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What Wines Made You Cross the Line?


jrufusj
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One recent thread asked about the last time one was "blown away by a 'Meritage'". Another asked for stories about "crossing the line" from wine interest to wine geekdom.

Here's my Meritage answer...

In the early '90s I picked up a mixed case of wines from John Walker on a business trip to SF. I had always enjoyed wine and had paid some degree of attention to it before, but the '87 Cain Five was probably the single wine that most pushed me over the line. For whatever reason, it struck me like no wine I'd ever had before.

I almost cry when I think about what those two bottles might have been like had I let them reach even some semblance of maturity. At least I didn't drink them when they were shut down. At that point in my life, I would simply have thought the wine had little to offer.

My tastes have changed over time and I don't drink as much California wine these days, but this is one of those bottles that I would pay far above fair QPR to buy more today, if I knew it had good provenance. We've probably all got wines like that -- whether for sentimental or oenological reasons. Whatever it was that we did when we "crossed the line", these are the wines that made us do it.

My quick, off-the-top-of-my-head list --

1. 87 Cain Five -- for reasons described above

2. 85 Dom du Chevalier -- At that point, I was a CaliCab and Bordeaux drinker. This Graves, with that earthy, bricky character that CS and its brethren seem to deliver nowhere else in the world to quite such a degree, was probably what turned me into an old-world, terroir, Burg-focused drinker. I just had to find more earth...rocks...minerals...sunwarmed brick...

3. 89 Vieux Chateau Certan -- First wine I ever had to buy because of a tasting. Had it with about 8-10 other 89 and 90 Pomerols (including La Conseillante, L'Evangile, Trotanoy, Lafleur). To top that off, Cathryn and I served it at a meal to celebrate a landmark in the life of a very dear friend and discovered after the fact it was one of his favorite wines as well.

4. 90 Mugnier village Chambolle -- I was already on the road to becoming addicted to Burg in a way that was devastating to my pocket book and free time, but I had not realized what absolute sheer beauty could lie in Chambolle (and in Volnay as well), but what strength and chiselled definition could be right there underneath it. Kind of like trying to wrap a racehorse in ornamental Japanese tissue paper. Damn near impossible to do...but if it happens, what an amazing revelation to unwrap. This village level wine did it for me.

5. 90 Dom Weinbach Cuvee St. Catherine -- The second wine I had to buy because of a tasting and the wine that first led me to understand that grapes other than chard and sauv blanc could deliver stunning white wines. I drink more German than Alsation riesling now, and drink more white Burg than either, but riesling is probably my favorite white grape and this wine was the gateway.

6. 88 Joly Coulee Serrant -- Ordered by someone else at a business dinner and one of those wines that just makes you stop and take on a stunned expression. I literally have no idea what went on for several minutes of that dinner, and this in spite of the fact that it was a baby. Just had another bottle two weeks ago and was pleased to find it did not disappoint at all. Less shocking, because I had a good sense of what to expect, but all the better for having walked a fair portion of the path to maturity.

7. a. 88 Chalone Chard -- Went and bought it after attending a tasting with Matt Kramer where we had tasted various things from the Chalone/Carmenet/Edna stable. He got me curious about what could be found outside the more typical 80's era Napa/Sonoma chards and this wine showed me. Such an erratic producer and wine, but the highs are so damn high.

b. 86 Sauzet Puligny Combettes -- The Chalone sent me on my quest and this was the first time I felt like I was close to the grail. Until that moment, I never imagined such lusciousness could ever be made of steel.

8. 95 Sorrel "Les Rocoules" Hermitage Blanc -- Objectively, not even that great a wine, but a partner in what is probably the most inspired (or damn lucky) food and wine pairing I have ever made. This was only two years ago -- and I have consumed more than my fair share of good wine since the Cain Five that started it all -- but I was still knocked speechless that this good, but rather ordinary wine could turn into absolute nectar due to a food match. Oddly enough, this was for a different dinner with the same dear friend as in the VCC story above. (You can Google alt.food.wine for "'Hermitage Blanc with Easter Dinner" and the original notes on the meal and wine will be there. I would post a link, but don't know if Google Groups links are static.)

None of these wines is the best version of its appellation/type that I've had, but each of them soars over its betters in my own calculus of value because of place or time or learning or revelation or affection.

