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What wine have you had the most of in your life?

Fat Guy

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For me it's a close call, because my records aren't entirely accurate, but it's definitely one of these three, in chronological order:

When I first started drinking wine in earnest, as a law student, I got turned on to Terra de Lobos Ribatejo, from Portugal. Ellen and I had spent a couple of weeks in Portugal the summer after our junior year in college, and we got hooked on the cheap and tasty table wines that were starting to hit the international market around 1990. At the time I was able to get it for $4.99 a bottle from K&D, my local wine shop. For several years I went through a few cases a year -- it was what I drank with meals, what we served at parties, and I never hesitated to open a bottle even if I was only going to drink a glass because I knew it got better after a day and if I didn't finish it then I could always cook with the rest -- before moving on to something a little more complex for my house wine. For what it's worth, Wine Spector gave this wine 86 points in 1992. I noticed recently that this wine was available, with a spiffy new label, for $7.95, so I think I may try to grab a bottle to see how I view it now. The grape, formerly named Perequita, is now called Castelao -- same grape, they've just renamed it.

The wine that got me through much of the mid- to late-1990s was Notarpanaro, from Dr. Cosimo Taurino. Parker said some really nice stuff about it at one point. I loved this stuff dearly. It's from Salento (Apulia), and I believe back in the day it was a mixture of mostly Negroamaro with some Malvasia Nera, though when I looked up a recent bottling it seemed to be 100% Negroamaro -- perhaps it varies year to year. The most notable feature of this wine is three years in oak, and a heck of a lot of complexity for $11 -- though now it's more like $15. I need to grab a recent vintage and see how it's doing.

Finally, for the past 8 or 9 years, the house wine here has been Argyle Pinot Noir from Oregon. We visited the winery in maybe 1999 and fell in love not only with the wine but also the people there, particularly the winemaker Rollin Soles, whose career we've tracked and written about in a number of places. Having a connection to the vineyard, winery and winemaker enhances every sip of this wine for me. We keep a range of Argyle bottles on hand. We get half bottles shipped from the winery -- I don't think you can get them any other way -- and we have many full bottles of three different Pinot Noir bottlings from recent years (right now the basic one is $22, the reserve is $35, and there's a super-special bottling for $70 that we crack open maybe once a year). We also have a couple of Argyle Chardonnays and a couple of sparkling wines around, but we primarily drink the red. At $22 this isn't exactly everyday wine for us, but we don't drink wine at home every day. Maybe a bottle or two a week, plus a case here and there for a party. Although, I haven't bought any this year because Argyle sent like six cases of wine over for my book party in 2005 and most of it didn't get consumed -- there are still about eight bottles in my closet. No you can't have them.

And a reflection: I've long felt that there was value to getting to know a wine really well. I mean, I'm not a wine expert. I don't drink a ton of wine. But I love wine. For me, that love is enhanced by repeated encounters with the same wine over a period of years -- different vintages, different bottlings, paired with different foods, on different special occasions, and in the case of Argyle we've even on three occasions tasted barrel samples at the winery. If I know the winemaker and/or have been to the place, it deepens the connection. I mean, I certainly have less breadth of wine experience than the average person who posts online about wine. But I probably have more experience drinking Argyle than any professional wine writer, sommelier or most anybody else who doesn't work at Argyle. So, when I drink that wine, I think I have a different experience of it than somebody on his first, tenth or hundredth bottle. For me, it's an old friend. I know him well.

Next person?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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This is a little like true confessions, for the wines we loved, way back when, may reveal far too much about who we were, where we thought we were, who we've become. Brillat-Savarin surely had it almost right: tell me what you drink and I'll tell you who you are. So here goes, a tale of three bottles.

Way back in the mid- to late-70s when my wife and I were in the intoxicating throes of romance (we still are, actually!) and first discovering wine here in England, we thought we were ever so sophisticated, having moved on from the cheap Spanish Corrida we'd drunk in uni to the enjoyment of German wines, particularly from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. No, never Liebfraumilch, danke, for Blue Nun and wines of that ilk (Black Tower?) were even then considered horribly sweet, nasty and uncool. Yet the wines from the Mosel were - still are, I'm sure - definitely more restrained and classy, produced from the aristocratic Riesling and with a delicate balance of residual sugar and steely, firm acidity. OK OK, we weren't drinking estate wines from JJ Prum, just everyday bottles - our favourites were either the Wine Society own label Mosel (available in litre bottles), or Deinhard 'Green Label' - but believe me, these wines were just so damn easy to glug, so utterly delicious and enjoyable, if only mildly intoxicating. I readily confess that in those days we drank 'Green Label' by the bucket amd I never remember a bad bottle. Once we even lugged a bottle up Scafell (the highest 'mountain' in England), chilled it in a stream somewhere near the summit, and enjoyed it out of plastic mugs with our ham-and-cheese sarnies - in those circumstances, at that moment, it was possibly the best bottle of wine, the best lunch even?, I've ever enjoyed in my life...or so I still remember it.

