Few things are as personal as wine--it’s one of the reasons that it means so much to so many people. Personally, I cannot imagine an important moment passing by without having marked it by popping the cork from a bottle of something special.
Much of this, I think, is a result of the fact that wine is not just an expression of a particular grape or blend of grapes, but, rather, of the people who shepherd the juice through the process of becoming the finished product in the bottle. In this regard, it’s like any other work of art, the product of a thousand decisions along the way. It’s also, arguably, the single best conduit we have for expressing the soul of a place. I cannot remember who said it, but I love the idea that wine is the mechanism through which the land expresses its essence. (Of course, we’re talking about good wine here, not the mass-produced plonk whose typically cute labels attempt to compensate for, or distract from, the fact that the juice itself is about as processed as a slice of Velveeta cheese.)
I bring all of this up because I’ve recently had a number of experiences that have highlighted the importance of getting to know where your wines come from, and who crafted them.
This past January, I attended Vino 2011: Italian Wine Week in New York, and spent my days not just tasting, but also attending seminars, panel discussions, and dinners with other members of the trade and press as well as the winemakers themselves. And, as always, the chance to taste with the winemakers threw the wines into an entirely new--and more well-defined--light.
It also threw into deliciously sharp relief how varied and exciting a country Italy remains. From a private tasting with Giovanni Ponchia, the head enologist of the Soave Consortium (if you love your tastebuds, you’ll explore all that’s happening in this incredibly exciting part of Italy--the Cantina del Castello Soave Classico 2009 is a show-stopper) to the great wines of Oltrepo Pavese in Lombardy (the Tenuta Mazzolino DOCG Cruasé is worth the effort of seeking out, as are the wonderful wines of Cantina Bergamasca, notably the Valcalepio DOC Rosso Riserva “Akros” 2005), and from the the up-and-coming gems of Apulia to a familiar grape variety thrown into an entirely new light (Rivetti Massimo’s Barbera d’Alba “Serraboella” 2007 sang), Vino 2011 wasn’t just a chance to taste new wines, but to reignite the flame of enthusiasm for this legendary wine-producing country.
A couple of months afterward, I enjoyed lunch with Antonio Michael Zaccheo Jr., winemaker for Tuscan powerhouse Carpineto. I’ve had a personal connection to his wines for years--Carpineto’s Dogajolo bottling is one of my father’s house wines for large get-togethers--but having the chance to break bread with the man responsible for them changed my perception.
As is the case with everything, familiarity breeds complacency. As such, I’d begun to perhaps take for granted the reliability and enjoyment that Carpineto’s wines provide. But from the gorgeously maturing, perfumed Carpineto Chianti Classico Riserva 2006 to the truffle-kissed Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2005 to the mind-bogglingly wonderful Vinsanto “Farnito” 1992, this producer, which has been a part of so many important moments for my family, suddenly became even more textured, even more soulful.
In February, I fell in love all over again with the wines of Domaine Leflaive at a lunch with cellarmaster Eric Rémy. For fans of white Burgundy, these are among the best there are--both the 2008 Meursault 1er Cru “sous le Dos d’Ane” and the Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru “Le Clavoillon” embody all that’s great about chardonnay, Burgundy, and the vision and philosophy of Domaine Leflaive in general (they’ve been biodynamic since the 1980s).
Then in March, I enjoyed a lunch at New York’s Aureole with the legendary Rob Davis, winemaker for Jordan. And though Jordan’s wines are always among the most expressive and delicious each vintage (the 2007 cabernet sauvignon will be a rock star of a wine), we were treated to a literal taste of history: The first-release cabernet sauvignon 1976, which was as close a clone of mature Chateau Lafite as I’ve ever tasted with its mint, currants, smoked tea, and Chinese spices singing together as beautifully as the chorus ensemble at the Metropolitan Opera.
The point is this: We occasionally need to be reminded of what makes wine so special, such an integral part of our sensory and emotional lives. And there are few better ways to do so than to take advantage of any chance you have to taste with the people responsible for your favorite ones. Winemakers, cellarmasters, and other professionals are constantly visiting cities all around the country, and when they stop by yours, jump at the chance to meet them. Whether you’ve loved their work for years or will be tasting bottlings that are completely unfamiliar, you’ll be reminded yet again why you fell in love with wine in the first place. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Brian Freedman is a food, wine, and travel writer and wine consultant. He writes for John Mariani's Virtual Gourmet, Philadelphia Style Magazine, and the blog www.UncorkLife.com for Wine Chateau, among others. For more information on his work, or to contact him regarding consulting or speaking, please visit www.BrianFreedmanPhiladelphia.com.