One of the early symptoms of yielding to the pull of fine wine appreciation is when, after your first sniff and sip, you take another more focused look at the shimmering liquid and think, “That tasted good, really good.” And perhaps after more probing, you wonder, “Why did I like that?” Or more to the point, “What was so special about that wine? What did it have that others don't?”
If you have experienced those reactions, then in my humble and heavily biased opinion, you’re edging away from the casual-wine-drinker status to the more thought-provoking and rewarding aspects of wine appreciation. This is the juncture at which wine becomes more than mere beverage. It’s when that mature red with its nuanced messages, arouses your intellect to consider the various aspects that lie beyond the initial, and very primary findings from sniff, sniff and savor.
I mention this because I recently experienced this savory, head-turning event—not once, but twice. and with two very different wines. The first occasion was to help Tom Engler and his wife celebrate his transition from the world of operational brush fires (employment) to the venue of unlimited daily options (retirement).
My wife and I enjoyed a quiet dinner with them at our house, and to help celebrate his life’s next chapter, I pulled from my wine vault one of my two remaining bottles of 2006 Merry Edwards’ Olivet Lane Pinot Noir. (Tom and I are semi-regular buyers of her Pinots and Sauvignon Blanc.) I poured us a couple ounces into the oversized, Spiegelau stemware, and after going through the customary three step tasting preliminaries, we immediately looked at each other and our facial reactions spoke the same: WOW!
The second WOW! event occurred with our good friends Gary and Barbara Schwenk. There was no special occasion other than enjoying each others’ company at the dinner table, which is special occasion enough, right? The main course was an earthy lamb stew (think onions, garlic, tomato sauce,, red peppers, red wine, etc.), and I decided to serve it with my second to last 1998 Domaine Grand Veneur from the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation.
I knew when I uncorked and tasted it that we had a winner. I passed a taste to
Gary, whose reaction duplicated
mine, and he passed it to Barbara. It
was definitely an attention-getter, and while the stew was good, the wine stole
the show. Gary’s re-examination of the empty bottle’s
label provided final confirmation of his pleasure.
What did these two wines have that others seemed to lack? Better yet, what didn’t they have that many others do have? They didn’t have an oversized style and structure which demanded attention; they weren’t flashy and jammy, glycerol-laden fruit bombs; they weren’t critically rated in the high 90’s by anyone; they weren’t wines that would overpower the food; and they weren’t palate-fatiguing wines that would still be in the bottle by the end of the evening.
What these wines did have in common were maturity and deliciousness; they were smooth, elegant and silky; both had a gentle, aromatic spiciness and flavor; both balanced wonderfully with the food; and at evening’s end, their bottles were empty. These were mellow wines that will linger in our memories.
As a final point, it goes without saying that those WOW! moments are often triggered by aspects that have little to do with wine. To be sure, the setting or environment and frame of mind can alter one’s perception. And most importantly, companionship---those who share your pleasures and your pains---are a vital detail in how you appreciate that wine in your stemware. Be sure to choose both carefully.