, who wrote: “I enjoyed your stories and what a great contest idea! I have a family story about wine that is pretty funny. My late father-in-law was quite a foodie and loved wine. He was also very adventurous and once tried to make his own homemade wine. This white wine was a great attempt but it tasted pretty awful and was named by the family as Chateau de Urine. He made about a dozen bottles of it and stored them in his basement. He had no idea how to get rid of all this bad wine and it was a big problem. This was when my husband and his sister were still children and my parents in law were out for a date night. A teenage babysitter decided to throw a party and invite a bunch of friends who found ‘Chateau de Urine’ wine and drank all of it! My parents-in-law found out and the babysitter was never invited to their house again, but the problem of Chateau de Urine was solved!”
HONORABLE MENTION #2: Moe Rubenzahl, who wrote: “The first wine I ever had was the worst wine I ever had. Scott and I made it ourselves. I was a nerdy kid, all math and science, skinny with plastic-framed glasses, with no social skills. Perhaps that’s why Scott was my best friend. He had no academic skills, but was good at sports, and a rebel, the kind that sneaked cigarettes from his Mom and was out past curfew. He is what other parents called ‘a bad influence.’ One day, he came up with a plan: We would make our own wine. We were probably 12 years old. I didn’t even know why we would want wine. Scott probably didn’t know either, except that it was forbidden and that was reason enough.
I don’t know where he got the recipe, but it looked easy. Dandelions, we had, in volume. We lived in upstate New York, in farm country, on acres of land. In the summer the lawns were dotted with yellow. Yeast? Neither of our mothers baked but he somehow scored a packet. We could easily purloin a couple of oranges and a few lemons.
The hard part was the sugar. Four pounds! Where would we get that? A few days later, my mother was pondering aloud, what had happened to the bag of sugar that she knew was in the pantry.
We didn’t have wine bottles but Scott found a big pickle jar. The recipe said to sterilize the bottles but we figured a good washing would do, and that bottle was as clean as any 12-year-old boy had ever cleaned anything. We were ready.
One day, when Scott’s parents weren’t home, we began our stealth brew and two hours later, the jar was in the cellar and the kitchen was tidy. We even remembered to leave the lid on loosely.
Next came the hard part: Waiting a whole week. We looked at it twice a day. It always looked the same: A murky brew of flowers and floating bits. A week later, we convened in the woods with our jar and a couple of cups. We poured the cloudy mixture into our cups. It smelled like rot. We toasted our accomplishment and drank. It tasted mostly like sugar. Scott looked at me, I looked at him. ‘Ahhh, perfect!’ he pronounced. Apparently, he didn’t know what wine should taste like, either.
We hid the jar and that was the end of it. Somewhere in the forest in upstate New York, there is a nicely aged ‘cuvee speciale dandelion,’ there for the taking.”
THIRD-PLACE WINNER: Tangled Noodle, who wrote: “My mom and dad were far from the tragically-wanna-be-hip parents sometimes seen on news reports shortly after they’ve been arrested for furnishing underage offspring and their friends with alcohol (‘But it was supervised!’) However, they did introduce me and my two older sisters to our first sips of wine at an age upon which the law would definitely frown.
My mother always made it a point to set out her best linen, china, and silverware for our holiday table during Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Cut-crystal wine goblets were placed by her and my father’s places while we had small tumblers for water. One holiday, around the time that I was about to enter high school, we noticed that wine glasses were set at our places, too. With neither fuss nor fanfare, my father opened the bottle of wine — the details of which escape me, except that it was a white — and proceeded to pour some into our glasses, under our wide-eyed and disbelieving stares. ‘We were going to have wine? We were going to have wine!’
It didn’t matter that the amount apportioned to each us was would barely moisten the tongue; to my mind, all that mattered was that sophisticated adults drank it. In that moment, as I reached for my glass, I felt the first stirrings of impatience to leave behind childhood, although it was my childish sense of whimsy that allowed me to imagine that a sip of this elixir would transform me from girl to woman.
Trying to hold the glass delicately by the stem, I brought it to my lips for my first taste and . . . what the . . . ?! This was no honeyed nectar of the gods! I had sipped about an eyedropper full of wine and it wasn’t just dry, it was desiccated (of course, it was years later before I knew what ‘dry’ meant). I put my glass back down where it remained untouched for the rest of the meal. My parents never said anything, my sisters made no remark about their own first tastings and we all tucked into the delicious food my mother had prepared.
