Due to the enthusiastic responses we have received from our previous newsletter post “Our five most memorable lunches”, we have decided to share our five most memorable wine moments. When I thought about memorable wine moments, I was driven by the excitement of the unexpected that truly made it memorable. Certainly, memorable moments could be a wine dinner with great wines, or it could be a visit to the chateau of your favorite vintner, or a glass of wine with a long-lost friend, but for us, it’s that OMG, please pinch me, this can’t be happening, that made the moments most memorable.
Kathy and I were living in Brussels and drove to Bordeaux for a short holiday. We had a connection to the top wine négociant in Bordeaux and when we met him, he asked how he could help. I was young and cocky and in a smart aleck kind of way I responded, “I drove all the way down here, I would hope to experience first growth chateaux.” To our surprise, he took note and made it happen as we received a call the next day announcing that set up private tours for us at Mouton Rothchild, Chateau Margeaux, and Haut Brion. He paused then said, “I also have you set up at Chateau d’Yquem.” And that was the first, “please pinch me moment, this cannot be real”.
Each visit to the chateaux was an incredible lifetime experience with tastings and shared stories but Chateau d’Yquem was surreal. The wine master was relatively young and through the combination of our basic French and his broken English, we spent two hours walking through the vineyards talking about soil, micro climate, vintages, and processes. Then came the great reveal, he told us that the owner at the time, Comte Alexandre de Lur-Saluces, had authorized him to open a vintage bottle of Chateau d’Yquem to share with us. He added that such offer has never happened; Kathy and I had butterflies in our stomachs. So picture this moment, at one of the most esteemed chateaux in the history of wine, sitting on a picnic table, overlooking the vineyards, sharing a glass with the wine master, thinking about the grueling effort to pick the grapes, the settling of the evening mist that furthers the infestation of “noble rot”, the honey sweetness in our mouths, and totally appreciating that this is a rarely experienced opportunity by anyone. Priceless
Kathy and a friend decided to take a quick trip to Provence to escape the husbands. It was July and as they drove through the countryside, all they could see were fields and fields of sunflowers stretching out to the horizon. Magnificent! But for Kathy, no road trip is complete without a stop at a vineyard. Without a guide or any reference materials, Kathy followed her instinct, “oh look, there’s a sign that says wine, let’s go in”. Approaching a small chateau always feels like an intrusion and that is exactly what happened. Kathy knocked on the door and an elderly man in his pajamas and slippers opened the door. After a small conversation with Kathy’s broken French, he begrudgingly agreed to take them into the cellar. And that is when the adventure began… He opened the cellar door, lit a candle and with candlelight, led them down the old wooden stairs into a real cave - a tasting room in a real cave. There they stood, with only a candle for light, tasting five wines poured by the grumpy old man. The story could have ended there but it turned out that Kathy struck gold. Once she got home and did the research, the old man was the proprietor, René Dürrbach, a painter, who in his prime, hung out with a group of friends that included Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger and Albert Gleizes. The chateau turned out to be Domaine du Trevallon, one of Southern France’s best-known estates and highly respected among the top restaurateurs and sommeliers across France for its unique wines. Kathy bought a case of wine as a courtesy to the old man but it turned out, it was us who got so fortunate!
Marathon du Medoc
There is no mystery of what to expect when Kathy and I signed up to run the Marathon du Medoc. Known around the world as the “longest” marathon, it has more wine stops than water stops and serves grilled meats and oysters at kilometer 38. The run through every chateau includes drinking, music, and dancing. Since this was my first marathon, the thought of drinking wine sounded like a terrible idea. However, I was the exception. EVERYONE stopped at the wine stops to drink. The real surprise of this race was the night before. I expected dedicated runners loading up on carbs and water but I was wrong. The runners were eating pasta and drinking bottles of wine; a never-ending flow of wine. I have never seen a larger group of drunk runners in my life. As the night winded down and the thousands of staggering runners left the hall, I was told the secret of the night. “Runners spend months training to get their legs in shape to run the marathon. Tonight is about conditioning your body to accept the wine on the course. That takes training also!”
The Port Wine Institute
Kathy and decided to go to Portugal for a holiday and one of our destinations was Oporto. While in Oporto, we decided to go to the Port Wine Institute to gain some knowledge on port. We were greeted by the receptionist and as we explained that we wanted to gather information on port, she assumed we were writers (though we didn’t know that at the time). The next thing we know, we are escorted to the Executive Director of the Institute who welcomed us warmly and proceeded to give us the royal treatment. We got a complete tour of the facility, received a long discussion on the history of port, learned about his family’s history in Oporto, and he invited us into a special chamber to drink vintage port. Kathy and I were absolutely loving the attention and we thought that maybe the name “Bush” got us the treatment! Then it happened, out of nowhere, as we were drinking port, he asked “what publication do you write for?” I said, “Excuse me, I didn’t understand your question.” He repeated it. I looked at Kathy and thought, oh shoot, a serious case of mistaken identity. As much as I thought a good answer would be an obscure magazine in Topeka, I said “ I am sorry sir, we are not writers, we are novices wanting to learn something about port wine”. I expected an angry explosion and waited. But slowly, the most amazing smile came onto his face, “good, I hate writers”. A new friendship developed between the three of us. We sat there, talked about the world and finished the decanter of port. And then he called his brother and arranged for a private tour at his family’s port facility- another complete surprise. The family name was Ferreira, one of the prominent names in the history of port wine.
Kathy’s wine tasting notes
We had become good friends with a Dutch guy I worked with in Brussels. He knew his wines and had a nice cellar of 2,000 bottles. One Saturday, he arranged for Kathy and I and a couple of our friends to have a wine tasting at his wine merchant. Kathy, at the time, was eager to learn about wine and came very well prepared. A note book, a pen, as well as a commitment to swirl, sniff, sip, swish, and spit all 21 wines we were planning to sample. She started out very diligently, listening to the merchant describe the wine, taking notes, swirling, sniffing, sipping, and spitting out the wine while the rest of us drank every drop. By wine 10, everyone but Kathy had already started to approach a “high”. The conversations became louder, there was more laughter and storytelling, and we were poking fun at our serious student Kathy. That’s when Kathy thought that spitting out the wine may have been a little wasteful. Around wine 12, she started to drink every drop without giving up on her notes. Fast forward, the wine merchant announced the 21st wine, the last wine that we would taste that afternoon. By this time, we were all on fire. Our taste buds totally trashed, we needed interpreters to translate the words that we were slurring… Kathy, committed to the end, wrote her last set of tasting notes. The next day, I asked her to explain how wine 21 tasted. She was clueless. I suggested to look at her notes but they didn’t help at all! And that was the last time Kathy has ever taken tasting notes.