I took my friend Joe to Podunk, a stern little tea shop on east fifth street for Esme's special mix; cardamom and black pepper chai tea, which gives a rambunctious yet comforting burn to the back of the throat. This is a caffeinated tea and thus fueled, Joe was compelled to offer advice for my upcoming book (Harcourt, either Summer or Fall 2007).
Though I've told Joe about the book, he doesn't really know how I intend to write it, but that didn’t stop him. I didn''t mind, however, because no matter what comes out of Joe's mouth, discourse is always stimulating and thought provoking.
After an acute lecture on how technology is a good thing and using the word tradition in the wine world is dangerous, he told me I shouldn’t write bad things about the Wine Spectator or Parker. I shouldn’t spank anyone or be the wine cop. I can’t try to save the world. I can’t be a whistle blower. I can’t seek out truth. I need to show the reader how my taste has changed.
He counseled me to write about the wines I used to like but couldn’t tolerate now. What changed in me could be universal. Or, at least he said something like that. Most importantly of all, he said, "We’ve had our differences in the past, but you won't say bad things about me in the book, will you? After all, I am your friend."
Then he circled back to his question: which wines did I like in the past that I wouldn’t allow in my house now? He believes that if I tasted wines I used to like on December 23rd 2005 exactly as they were made back in December 23rd 1980, I wouldn’t be able to drink them.
It was an interesting exercise and I had a hard time coming up with some illustrations. In the late 1980’s I admit to liking barriqued barbera, I thought it gave a carnation quality to the wine. Now, I can't tolerate a barbera that has a hint of new oak. I remember the first time I tasted the Parkerized Baroli--the 1990 vintage shortly after release, the new Barolo that was ready to drink now. I thought they were examples of the Emperor’s new clothes, I couldn’t stand them. Let’s talk zinfandel. I used to drink lots of zinfandel. But as soon as winemaker Helen Turley came on the scene in 1994 and changed the world as we know it by pushing the grape's ripeness---as well as an industry gone oak crazy, I stopped drinking them. I used to like Marietta’s until it became oak jam (note to self: go back and retaste). I liked New World Red from Edmunds St. John and Steve Edmunds wine is still one of the few Californians I can drink.
Well, Joe told me that I was full of crap. Or if not, then I was a superior individual and had a saintly palate. He then confessed how he used to drink tons of Silver Oak. He even used to import wines he thought were great, which were not. He changed. His palate grew. “Come on,” he said, eating the tiniest of scones with one bite, “Tell me the foods you ate back twenty years ago that you wouldn’t eat now? “
I was always someone who loved coffee but if the coffee wasn't drinkable, had tea. If the tea isn’t drinkable I'd take aspirin for the ‘I need caffeine’ headache. And, I popped out of the birth canal liking ketchup on baked potato and I still think of Heinz as its own food group. I still reread the same books I loved in college. I haven’t outgrown my taste in literature. Or, am I just stubborn? Do I grip and clench and refuse to move or grow?
Joe grew frustrated with me. I could tell he needed another scone. Yet, I was on a roll, and wouldn’t let him go up to the counter. I stopped eating Drakes Devil Dogs and American cheese in 1970, not because they changed but I changed. Yes, this is what he was talking about. I changed. Not Drakes. Their formula for making garbage sawdust cake was the same…or was it? Huh. Did they ever make a good devils food-like chocolate cake? What about Entenmanns’s chocolate-covered doughnuts or Stella D'oro's chocolate dot cookies? Did these companies at one point change their recipe? Oddly enough in 1971 I also stopped eating meat, not because the meat changed but I changed, my palate changed. That was a long time ago. It’s just like someone who wakes up one morning suddenly and can’t drink Yellow Tail.
Exactly he said. And we ended the conversation on less prickly terms. But he still told me I was full of crap.