Well, life moves, and so does one's appreciation of wines. The next wine I recall falling in love with - and hence drinking in extraordinary quantity (the topic of this thread) - is Rioja, and in particular a crianza from Bodegas Domecq Domaine, a winery located in the Rioja Alavesa. Domecq of course produce a range of great sherries in Andalusia and I think at the time, the move to Rioja had been a relatively recent one. Rioja was yet to start its boom but the region and its wines were most definitely on the up, at least here in England. What was so exciting about Rioja in those days - seems silly now, doesn't it - was the smooth, silky, voluptuous taste and mouthfeel of new oak, and in particular, sweet, vanilla-scented American oak. That Domecq Rioja we used to so enjoy was so fruity, round, velvety and smooth yet also rich and satisfying - and, best of all, we could afford it! Can't remember prices, but it couldn't have been at all expensive because we drank it so regularly. How I loved that wine!

In fact, when we set out to research and photograph our first book, 'The Wine and Food of Europe', published in 1982, we sought out and visited both producers, Deinhard in Germany (I recall climbing the steep Mosel vineyards above Bernkastel to visit their patch of the famous Doktor vineyard), and Domecq Domaine, in I believe, Cenicero (I remember an amazing lunch in the bodega of pimientos asados - roasted red peppers stewed in garlic - and chuletas - tiny lamb chops - cooked over vines). Both these wines may have come from largescale producers with mass distribution, but they were not by any means manufactured industrially. They were quality products made from grapes grown in a particular terroir, produced with care, integrity and pride, and wholly characteristic and representative of their region and country. Wine experts and snobs may well sneer at at those old favourite wines, but I say today that I am unashamedly proud to have known and enjoyed them!

What they'd taste like today, if I were to encounter them, is anybody's guess, but that is probably as much a reflection on me as on the wines themselves. My hunch, though, is that they'd still be pretty good.

My final wine is one that I have most definitely drank more in my life than any other, Cascina Fontana Barbera d'Alba, from a small wine producer in the Barolo hills named Mario Fontana, who has over the years become a very close personal friend. I have been drinking Mario's Barbera regularly - very regularly - for the last fifteen years or more. I have visited the property many times - I even cycled there once from England! - and have seen Mario and his family grow, as our own family has grown. Mario's wine has cheered us in happy times and celebrations; and it has consoled us in some very sad moments in life that we shared together.

Mario makes the classic wines of Le Langhe - Dolcetto, Nebbiolo and Barolo in addition to his Barbera. I love them all. But the Barbera is and always will be the most special for me, the wine I immediately turn to when I want something familar that I just know, deep down, will satisfy more than any other wine. The funny thing is, not everyone loves it, or even likes it as much as I do. Barbera grapes grown in the Barolo wine hills, vinified the traditional way, and aged in botti not barrique, produce wine that has structure and tannin that clasically overlays a backbone of rich acidity - that is why good Barbera is such a great wine to enjoy with food. Yet for a generation of wine drinkers raised on sickly sweet fruity reds from the New World, such a wine can seem initially harsh and hard and unyielding. Sometimes in tastings, I am frustrated when I see people just not getting it, not enjoying this very special wine that is so uncompromisingly Italian, so Piemontese in character. For though the initial attack may seem a touch harsh, I know that with a bit of patience, and above all with food, the wine will open out and reveal itself as richly textured and smooth.

Steven said:

> For me, that love is enhanced by repeated encounters with the same wine over a

> period of years -- different vintages, different bottlings, paired with

> different foods, on different special occasions

I agree entirely, Steven. That is the beauty, the joy of drinking the same wine year in and year out. You get to know its nuances, its individuality, for all the vintages may be bear similar family resemblances yet are all individual and unique, sometimes even profoundly different. For Mario's Barbera, in recent years, the rainy 2002 vintage resulted in expectedly perfumed, if lighter, wines; the heatwave summer of 2003 produced a blockbuster Barbera that is massive in every way; and the 2004 that we are now drinking is elegant, balanced and defnitely a wine that will improve with some years cellaring. I must try and put some away before I drink it all!

Wines that I have known and loved: yes, they are like old friends, and even if I haven't seen or tasted them for a while, I still always feel affectionate about them, as much for the memories of time and place, as for the wines themselves.

