Wine professionals spend a large portion of their time studying, tasting, assessing and discussing all things wine. It’s what we do. It’s a passion that takes us around the world both literally and metaphorically in search of new grape varietals, methods, vintages and ultimately new wines. It is an obsession.
Most sommeliers have a story about the first wine that made them pause and think, “Wow, this is delicious!” Sommeliers aside, most have had that epiphany: when the wine speaks to you with a visceral whisper that forever harnesses your attention. You’re hooked. From this point forward the search for the perfect wine begins – unless you were lucky enough to find your perfect wine on that first occasion. You have officially caught the wine bug. Congratulations!
It was seven or eight vintages back that I was attending close friend’s annual Christmas party. It was an intimate event nestled in an old Victorian home with classic furnishings, art and several people unfamiliar to me. When asked to take care of the wine service for the evening, I jumped at the opportunity. It was a great way to pull corks, pour wine and make new friends.
As the evening wound down to a handful of guests I was asked, “What was your most memorable wine?” I quickly responded with excitement.
I proceeded to tell a gentleman of great class all about the wine. It jumped out of the glass with notes of bright cherry, licorice, mushroom, clove and a strong scent of an old gym shoe. Yes, this is a good thing. Upon tasting the wine, the shear power and exuberance made me lose all senses and rationality. Never had I tasted anything so powerful and explosive but simultaneously light in body. The wine was youthful with the acids, fruit and tannins not quite integrated but balanced enough to enjoy.
To date, that wine’s finish still tops anything else I’ve had, lingering upwards of five minutes.
While I shared this experience, the gentleman nodded his head and patiently listened. Then, it was my time to ask the same of him. He began to respond in a humble, soft tone that required my undivided attention.
His story took him and his wife to Russia to visit old friends who had endured life in the old Soviet Union. It continued with a simple home with simple furnishings and a reuniting of old friends who hadn’t seen each other in decades. The wine for the evening had been stowed away in a wall for years out of fear of being found. He shared that he neither had any idea what kind of wine it was, nor where it originated and couldn’t even recall if it was even any good. He finished by saying “That was my most memorable wine.”
I paused. Then, without words and deeply embarrassed, I humbly admitted my failure and shortsighted comprehension.
For a wine professional, connoisseur, collector and overall wine nerd, it was a great reminder that at the end of the day, it boils down to who you are sharing your wine with. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the search for the rarest, most exclusive wine. In the end, wine is a vector for conversation, regardless of price, ratings or points.
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.