Okay, how about everyone else?

Jim

Jim Jones

London, England

Never teach a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and frustrates the pig.

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Nice wines, Jim. No wonder you took the fall.

My folks weren't wealthy, but they liked wine and managed to cobble together a decent collection before their kids decided that private schools were the way to go.

From the parent's stash, wines that set me on the road to financial ruin:

1962 Remy Chambolle Musigny: An undistinguished producer today, at one time Remy made pretty decent wines. The intense purity of fruit and depth from such a light bodied, ethereal wine made me a lifelong burg fan. The wine drank well in the 70's and the last bottle in 1995 still sang.

1977 Heitz Bella Oaks: Heitz never again made as good wine from Bella Oaks. I know because I kept buying the damned things hoping to find the same experience.

1976 Prum Auslese: Rich ripe apricots laced with bracing acidity. How I wish we'd kept some of these.

1959 Leoville Barton: All that an aged claret should be. Much better than the 61.

On my own:

1988 Beaucastel Blanc: It's usually a bad idea to hit the wine stores while under the influence. What I thought was a really inexpensive bottle of 1988 Beaucastel Chateauneuf ended up as this. Still a stunner of a wine; surprisingly fresh and yet rich, vanilla and hazelnut on the palate.

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1990 Chateau Latour - I have still never tasted this wine (can't afford it), but seeing it on the cover of Wine Spectator's top 100 in 1993 made a distinct impression on me. Latour is still my favorite wine label for that reason.

1990 Chateau Lynch-Bages - The first bottle I ever bought for my collection. Still have it, although I have enjoyed a number of Lynch-Bages since.

1994 California Cabs/Blends - Hard to choose a specific wine, but 1994 was the first vintage I bought (and drank) heavily. It would be a shame to have to chose one, but some of my favorites at the time were Caymus, Arrowood, Silver Oak, Stag's Leap, Whitehall Lane, Phelps Insignia, and Chateau Montelena

1986 Chateau Talbot - A disappointing wine in most vintages, the 1986 Talbot is amazing. Had my first bottle with some friends who kept in an old chimney they used for storage. The taste was a revalation of almost pure strawberry. It was the first wine that seemed to me an incredible thing to make out of grapes and wood. I have bought it several times now and although not as great as that one experience I have always found it a great value.

1994 Teofilo Reyes - My introduction to Spanish wines, in generally it opened me up to countries beyond France and the U.S. for my wine consumption. Spanish wine is still one of my favorites and a key part of my collection.

1994 Chateau La Nerthe - I am not 100% positive, but I believe this was my first Chateauneuf-du-Pape and my first Rhone in general (at least that I made note of). Since then, Rhones have made up a larger (some would say disproportionate) part of my collection.

1990 Paul Jaboulet-Aine Hermitage La Chapelle - Now this is the wine that sent me hurtling over the line (and probably doubled the average bottle price of my collection). On our honeymoon in 2000, my wife and I went to La Beaugraviere in Mondragon (Rhone Valley), based on the frequent mentions by Robert Parker. After looking through an extensive Rhone list, I was torn between the 1990 Chave and the 1990 La Chapelle. I initially opted for the Chave, but was pointed to the La Chapelle, which was the same price and, he thought, better. I still haven't tasted the Chave, but I can't imagine a better choice. La Chapelle is still a wine I buy in every vintage, despite its sometimes underwhelming nature. Nevertheless, this triggered in me a strong interest in Hermitage (still my favorite to drink and collect) and made me want to collect (I also collect Chave and Chapoutier). I have had many wonderful wines since, but this is still my favorite. And if you haven't been to La Beaugraviere, it is a must-eat-drink pilgrimage for Rhone afficionados.

1990 Chateau Rayas Pignan - Bought a 3oz. tasting of this recently (late 2004) for some ungodly amount because I had never tested a Rayas before. Absolutely delicious. I am hooked. Recently bought my first Rayas (a 2000) and see myself overpaying in the future for a Jacques Reynaud bottling or two. Not to mention by the glass if I see it again (for the record, it was at Cru in NYC).

