People accuse me of being highly competitive, especially when the stakes are low. That's because I play a fierce game of trivia at local pubs where winnings are a few crumpled dollars or — better — unlimited bragging rights.
When I'm not at the top of my game, I sometimes look over at competitors' tables, where their French-press coffeemaker is primed to deliver another blast of brain-activating caffeine, and I wonder: Is wine turning my mind to mush?
Fortunately, I found a brain doctor to help me. John Taylor is Southern Oregon University's memory expert and, coincidentally, a fan of pub trivia nights. Buttonholing him, I beg him to agree with me that drinking red wine, laced with anti-aging resveratrol, is good for my noggin. He cautiously tells me to slow down.
"Resveratrol, found in the skin of red grapes, ends up in red wine in trace amounts," he says carefully as if delivering bad news. "Potential benefits are not well-understood, thus likely do not outweigh any negative effects of the alcohol."
So, if I can't rely on the theory that wine is liquid brain food, how can I count on my gray matter as I chug into the silver years of life?
Dr. Smarty-Pants, who just happens to be in his 30s, shakes his head. His research shows that trivia players in his age group have the advantage of life experience and mental agility. "They are not struggling with distractions and the need to multitask their working memory as older people do," John says, nodding at me as I wrestle to take notes while applying another layer of moisturizing, grape seed-extract-containing Oil of Olay to my gravity-responding neck.
In praising youngsters, he surely is talking about melodious, baby-faced DeLonde Bell, a musician and former Jefferson Public Radio morning announcer, who often foils my Tuesday-night chances of winning at Louie's Restaurant and Bar in Ashland.
Or those know-it-all, young actors from Oregon Shakespeare Festival, who sometimes drop into The Playwright Public House in Ashland for Wednesday trivia nights and nonchalantly walk away victorious, as if somehow accustomed to applause.
Sure, those kids are enjoying their brain-cells heyday, but they have other tricks, too. OSF team member John Tufts thinks that another secret to his trivia success is the useless information locked away in the depths of his brain that "a couple of beers can help unlock."
Did you hear that? John Tufts (aka Henry IV and Robin Hood) believes in the mind-alcohol connection.
Intrigued, I want to learn more. I open a bottle of Folin Cellars Passive Aggressive Petite Sirah ($18) and my dogeared copy of the optimistic book "The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain." I read that I'm not losing my memory; I'm just finding it harder to access facts.
"It is not a storage issue," writes author Barbara Strauch. "It's a retrieval issue." She recommends strategies such as reciting the alphabet until it triggers the name for which I'm now drawing a blank and that I tag new information by relating it to something that I already know.
Hmmm. I know wine.
Remembering dates: Jacksonville photographer Peter Britt became the first person to produce wine in the Oregon Territory in 1858, a year before Oregon became a state. Oregon's temperance society pushed to outlaw alcohol in 1916, four years before it became a federal mistake. And Harry & David started with pears in 1910 and launched its own wine label a mere 102 years later.
Remembering places: Tasting rooms are tucked away in a former firehouse (Crater Lake Cellars in Shady Cove), stagecoach hotel (Del Rio Vineyards in Gold Hill) and cozy, cement-walled inn (Pebblestone Cellars in Medford). The vineyards most visited by hang gliders are Fiasco Winery and LongSword Vineyards on Highway 238 outside of Jacksonville. The longest, monthly, in-home wine tasting has been running for 22 years in Peter Adesman's Medford residences.
Remembering people: The best golfing winemakers are John Quinones of RoxyAnn Winery and Linda Donovan of Pallet Wine Co., both in Medford. The most famous cycling vintner is Gus Janeway of Velocity Cellars in Ashland, and the harvest volunteer most likely to show up in running shorts and flip-flops is Ashland wine rep Ron Stringfield.
Remembering the unusual: The tasting room where you're most likely to encounter a buried, manure-packed cow horn (Cowhorn Vineyard in Jacksonville), a pack of well-behaved alpacas (Caprice Vineyards in Central Point), tasty beef (Plaisance Ranch in Williams), a horse-drawn carriage (Schmidt Family Vineyards in Grants Pass) and a nude visitor being shooed away by the owner (Trium Wines in Talent).
Remembering the facts: The percent of family-owned Rogue Valley tasting rooms: 100 percent. The first local wine priced at $100: Troon Vineyard's Vertical cabernet sauvignon in the Grants Pass tasting room. The location of Folin Cellars' wine caves: 10 feet underneath the Gold Hill tasting room.
Remembering the fun: The tasting room in which visitors buy 2007 Le Petit Oink dessert wine for $15, 2008 Aggie Dog Red for $12 and 2008 The Butler Did It Again rose for $15 is Devitt Winery in Jacksonville. The tasting room with the squishiest, barefoot grape-stomping contest is Agate Ridge Vineyard in Eagle Point. And fired-up pizza ovens are at Dancin Vineyards in Medford and Kriselle Cellars in White City.
Remembering the most enduring: Winemaker (John Guerrero at Valley View Winery since 1985), wine columnists (Cleve Twitchell of the Mail Tribune and Lorn Razzano of the Ashland Daily Tidings) and researchers (professors Porter Lombard and Gregory V. Jones).
Remembering the past professions of wine producers: Les Martin of Red Lily Vineyards (Las Vegas casino accountant), the Garvin family of Cliff Creek Cellars in Gold Hill (cable-television industry) and John Weisinger of Weisinger's of Ashland (Presbyterian minister).
While inside Weisinger's tasting room, which forever more will look like a church to me with its ceiling that soars to the heavens, I sat down with John Weisinger's son, Eric, a winemaker and the co-author with MJ Daspit of the history-laden book "Rogue Valley Wine."
I asked Eric Weisinger how wine affects his memory, and he said something I will never forget: "Mild amounts of wine will trigger a memory. It may remind me of an event, a place or a person, like a beautiful Barolo I enjoyed with my friend, Rocco, in Eugene or time with my girlfriend."
Eric, is that for real? "I have no science to back this up, but all of us experience stress and by sitting down, taking a breath, sipping wine and letting this magical effect take over, cause our brains to relax as if we're on vacation."
I knew I was right about a glass of wine helping me to think clearer. Step aside, 30-somethings. This win is mine.
TASTED: The local winners of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition include South Stage Cellars 2008 Syrah ($27), Ledger David Cellars 2010 Orion's Nebula red blend ($30), Deer Creek Vineyards Chardonnay ($20) and Eliana Wines 2009 Bordeaux ($30). See the complete list at www.winejudging.com.
Reach columnist Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or firstname.lastname@example.org