Editor's Note

You Don't Have to Understand Wine to Enjoy It

"My deficiencies in the note-detecting department in no way stop me from enthusiastically enjoying the stuff."

By Catherine Matusow February 25, 2019 Published in the March 2019 issue of Houstonia Magazine

We’ve all had those moments: specific points in time when, all of a sudden, our vision snaps into place, and something previously unclear becomes clear. It’s an odd sensation when you realize someone just had a moment like that in regard to you.

I was in my mid-twenties and working at the Houston Press, where, among other things, it was my job to edit dining reviews by longtime local restaurant critic Robb Walsh (who later, for a time, was my colleague here at Houstonia). I was at the beginning of my career; he was mid-career; and after a little jostling and bickering we’d embarked upon quite a rewarding work relationship and friendship. Now and then, we went out to dinner.

It was during one of these nights out that he looked over the wine list and ordered a nice bottle. I know it was a red but nothing more; the name of the restaurant, too, is lost to time. I do vividly remember Robb pouring two glasses and teaching me to swirl mine around before putting my nose inside it and smelling the substance within. What did I detect, he wanted to know? There was no wrong answer, he assured me.

I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, my mind racing. What did I smell? What indeed? I breathed in, again and again, and again and again, one answer came to mind. I opened my eyes and grinned.

“Wine,” I said. “I smell wine.”

Robb gave me a wry smile that seemed to say, Actually, there was one wrong answer.

That was the moment that he realized something about me, right as I perceived it about myself: I was never going to really understand wine. He was going to have to nerd out about it with someone else. To his credit, after a beat he seemed to accept this truth.

He lifted his glass, sniffed, and informed me that he smelled cherries and leather. I shrugged, we clinked glasses, and I took a long sip, savoring every drop. No, I really did! Because this too is true: Never has someone who doesn’t quite get wine loved it as much as I do. My deficiencies in the note-detecting department in no way stop me from enthusiastically enjoying the stuff.

And of course, I’ve learned a thing or two about wine over the years, given all the food-and-drink coverage I’ve edited. But for true connoisseurship, thank goodness there are others—like the talented pair that put together this month’s delightful feature on local wine and cheese, Houstonia’s own Timothy Malcolm and Gwendolyn Knapp—for that. So, this one’s for you, guys. Cheers!

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