Yes, I agree: we are, it seems, truly what we drink.



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The first wine that we started buying regularly by the case year after year was a white - the Pouilly Fume "Prestige des Fines Caillotes" of Jean Pabiot et Fils, in the early 1980's. It's their Pouilly Fume made from old vines, and though all the PF's I'd had previously never quite matched up to the descriptions of how good the wine could be (I was still in the learning about wine stages then), this wine poured almost like motor oil, yet had such a bracing, but deliciously pungent flavor that it was indeed like the "iron fist in the velvet glove" description that's normally applied to Chablis Premier Cru (a wine we also love). So for years this was our house wine. Then one year when we realized we were going to France and would be in the Burgundy region, and very specifically the area of "Chablis" I studied a map and found that town of Pouilly Fume just wasn't all that far south (and realized why both wines may share the iron-fist characteristic, assuming it comes from the soil). So I asked the hotel to call them to arrange a visit the day we were there, and apparently they were told that it was not a good day. So I asked for the phone, and spoke to Monsieur Pabiot myself (calling into play a French that I had studied, but a much better French than I had ever used, this being a trial by fire), and I explained how many vintages of the Prestige I'd been buying by the case and even that I knew the importer, and he said "Come on down", so we did. (The importer in question was Robert Chadderdon, a fellow whose name on a wine used to guarantee a great wine 30 years ago although it may still now.)

Following his directions, we found a single family house on a meandering street that only had small houses. As we approached and an elderly woman came to the door to ask what we wanted, I explained in that fabulous French that I had been invited down a few hours earlier by her husband, and the look on her face told me that I'd said something very wrong. But she went inside and her 30-something son appeared, and all was well, and he turned out to speak very fluent English. The winery was made-do from every room and garage on their property, and he gave us a royal tour. They were bottling in the basement, and we got to witness the entire operation. Then he took us to the storage tanks for the next-to-be-released vintage - a few stainless steel tanks in another basement. The wine was extremely green and citrusy, and not at all like what we'd been drinking, and he explained that at that point, it was a question of time - those characteristics would fade, and the ones we loved would predominate. I also told him that in my quest to find his wine in New York and learn more about it, one well-known wine store who carried it (the prestige bottling) had told me that the way they achieved the 'toasty' flavor was to hold torches inside the oak barrels to char them, so I asked him where those were. His reply... "there's not one wooden barrel of any kind on the property - look around you." It was then an entirely stainless steel operation, and the wine store was simply wrong.

Well, from that point on, we enjoyed his wines even more.

The first house red of ours was the Vincent Arroyo Cabernet, from Calistoga, a big, thick, rustic wine that was just sensational, although at the time we discovered it in the early 80's, was selling for $6.99 a bottle. We went through case after case, year after year, and one year we were in San Francisco and made the trip up to visit him. Vince himself was our host (I think he's everybody's host), and we toured the operation and tasted from the barrels. He's also famous for his Petite Sirah's, and we did a sensory overload sampling the various ones of that. He had just started making a merlot - the first one was ageing, and since he was such a nice guy, and obviously a winemaker who could extract the most delicious and concentrated things from a grape, I told him that, and that since I had never had a merlot I enjoyed, asked if I could taste his. He got me some, and no, I didn't like it, but felt that I had had my question superbly answered. At the end, he went to his house and got one of the few bottles, and treated us to a tasting of the same Petite Sirah in full and half bottles, to answer one of my ageing questions. He also opened one of the few bottles left of his first vintage Cabernet to share with us, and a friend who had stopped by told me he'd never seen Vince do that. We continued to make that our house red (the Cabernet and to a lesser extent the PS) for many years.

And my last experience was the Pinot Blanc of Alsace Willm, in the town of Barr, not too far from the city of Strasbourg, where we used to go often. We'd been in love with Alsace wines for many years (dating from our first visit there), and at that time, it was primarily Pinot Blanc that you could get in the states for a dry white from there (the many dessert wines they make were always available here, though). We had settled-in on the Willm PB as our house wine, and I had standing orders for many (many) cases of it for many years at a local store. One year I arranged by internet to visit. The head of the winery (it was small, as most Alsace firms are) was aware that there had been a surge of sales in my part of New Jersey, and had even been to the store where I get the wine, as part of a blitz-tour that his distributor had taken him on. So we were were known to him as the largest single American consumers of his wine. Alsace has 7 distinct white grapes, three of which are made in three styles (dry, late harvest, and SGN - 'noble rot') so a tasting at a winery there includes a ton of wines. It was the day before Christmas and he stayed open for us. For the first 99 wines, we used spittoons. The last wine opened was an older Gewurtztraminer SGN in a half bottle, and for that he removed the spittoons and announced, "this one we drink".

