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February 18, 2011

A Love Affair With Wine – A Blog From STI President, Tammy


During high school I drank beer and kissed boys in basements. Thinking back makes me laugh at how sophisticated I thought I was back then compared to the truly evolved solo travel expert, gourmand and wine connoisseur that I am today. As the years have passed, I haven’t given up either vice, but variety has been the spice of life.

In the almost 30 years since high school, refining a taste for wines and mastering the art of the relationship have been ongoing projects and a primary focus that have lead me to new places and situations I’d never regret.

After graduating from college in 1984, I took off for France and Spain . My mom, aunt and I arrived in Paris from Belgium by car (what a ride). We got so lost and actually picked up a Frenchman who guided us to our hotel. That night, he invited us to dinner and I drank my first ‘French” wine. It really wasn’t monumental at the time, but our trip continued through nearly all the regions of France where I sampled “real” champagne (Dom Perignon was only $23 at the time), light burgundies, rich Beaujolais and of course Calvados (apple cognac from Normandy ). Our last night we drank so much that it made for a very weepy goodbye as my mom and aunt were to leave me in France the following day. Chaperones gone, sampling the local men became as big a passion as the wine!

After 2 months in Paris , fall kicked in and brought the rains with it, so I headed to the south of Spain . I lived off of fresh calamari and sangria made with the light, elegant red rioja wine blended from the Tempranillo grape. Just before returning home, Nerja, the town where I was staying, celebrated a 2 week “Feria” (festival) which literally continued day and night. Women in Flamenco dresses and lots of eligible bachelors! The flight home was filled with beautiful memories, but no regrets.

Once home, I felt I had conquered something big, after all, I had traveled alone and now I had 2 wines that I would call my own, Chateuneuf de Pape and Pouilly Fuisse. Wow, the new me was incredibly worldly and sophisticated!

Life went on and I continued drinking French wines, because I loved them, but when I think about it, I was in a rut, and so was my relationship with the restaurant owner that supplied my habit. Wine or man, I was afraid to try something new. It wasn’t until 1993 when I moved back to Chicago after 10 great “gourmet restaurant and French wine drinking” years, that I allowed something new into my life; California wines. I took it slowly, so as not to make my French wines jealous. I wasn’t convinced that these new fangled California wines would be as good to me. But time after time, and there is certainly a lot to choose from those days, after 4 visits to Napa and Sonoma , learned to appreciate California wines as much as their French cousins. My confidence was building and I was now the person who actually picked up the wine list in a restaurant and ordered for everyone. Sure, there were wines that I didn’t know (yet), but I had enough experience to know what I liked.

Five years ago, we took a group of singles to Australia and New Zealand where I met my new loves, Shiraz ( Australia ) and Sauvignon Blanc ( New Zealand ). Our travels were peppered with massive Barossas to complex, leathery Hunter Valley Shiraz and the zingy, refreshing Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs. Oh, and by the way, the scenery was incredible and the people couldn’t have been more open hearted, especially the Aussies who love to have a good time.

So, I thought I had my resume down and that I knew exactly what suited me and I was done. (How closed minded!) Then, 2 years ago, we ventured again to a new area, the Danube River . Our own personal chef and wine master accompanied 30 singles as we wove our way through the Wachau Valley visiting tiny, medieval towns in Germany , Austria and then Hungary . We sampled local cuisines (sausages, pretzels, black forest cake, goose liver) and, against my better judgment, Rieslings. Now I knew I didn’t like these sweet, syrupy wines, but I didn’t want to ruin it for everyone else, so I played along. To my surprise, there were many varieties, from the straw colored Auslesse with its fruity/citrus aroma to the drier Kabinett, medium dry Gewurztraminer with hints of Rose and the sweeter Spaetlese. Among the varieties was a young man from Hungary who I sampled and eventually married! But just like a fine bottle of wine, once the bottle was empty, and the initial glow wears off, the party is over and so was my marriage.

Single again and of course my journey continues with a recent introduction to Malbec wines by a “friend” from Puerto Rico . Although these rich reds are not as dear to me as my Chateauneuf du Pape, they compliment a delicious Argentinean Grilled Lomo (Filet) with Chimichurri Sauce.

The road ahead may seem dangerous and unsure from time to time and I return to my mantra, “face the fear and do it anyway”, which is sometimes easier after a few glasses of wine! But looking back, I have never regretted any experience, always taking the best from it to keep in my collection.

Next year I turn 50 and look forward to celebrating my birthday with lots of wine, travel and friends. Bordeaux is at the top of the list, funny how I have come full circle back to my origins of France .

So many wines, so little time. But think about this: If I had stayed at home in my basement in South Chicago , I’d surely be barefoot and pregnant serving my partner cold brews while he watches T.V. Now that’s a scary thought, indeed!

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