Many people who are really into wine have related stories to me about their “wine moment.” This is when a person discovers for the first time the treasure that this glorious beverage can bring. It’s after this revelation that wine will forever be more than just a casual drink. After such a “moment” — hopefully you have been blessed with one — wine becomes a part of your diet, a hobby, a passion,an endeavor, a lifestyle, a social bond.
The “wine moment” occasion is etched into your being, much like a significant world event. It seems everyone can recall exactly where they were and what they were doing at their “moment.” And each can remember the name of the wine that opened their eyes, and usually the vintage date as well.
In listening to these stories, I often hear tasting descriptors, such as “it was like a handful of fresh blueberries,” “it was like a ripe peach,” and one I hear most often is “it reminded me of the smells of my childhood.” Whatever the tasting sensation experienced, the impression is indelible.
Interestingly, the types of wines providing these moments are all over the board. For many, taking a leap didn’t require a great wine, just something that rang a bell. There were Cabernet Sauvignons, Zinfandels, Chardonnays, old Bordeaux, young Bordeaux, red and white Burgundy, Italian ... and on it goes.
My wine moment happened in 1975. I was studying and working in the field of architecture, and to supplement my income I got a job at the first French restaurant in North San Diego County, called Mon Ami. I was 24 years old, and didn’t know anything about wine, except that my brother and I had gotten very sick on some cheap, sweet, fortified grape juice while still in our teens. I wanted nothing to do with it ever again.
It was midsummer, and the Mon Ami was having an opening party, a kind of rehearsal dinner for friends and a small gathering of the local culinary crowd. Since it was my first job in the restaurant industry, I was obviously going to be washing dishes that night.
It was a hot evening, and the kitchen staff was full of kinks, bad timing, overcooked foods, dropped plates — you name it. Dinner lasted until 11 p.m., and by that time, I had washed every wineglass in the house twice, and pots and pans three or four times each. I was tired, my legs were worn from standing nine straight hours, and I was building up a mighty thirst.
One of the servers that night, Tom, kept telling me how great the wines were that were being poured at the dinner. He offered me a taste of a few, but I declined, recalling the scourge of Red Ripple many years back. It must have been about midnight when I caved in, and Tom poured me a half-glass of the 1973 Ridge Zinfandel, Geyserville.
I must have looked like I’d seen a ghost; I am sure my eyes grew wide while focusing on the red liquid I had just tasted. Wait a minute! It tastes like fresh blackberries and vanilla ice cream! This can’t be. It’s wine, not an ice cream sundae.
I will never forget that moment — that taste, that wine. That was it for me.
The 1973 Ridge Zinfandel, Geyserville later became known as one of the finest Zinfandels ever produced in California, and is still alive and well in the bottle today. I had one about four years ago, and it was wonderful. However, it did not have the same taste of the blackberry and vanilla that had such an impact back in our youth. It was refined, elegant, and smooth, as hopefully one becomes when aging gracefully.
Gary Parker is the owner of The WineSellar & Brasserie