You had me at merlot

May. 16, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

I have a confession: I am a oenophile.

But before you avoid me like the plague or advise me to seek professional help, let me explain.

A oenophile is a lover or connoisseur of wine. In the strictest sense, oenophilia describes a disciplined devotion to wine, accompanying strict traditions of consumption and appreciation. In a general sense however, oenophilia simply refers to the enjoyment of wine.

Oenophiles appreciate or collect wine, particularly grape wines from certain regions, varietal types or methods of manufacture. While most oenophiles are hobbyists, some are also professionals like vintners, sommeliers, wine merchants or tasters who grade wines for a living. I am somewhere in between them all.

I first developed my deep appreciation for wine during my European travels, especially while in Italy, where the natives know a thing or two about wine.

Italy is one big vineyard, stretching from Piedmont in the north to Sicily in the south. There are more than 2,000 varieties of Italian wine and more than 1,000 different grape varieties.

Italians have a passion for wine, with more than one million winemakers and grape growers living in Italy.

Ask an Italian wine merchant for a nice chianti and you will get a long conversation along with a rare bottle of Italian wine.

Ask an Italian vineyard owner for a wine recommendation and you will get a tour through the grape vines and vast collection of Italian wines.

Along with boasting some of the best wines in the world, Italy has an open-to-everyone hospitality that makes it one of the best places to sip different varietals, from sauvignon blanc and chardonnay to pinot noir and merlot.

In Italy I had wine every night with dinner. And Italians are not stingy with their wine — the glasses are large and the servings are plentiful.

Wine is Italy’s culture.

I have also enjoyed touring several vineyards and wineries stateside in Virginia’s wine country. The state is a wine destination unlike any other, with more than 200 wineries and dozens of wine trails surrounded by lush scenery, picturesque views and quaint small towns.

Two summers ago I visited Barrel Oak Winery, Three Fox Vineyards and Cobbler Mountain Cellars in Virginia. What fascinated me the most was how prosperous these small, family owned vineyards have been throughout the years. Many of the winemakers also coordinate with local dairy and produce farmers to offer fresh cheese and fruit pairings with their wine tastings.

Even in Myrtle Beach oenophiles are not forgotten.

La Belle Amie Vineyards is a quiet retreat minutes from the beach, offering wine festivals and live music events. Open year-round, the dirt road leading up to La Belle Amie winds past one of the vineyards, an old tobacco barn and a sign appropriately labeled, ‘WINO XING.’

I have frequented La Belle Amie on several occasions including wine festivals, bonfires and wine tastings where I have sampled private label wines. One of my best friends usually accompanies me and during our visits we always purchase a bottle of wine to share on the front porch of the gift shop.

We settle into rocking chairs, slowly sipping our merlot while enjoying the peacefulness of the surrounding vineyard. It is one of our favorite places to catch up on life and spend a little (or a lot) of time drinking wine.

And while I have only been in Rutherford County two months, I have managed to find a group of oenophiles just like me who meet every week to discuss their love of wine.

As any oenophile would say, “In vino veritas.”