Edited by mikeycook (log)

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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I have always really enjoyed the Cain Five, although I haven't had the pleasure of trying recent vintages. Several years in a row I was invited to participate in blind tastings of ten top-notch California Bordeaux blends, and Cain Five was always #1 to #3 on my list. (Opus was always #8 to #10.)

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My cross over is far more ignoble than everyone's Lynch Bages or Latour. When I was just 19, I dated a man who brought me a bottle of Roederer, which was nice. He knew and liked wines. But it wasn't the Roederer that did it...

Back then (20+ years ago), Trader Joe's was known for selling cheese, nuts, and wine. That's it. Nothing else really. Philip-the-boyfriend and I went in one day and I picked up a bottle of Tyrell's Long Flat Red, an Australian blend wine that was $1.99. The original two-buck-chuck. Later, Philip looked at what I bought and remarked what a silly thing it was. Then we opened it up and was shocked how really good it was. I had him go back to buy me a case (I was underaged, after all!). For a 19-year-old in 1983, $25 on wine was a lot of money. In 1983, money was spent on clubs and make-up and leather with spikes and... well, other things.

Two years later, I met and married another man and on our honeymoon, we went to a secluded restaurant in San Diego that had that very vintage of Long Flat Red for $40!!!

That was my moment, remembering the case I had bought and so quickly drank up, learning what it meant to sit on good bottles and age them.

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The first wines of decent quality I remember having were a 84 Jordan Cab and an 87 Davis Bynum Fume Blanc as a know-nothing 21 yr old. The first pinnacle wine I ordered for myself was a 1986 Chateau LaTour. The first bottle I put in a wine "cellar" was a 1994 Screaming Eagle that was a gift from a CA vendor and wine afficionado.

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A few. . .

1986 Rabaud Promis. This was my first ever experience with a "dessert" wine, and it completely blew me away.

1987 Shafer Hillside Select. Although this wine is now on the downside for those who have any, when I had it once upon a time, it was an epiphany.

1987 La Mission Haut Brion. No, not the best vintage, but it was an eminently drinkable Bordeaux while young, and a revelation nonetheless.

1983 Montrose. Very nuanced and balanced in a way that didn't try to blow me away, drawing me in instead.

1985 Brane Cantenac. Ditto -- these last two being terrific food partners.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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for me it was a bottle of grgich hills chardonnay in about 1993. i had just graduated from college and was in the process of transitioning from malt liquor to good beer. so you can understand that i had never had a wine that was so rich and buttery and whatnot, and it amazed me that something could have that much flavor. i don't really like that big oaky california chardonnay style of wine anymore, but it sure made an impression on me.

another was probably a 1993 or 1994 sterling diamond mountain ranch cabernet sauvignon. my father in law bought it for dinner one night in a nice restaurant in DC, and something about it rubbed me the right way. a couple years later when we went to napa, i made a point of visiting both grgich hills and sterling, and buying a bottle of the 1995, which sat in my basement till last year. and it was still damn good, and even better about an hour after opening.

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The 1980 Pichon-Lalande. Saw Tampopo for the first time because I was enamored of kaiseiki cooking and have a thing for noodles, but I couldn't understand why the vagabond was so enamored of a wine (now I know).

Henschke's Hill of Grace turned me onto Australia and I blame Jim Clendenen's Au Bon Climat for getting me hooked on Pinot Noirs.

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A chap I was working for at the time took a few of us on a road trip to Seattle.

The wine that made the heavens open uip and the angels sing was a 1985 Silver Oak Cab.

To this I exclaimed " What on earth is this ??? "

He responded " Red wine "

My reply " What has been the other shit I have been drinking for the past few years ?"

I remember the moment vividly and I hope that I always will.

Neil Wyles

Hamilton Street Grill

www.hamiltonstreetgrill.com

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1961 Ch. Cissac, shared in 1999 at an informal celebration dinner for my having managed to run the London Marathon without expiring.

Amazing...

Allan Brown

"If you're a chef on a salary, there's usually a very good reason. Never, ever, work out your hourly rate."

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To this I exclaimed " What on earth is this ??? "

He responded " Red wine "

My reply "What has been the other shit I have been drinking for the past few years ?"

I remember the moment vividly and I hope that I always will.

That's hilarious. Do you happen to remember what his response to the second question was?

