Right now my daughter is grasping at everything just above her head, her tiny fingers gripping ledges and seat cushions as she weighs their accessibility against the ever-evolving strength of her legs. It is an evolution, too—she’s becoming another thing all together, once just a coil of new arms and belly and toes and head and now unfurling in this glorious, cacophonous tiny beast. She’s leaning into her first everything. She wants to taste the world, and it’s summer, so the world is waiting to be tasted.
The first strawberries that arrive are taut and small, the brightest red with dirt, hailing where they came from. They are sweet, but never too sweet, fresh, explosive, pointed, begging for tiny hands to grab them by the bucketful and sneak them into mouths in the backseat of the car. This year, instead of jelly or jam or preserves, I coaxed the freshest first berries into sweet, saveable slumber with a long sleep in a just-warm oven, tucked in with just a little honey and star anise, splashed them with cognac, and jarred them for later. The bitterest winter could not help but fall prey to the preserved scent of newness, the first fruit offered sacrificially to my Ball jars and fruit tarts.
The first glass rosé on the first just-warm afternoon is a sign of relief. “It’s over,” we think as the sleek, crisp, herby Heralds of the New Season. Spring ushers in a parade of pink, celebratory stuff not designed for mulling over or pondering, but sipping, gulping, pouring over our heads with glee as the sun reminds us it’s here again. It ushers in the first sweet peas to the table, summer’s tiniest jewelry, gorgeously green, starchy strands of perfect beads tucked into their pods. The baby beets come, the best lettuces, first radishes, first carrots, and first herbs.
The first bottle of wine I ever purchased for myself was also in England in pursuit of literary thoroughness. A novel in my Victorian Literature tutorial depicted a deranged character whipping around a room lit only by firelight in a wheelchair, shouting the elaborate praise of Burgundy. I’d never had one, I didn’t know it was a location and merely assumed the character loved that warm deep red color. On the way home from the library, I stopped by a wine shop and looked up at the wall, naturally shocked by the price of Burgundy for my meager collegiate income, so instead I bought a pretty cheap…something. Spanish, I think. Most likely it was a Garnacha, and because I had such anxiety about the actual act of alcohol purchase, I immediately took it directly to my room and left it there. My housemate, popping into say hello, spotted it and said, “bedroom drinker, huh? Hiding?” and laughed all the way across the hall.
The first white wine of summer is not such a specific memory, but a feeling. The big goblet glassware looks less appealing; the little tulips and jam jars seem to beckon from the shelves. All the lush green outside inspires lush green in the glass, but not just green: peach, lemon verbena, white flowers, searing minerality, lime, sweet-tart flavors and aromas to snap the palate into shape and cut through even the swampiest, heaviest of days. It dares the acidic bite of a sharp vinaigrette. It coaxes the sweetness from the freshest new vegetables. It satisfies and quenches and invites another sip.
I don’t remember my first glass of wine. It was probably in a pub in England where nobody cared that I had just turned 21, but I significantly placed an order (who orders wine in a pub? This girl, that’s who) and cringed as I sucked down the probably too warm, probably mediocre, probably oxidized, probably Merlot, and probably Merlot because while in England, a dear friend sized me up and declared me a “Merlot Girl” (Compliment? Insult?) and unknowingly dictated my first commitment to a grape. Only later did I learn it wasn’t fashionable to admit affection for it.
The baby is about to crawl. She’s learned to clap, to wave, she smiles at everything, and she tastes minute traces of wine off of our fingertips on occasion. This summer as the first peaches, nectarines, plums, and finally tomatoes arrive, my little girl will pull herself up to standing, will craw, and will learn to set herself upright all for the first time. Her mamama and dadada will accompany a fresh plum tart and a glass of chilly Washington Pinot Gris. She’ll learn to sign please and more over purees of new vegetables next to leftover Barbera from the fridge in a juice glass. The season of constant arrival for her, for the ground.
Kaite Callahan is a wine educator and expert and the former manager at Bin 204 in Annapolis.