A Usual Mistake

"I like to tell all my fairy god-daughters and my niece that when I'm gone, they can sit on the floor and go through all these journals, and they can walk through my life, and they can smell the gardenia perfume on the pages. They can have it in their hands, who I was."

-Stevie Nicks

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1. Gardenia Perfume and a Note of Tobacco

Christmas Day, 2015

I had my first taste of wine today. I always swore I'd never drink, but the line gets blurry when it comes to technicalities. Besides, one sip in the kitchen with my family hardly counts as drinking. We're on a Wine of the Month mailing list, and each bottle comes with a card that explains the history of the wine, lists the preferred foods to go with it, and describes the taste of the wine in flowery detail. These cards always fascinate me, because I love to imagine what each wine would taste like. Also, I sometimes can't believe someone could be pretentious enough to declare that this wine definitely had two subtle hints of saffron layered smoothly with a whiff of chocolate.

This month, my mother waited until Christmas to open the bottle, and she and my grandmother poured glasses for themselves, swirled the wine around the glass, and then took sips. They both recoiled with looks of slight horror on their faces. The wine was supposed to be a gentle blend of roses and tobacco, but had, in my grandmother's words, "tasted like licking an ashtray."

Of course, now I had to try it.

My mother handed me her glass, and I nervously held it to my nose. It smelled bitter, like kombucha tea, but I could tell there was a note of rose in there somewhere. I tilted the glass back and took a tiny sip. It tasted like biting into a grape to find it filled with vinegar. I hurriedly set down the glass and covered my face with my hands, running my tongue over the roof of my mouth to try to get rid of the taste. My mother and grandmother were watching me.

"Maybe this wasn't a great one for you to start with," Mom mused. She launched into a professional-sounding discussion of "dry wines" and how a softer flavor would be better for a beginner. My grandmother took a few more small sips, her brow furrowed.

"You know, I think this might be a bad bottle," she said after a moment of thought. My mother tried another mouthful, then walked over to the sink and tipped the glass down the drain.

"I think you're right," she confirmed, pouring the second glass as well. They reassured me that not all wines taste like this, and told me not to let it put me off of trying any more.

Are they really encouraging their teenage (grand)daughter to keep an open mind about alcohol? I wondered. It would be just my luck that a casual sip of Christmas wine would turn out sour and reeking of vinegar.

I did feel sort of romantic, drinking red wine. Something about the way the glass felt in my hand, the deep rich color of the wine. It was something I would be doing while seated across a tiny white-clothed table from a handsome foreigner in a swanky restaurant in Italy.

Who knows, though? Maybe I'll just stick to grape juice.

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