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A chap I was working for at the time took a few of us on a road trip to Seattle.

The wine that made the heavens open uip and the angels sing was a 1985 Silver Oak Cab.

Funny '85 Silver Oak has a special place for me as that was the first winery I ever visited (about a week after my 21st B-day) and I bought 3 bottles of the 85 Napa. Turns out I got started on the right foot.

That however, was not the wine that put me over the edge...

As I mentioned in the other post, here are a few that just killed me:

82 Gosset Rose Grand Millisime (sp?)- I went through about a case of this on a shoestring budget and tried it with everything from the classic champange apps to seared livers to rack of lamb. It went with everything. I recall reading a few years later in Serena Sutcliff's book on Champagne that she'd drink it with just about anything as well. Not so much pink as amber in color, it completely changed how I looked at wine.

83 Jamet Cotes Rotie- I'd read about Cotes Rotie in Parker's Buying guide and even tried Guigal's 85 Blonde et Brune, but this wine had so many layers.

85 Tempier La Migoua- I recall literally drooling as I drank it. It was absolute hedonism in a bottle. This launched a very rocky relationship with the Tempier winery as I know of few wines that I hold dear that I've so many bad bottles from. In fact, I've pretty much stopped buying the stuff. Literally 3/4 of the ones I put down fell apart.

Sorry, there's more, but I have to run.

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I have always really enjoyed the Cain Five, although I haven't had the pleasure of trying recent vintages.  Several years in a row I was invited to participate in blind tastings of ten top-notch California Bordeaux blends, and Cain Five was always #1 to #3 on my list.  (Opus was always #8 to #10.)

I've not had the opportunity to try recent vintages either. I think the most recent I have tried is the '90. Back when I had those memorable '87s, I was not at a point in my learning and confidence to be taking notes. How I wish I had tried anyway!

My memory may be a little faulty (and a lot romanticized), but what stands out looking back is that it was perfectly balanced, but still had the forwardly luscious fruit that can be so appealing in California Cabs.

Clearly, it was designed to echo Bordeaux and seems to have done a good job of that, but I can't help comparing it to the best Chiantis and sangiovese-based SuperTuscans/IGTs. What I mean is that it somehow managed to have strong spine of acid to go with the tannins, but also had great fruit that can only be described as juicy. Flavors and weight were all Bordeaux, but balance and bracing quality echoed Tuscany. Don't know if I'm making sense or not.

Matt Kramer once asked Hugh Johnson why he was so fond of claret and Johnson replied that it just goes down like water. I would apply that comment to the Cain Five, but perhaps substitute the best fruit juice for water. An acid/fruit combination that is perfectly quenching, but also makes one scream for more.

I just cracked the first bottle of my half case of '99 Fontalloro the other night and got that same sensation. I'll post a note on that soon. Short preview: really enjoyed it -- would drink another now if I had a full case -- but it greatly benefitted from being open 2 or 3 hours -- so I'll leave the other 5 alone for at least a few years. (uhoh! that was a dork comment, wasn't it?)

For what it's worth, I'm no fan of Opus either. Of the brand-driven, luxury Euro/Cal ventures, my favorite by far is Dominus (though I haven't had recent vintages of that either). I did recently have a bit of their second label (Napanook, is it?) and was impressed with the wine and the price.

Take care,

Jim

Jim Jones

London, England

Never teach a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and frustrates the pig.

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By crossing the line, for me it is the one wine that got me interested in wines and paved the way to my becoming interested. In 1970, right after high school I worked at the liquor store around the corner from where I lived which at the time was one of the best wine shops in Berkeley. Once a week, those who worked there would by a nice bottle of wine and we'd all go back in the store room amidst the cases of wine and liquor and have a glass of wine and discuss it. The first one of these tastings I was at was a bottle of '59 Clos de Vougeot.

I don't remember the discussion that day, only that I was impressed by how good it was and it opened my eyes to what a good wine could be. Up to that point the only wines I'd ever had were the old rot gut wines and if you think todays cheap wines are bad they are nothing compared to the ones back then.

Charles a food and wine addict - "Just as magic can be black or white, so can addictions be good, bad or neither. As long as a habit enslaves it makes the grade, it need not be sinful as well." - Victor Mollo

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