I was prepared to write a review about the Holidays and gathering with family. I had planned to write about the art and the importance of choosing a wine that everyone--from your aunt who only drinks white Zinfandel to your brother who only drinks Maker's Mark--could enjoy. I was going to do this because I, for the first time in a decade, would be spending Christmas with a large, close-knit Southern family whom I knew would do Christmas right. (they have exceeded my expectations on every account.)

I have become accustomed in my adult life to spending Christmas alone, with friends or perhaps with one of my brothers. It had become a holiday like any other, where I undoubtedly would have to work, then find myself alone on Christmas Eve, drinking a half bottle of Champagne and eating take-out sushi (my own tradition.) Instead I was immersed in the bosom of a warm and caring family, showered with gifts, stuffed with endless amounts of wonderful Southern food, and continuously moved by the fact that I had been taken in, accepted and loved, like a street urchin in a Dickens novel.

I certainly don't mean to make light of this fantastic experience or belittle its importance in any way, but something amazing happened to me yesterday, and I felt compelled to write about it instead. I, in a span of a few hours, met five, yes FIVE people with no sense of smell.
Now, I'd recently seen Walk Hard where the main character's loss of his sense of smell becomes a running joke; but these were actual, real people living with this horrible affliction.


BENZIGER SYRAH, 2004

The first person I met was a distant relative to a friend who had lived her entire life without the power of scent. She recently remarked that she had passed on this handicap to her ten-year-old twin daughters. Not even an hour later, at a bar, I was introduced to a girl who had suffered a fall, subsequent head trauma and discovered that it had left her olfactoraly disabled. The doctors said that her sense could return at any time or perhaps never again. The fifth and final person, who could be placed in the category of "smelling impaired," rather than "smell-blind," claimed that when she did smell something, she was always way off. Her fiancee told stories of her mistaking roses for a wood fire, pot roast for gasoline.

After hearing all of these stories, and in such a short time, I was beside myself. No sense of smell!? No sense of smell, means basically no taste as 90% of what you are tasting is actually what you are smelling. How tragic to not be able to smell, both the good and the bad. To not know the scent of a place or a person you love. For me, my sense of smell is more connected to my sense of nostalgia than anything else. There is an intersection in Brooklyn that I used to walk through that would consistently stop me in my tracks. The combination of the asphalt, the tire shop, the cobbler and the fish market would instantly transport me back to the streets of Dakar, Senegal, where I spent a bit of time in my youth. It would always bring a tear to my eye.

My sense of smell is what made me love wine. The fact that you could discern so many different aromas in a glass of fermented grape juice fascinated me. To not have a sense of smell means to not enjoy wine, to find that everything from Arneis to Zweigelt tastes exactly the same. So, this Holiday season, besides being thankful for all of my many blessings, for the people that I love and the wonderful life I've been able to enjoy, I am also very thankful that I can stick my nose into a wine glass and pick out aromas like eucalyptus, apricot or vanilla.

This Benziger Syrah is a wonderful wine that managed to please everyone at our Christmas dinner table--a difficult task, indeed. Benziger is a family-run winery, known to anyone that has visited Sonoma, as it has a reputation for giving a great vineyard tour. The winery has been around for a few decades, gaining the most recognition with their affordable, everyday line, Glen Ellen. They sold this label years back to concentrate on making quality estate-grown wines. Their vineyards are mostly organic, most moving over to biodynamic. And, their wines are good.

This Syrah is great example of Benzinger at their best, delivering a well balanced, sophisticated syrah, that's not overly fruity or too high in alcohol. It has weight and structure while retaining subtle aromas and flavors of dark berries, chocolate and cedar. It's full and luscious, but still paired well with our meal, bringing out the earthy flavors in our rustic dinner of wild rice, brussel sprouts and Beef Wellington. It's one of those bottles that I would serve at a dinner party of friends, give as a gift to someone I don't know or EVEN recommend to my incredibly picky wine-collecting father. A wine for the discerning masses.

Regardless of what you drink this holiday season, enjoy it. Whether it be beer, nog, whiskey or wine, take a moment to appreciate the fact that you can smell it and taste it. And be thankful for being able to experience one of the greatest pleasures we have in life.