If I may, there's one funny story from that visit. While touring the cellars, he turned to me and had a short, and slightly frightening, outburst. We'd been talking in English all day, and I'd been pronouncing "Alsace" with a hard 's' - as in 'soft'. Until he snapped, and told me "You keep saying 'al - Sace', and it's 'al-Zace' - and you are driving me crazy! You must stop !!" I've (clearly) never forgotten that, and never mispronounced the word since.

The Alsace Pinot Blanc continued to be our house wine for many years (supplemented by numerous cases of other Alsace wines), until the 2003 vintage, the one from the incredible heat wave. As my standing orders of the Pinots Blanc arrived, we found them just about undrinkable. This was a major disaster for us. The Alsace Pinot Blanc is always a delicious and food friendly wine, and we had a problem. We had stopped drinking Pouilly Fume previously, because the prices of the good ones went from the $18.99 we were paying for the Pabiot in the 80's to a price that almost equaled our mortgage payment. We were out of luck.

And then I remembered Frank Prial's piece in the Times about the Lost Vineyards Portuguese White. ($1.99) The first bottle we tried was utterly delicious. It didn't have the complexities of taste and texture of a fine Loire Valley wine (and of course is not a Sauvignon Blanc), but more than any other wine I can remember, it did a beautiful job with food when that flavor profile was needed - and the wine was clean, crisp, well-made, and fresh. We've been drinking it ever since, and as I fill up my car with as many cases as will fit, I chuckle at how a case of it costs what a bottle of something else does. Then we tried their "White Lambrusco" from Italy when they introduced it. You know... I'm not saying it's the equal of a White Burgundy (which we love but can't afford to drink by the case - not that those wines would have anything in common - I'm just trying to forestall the abuse that may be coming) - but it (the Lost Vineyards White Lambrusco) is a fabulous wine - delicious, well made, with everything in balance - the flavor, the acidity, and the lack of sweetness. To me, it fits the descriptions of a great French rose better than any of those I've actually experienced, and it literally tastes like summer in a glass. We now drink those as house whites (in 30 years, we never had a house rose before), and love them, and we have cases stored everywhere in our house, as we give them by the case as gifts as well. And honest injun, when we go on vacation for a week or two to places where we don't like what the local wine stores carry, we have a case or two shipped ahead of our arrival. And though this may be getting OT, we take the savings from the $1.99 we pay compared to what a previous house white used to cost, and apply them directly to our red Burgundy fund.

Edited by markk (log)

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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This is tough to answer. I'm one of those people who is more interested in trying as much as I can and learning from all of that than someone who wants to curl up with a handful of ol' reliables. I rarely purchase wine by the case. When I do, I always split it with at least one other person, sometime more. Leading up to an answer, though, the region from which I've consumed more wine than any other is Champagne. The producer from whom I've consumed more wine than any other is Climens. The individual wine I've consumed the most of is 1996 Pierre Peters "Cuvee Speciale" Brut Blanc de Blancs (and I'm not done yet!). Ask me this question in 15 years or so, and the answer may change to 1995 Ducru Beaucaillou, of which I have a case (purchased long before Spectator drove up its price with a WOTY recognition).

As far as knowing a wine well, my try-as-much-as-you-can approach lends itself to a Jack of All Trades, Master of None comparison. I probably "know" Champagne better than I "know" any other wine or type of wine, but don't nearly know enough to really crow about. I feel most confident writing tasting notes for Champagne and other sparkling wines, for whatever that's worth.

I prefer Champagne to many other wines because I think it's one of the best (and underrated) food wines, guests always appreciate being poured a glass or more, it never seems to be in a "dumb" stage, and there is great variety in style from producer to producer.

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

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When we were in Graduate School and poor we had two sources for wine. Daily wine was Gallo Hearty Burgundy(actually only consumed on the weekend because we were just working such long hours) and a wine shop in Milwaukee where the Celler Master was very knowledgable. He would pick out outstanding European wines at reasonable prices and give me a 10% discount on any number of bottles. He only asked that when we were through with school to purchase from him. Sadly he is departed, the wine shop in other hands and I no longer shop there.

To answer the query, German Reislings of all persuations and Bordeaux/Burgundy(French that is). Our palats were formed on European wines and that is what we like. Sadly the price increases have cause us to switch to other sources for the most part but I still purchase Bordeaux and Port futures and the occassional case of Burgundy(white mostly). In the case of Reislings, I deal directly with the grower and the importer/retailer just pass the wines through with markup.-Dick

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