Wednesday, October 4, 2023

From the Editor – 4.19.2006

By Rick Racela

‘Ahhhh, That’s Good!’
A Cold Red From a Dirty Glass by One Light Bulb
Some wineries, I’m told, now charge you to “taste” their wines  – yet another sign that the world is going to hell.
When we visited the Finger Lakes region of New York State recently, no one charged for wine tasting.  This was their way of pitching wine and the assumption – correct, incidentally – was that if their wine was any good, you’d buy some.
It’s like the young people standing outside Fudge Kitchen. Bite-sized pieces of fudge tempt you inside where you probably buy a couple pounds.  Imagine if they held the tray out in front of passers-by and asked for a dime.
When I get to western New York – it’s been too long – a trip to Merritt Estates just outside Forestville is a must. I don’t care what connoisseurs say, I like Merritt’s wines. So maybe it has a little to do with remembering when the grandfather ran the place. But nostalgia doesn’t sell wine to me; taste does.
At Merritt, you taste, and it’s free. And it helps you make up your mind. To each his own.
In my youth, it seemed like every other house in the Hidi (other side of the tracks) section of Gowanda, New York, either made or had wine. My dad, with a license to sell beer in his grocery store, didn’t.
If you went to someone’s house, you invariably were invited to have a glass of homemade wine. Turning it down was unheard of, an insult.  It often came to you directly from the barrel, or sometimes via the refrigerator.
The ambiance of drinking in the cellar, alongside the  barrel, from a slightly dirty glass and  beneath one lonely light bulb, was unbeatable. Otherwise, it was at the kitchen table.
It was usually red, but it was still served cold.
Common courtesy demanded that the winemaker join in, to which he had no objection.
The wines were made in the early fall and New Year’s Day was the unofficial day to taste them.  There also were a few “special occasions.”
Catholic Charities Sunday was one.  Catholic Charities had (still does, I think) an annual fund drive and volunteers – usually in pairs, probably so they could hold each other up if necessary – would go house to house, seeking pledges.
There was never any problem getting volunteers in Hidi.  The wine was one reason, I believe, not because the donors made large contributions.
The front door greeting was “Hello Mary; c’mon in and have a little wine.”
No one had to be asked twice.
A little was not a little. It was a water glass.  The average person could not handle more than two or three of these. For that reason, Catholic Charities Sunday extended over about a half-dozen Sundays.
Tasting a homemade wine was nothing like the wine tasting at some of today’s snooty places. 
About the only thing that is the same was that then, as now, the drinker did check the color, holding the glass up to the light and proclaiming it beautiful. In Hidi, that meant  clear.
The “tasters” of today and in the days of homemade wine also both smelled the wine. But  at today’s tastings you are advised to “swirl” it first.  Nobody took the time to swirl the homemade wine. They smelled it enroute from mouth to stomach.
Today’s tasters are advised to “Roll it around” in your mouth before swallowing to “provide their taste buds a full sensory profile.”
I don’t think so.  The Slovenians and Poles in Gowanda, New York got all the sensory profile they needed as they gulped it down.
Another big difference is that today’s tasters finish their taste silently, or possibly with  a “tch tch” sound as they check the taste.  The tasters I remember always went “Aaahhh!” frequently followed by, “That’s good!”
A classy wine tasting event nowadays may include a map, say, of France with multicolored areas to indicate the particular winegrowing region.
No map was necessary in Gowanda. Winemakers often grew their own grapes – Concord,  Delaware or Niagara – within a 3-4 block area or bought them from a nearby town.
That doesn’t mean the wines all tasted the same; far from it.  Each winemaker had his own secrets.
At many wine tastings, there is a spittoon available in case you find a wine objectionable. No spittoon was necessary in Hidi. It was all, “Aaahhh, good!”
Wine aficionados get a lot more out of wine than wine drinkers.  They drink a glass of wine and note it is well-structured, robust and mellow, with a hint of pepper and citrus, a touch of cedar and sandalwood, an intense balance of earth and acidity, etc., etc.
The homemade wine tasted like grapes.  Aaahhh, good!
 Some of the winemakers – they were all male – had their problems with their wives who didn’t necessarily approve of the wine making, or the wine drinking. So, the husbands had to be cool.
It was not possible to walk down the cellar stairs to the barrel(s) in the basement to check the progress of the wine without one’s wife knowing. The wives kept track and their frowns deepened as the day or night went on, and their husbands’ noses turned redder.
In a way, this was funny. In a way, it wasn’t.  Some marriages suffered, but no one got divorced in the 40s and 50s. The alcoholics I knew of drank the hard stuff.  The wine makers were not winos.
When I delivered grocery orders for my dad, I knew exactly who made wine and which of them could be counted on to offer me a glass even though I was too young to get served in a bar.  I scheduled them last.
There was keen disappointment when the customer was not home to invite me to taste the wine.
Not to worry. I could always count on a glass from my Uncle John Vehar, or from my best pal’s father, Joe Pecnik.
 “Aaahhh, good!”

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