Opening up multiple bottles of wine is a great way to tune up your palate, allowing you to compare and contrast. I was reminded of this in the simplest way tonight. Neighbors had invited us over for dinner, recognizing that the combination of a big DIY remodel and two young children and the need to make a living were probably straining us beyond the usual. Also, they have two girls about the same age as ours—two and five. So they kindly figured they’d make us a meal, help us take a load off.

As it happened, the day was even more crazed than usual, what with deadlines to meet and plywood to nail up and my second annual grass-fed cow arriving midday. We’d ordered it from Chileno Valley Ranch—they’d slaughtered one just for us—and arranged to share it with several other families. My friend Rich was nice enough to drive the hour north of town to the butcher shop and get the meat.

When he arrived at my place with more than 300 pounds of frozen beef, and I realized that my chest freezer couldn’t hold it all, we knew we had a crisis on our hands. So instead of wrapping up my writing work for the day, I was creating various bundles of frozen beef, heavily insulated with down sleeping bags, on the floor of my basement—between the crates of electrical cable and the two-by-fours. I’d only just settled in to write again when L said she was heading across the street with the girls for dinner. Handing her two bottles of wine to bring—a Hogue Cabernet Sauvignon and a Colomé Malbec—I told her I’d be over as soon as possible.

That turned out to be rather late, as other friends began arriving to claim their 50-pound allotments of beef, and when I finally made it to the table and tucked into a plate of spaghetti with meat sauce, I poured myself glasses of both wines at once. It’s wonderful to taste varietals side by side like that, especially when they are somewhat similar—as with Cabernet and Malbec. Even in my frantic, manic state, pulse racing as fast as my thoughts of work and plywood and meat, I was able to savor the difference instantly. The Hogue Cabernet had bold tannins and ripe black-currant flavors and a lot of wood; the Malbec, though still nicely tannic, had much lighter and brighter fruit, more in the cherry/berry realm, with good acidity.

“Maybe that’s what I’ll do as I get older,” said our hostess, Deborah. “Maybe I’ll get way into wine.” And why not?

See more articles