That first shock to my immature palate might have put me off of wine forever and yet, at each subsequent holiday meal, I would quickly scan the table to reassure myself that a wine glass sat by my plate. It wasn’t the wine itself that was important — I didn’t learn to appreciate wine drinking until my early 30s — it was what it seemed represented. By serving us wine, even in token amounts, my parents seemed to signal that in their estimation, my sisters and I were becoming ‘dalagas’ (young women).
Perhaps this is simply a wishful reinterpretation of a rather benign event and yet, knowing my parents, who are not overly demonstrative and given to hear-to-heart conversation, it was just the sort of quiet gesture whose message is imprinted lightly yet indelibly. My first taste of wine was my parents’ toast to a new, exciting transition.”
SECOND-PLACE WINNER: OysterCulture, who wrote: “I had to go away and give this some thought. I thought of all the approaches could take, my first sip, the first time I had really good wine (not in the Midwest, unfortunately, had to wait until I got to California) But the memory that sticks out for me is one I treasure.
Back when I got out of undergrad, my first job was in Iowa, not too far from my Grandmother, as it was a temporary assignment, I lived with her for that period. It was a tremendous opportunity as prior to that time, I only saw her a few times a year, and this was a chance to really get to know her. and get to know her I did. We lived in the country, about 30 miles from Des Moines, and I used to pick up some groceries, and come home and cook dinner and then we’d settle in for an evening of ‘Jeopardy’ and the ‘Golden Girls’ — not exactly the glamorous life I had planned after leaving college, but as I said, it was temporary.
One afternoon we were watching the winter Olympics that featured a German Beer Garden and my grandmother turned to me and said, ‘The German’s may like the beer but the Russians love it!’ This was news to me and I confess to being curious as to how she came by this information as I can count on one hand the number of states she had visited outside of Iowa.
In any event, to make a long story not too long, it turns out that she had like to tipple on occasion but for the last oh, 30 years or so had not done so as my Grandfather was a teetotaler, So, on those evening trips to the grocery store, I’d throw in a bottle of wine or beer, and one that I added was Manischewitz. Definitely not highbrow, but then the grocery store I had stopped at did not have an extensive collection, and as I recall it tasted like Welch’s grape juice with a kick. But my grandmother loved it. She thought it was the best. As I filled her juice glass up about half way ‘just enough to be naughty’ as she liked to say, we settled in and enjoyed our wine and the evening’s entertainment of the ‘Golden Girls.’ And that memory always makes me smile.”
FIRST-PLACE WINNER: Wotten 1, who wrote: “Ahh, yes — my first experience with the nectar of the gods coincided with my first time away from home wanting to experience life on my own. I’d scraped up enough for 1st and last months on a tiny studio apartment in Burlingame and with the testosterone surging through my veins like rubber rafts bouncing in white water rapids, I knew what my immediate mission was. Armed with a growing mustache that forced me to duck aggressive, if myopic, birds mistaking it for a caterpillar, I bought a pipe and a bottle of wine (don’t ask) and went hunting for appropriate prey-in a nearby laundromat.
After over-washing several pitifully small loads, a rather attractive girl my age struck up a conversation — well, actually it wasn’t as much conversation as a request for spare change to continue her drying. I managed to leverage her need for the change into having a burger at my place afterwards.
A late afternoon breeze allowed me to suggest staying inside where I could pan-fry the burgers. A few unsuccessful attempts to light my pipe (not to mention the associated coughing) convinced me to abandon it and go straight for the wine. I said in my most seductive manner (my only role models as seductive males were Bela Lugosi or Gary Cooper –and since I was rotten as Cooper, I went with The Count).
Staring into the eyes of the girl (who by this time wanted to check her drying), I took the corkscrew which I was intimately unfamiliar with, stabbed the top of the wine bottle which rebuffed me twice because the foil hadn’t been removed. Then, still fixing my best Bela gaze into the eyes of the lady fair, holding the wine bottle in one hand and twisting the corkscrew for all I was worth (sweating while trying to make it look easy) I was just about to give up and ask her if she wanted a coke instead when my corkscrew hand plunged downwards — I’d opened the sucker after all!
Still without removing my eyes from those of the girl across from me, I moved the … the bottle to the glass and slowly poured. The gurgling sounded a little uneven but I assumed that was natural but before I could continue my seduction, the girl looked down at the glass I’d just poured and began to smile — then chuckle — and then broke out into raucous laughter. The mood for seduction evaporated as I looked at the glass I’d just poured— filled with bits of the wine cork I’d managed to mangle while being so … suave. Groan.”
To claim your prizes: Using the “Contact Food Gal” link on the right-hand rail of the Food Gal homepage, email me your full name and mailing address. Congratulations to all!