The question I most often hear whether guiding a tour at home or abroad, during a break at an educational forum or just enjoying a glass of wine with new friends is, “What’s your favorite wine?” Usually, my answer is the somewhat trite, “I really have no favorite, just like with my kids and grandkids.”
When I hear the same question asked of a vintner or winemaker, the answer is usually a bit different, ranging from the whimsical (with a wink of the eye), “The one I’m drinking now” or the more candid, “My current release.”
But do any of these responses actually address the question? I don’t think so. Because having a “favorite” suggests other wines of equal quality and stature have fallen short in some way. Or, there’s an assumption that lesser known wines cannot elevate the experience to the same level. And that’s just not the case.
So rather than classifying “a” specific wine as my favorite, I have chosen to recall several as “memorable.” Each is a favorite in some way but all are worth remembering for their distinct personality, expression of terroir, classic character and precise balance.
Just the expression of “memorable” vs. “favorite” results in a completely different mindset, but one we are very familiar with when the “favorite” question is asked about a variety of other life’s pleasures such as movies, restaurants, resorts, etc. It’s often difficult to focus solely on a specific element when in reality it’s the context of an entire experience that serves to mold our memories in a variety of instances.
I can clearly recall enjoying the legendary 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay (white wine winner at the 1976 Judgment of Paris) when first visiting Napa Valley in 1979 and sharing the equally iconic 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon (red wine winner at Judgment of Paris) at dinner with the same friends many years later.
I have great memories of tasting the 1977 Grgich Hills Chardonnay (premier release) at the winery with Mike Grgich in 1979 and the next evening being entranced by the 1974 Joseph Phelps Insignia at dinner. In one of my early wine classes more than thirty-five years ago, I vividly recall my introduction to the revered 1959 Chateau Lafite Rothschild and a few years later experiencing the splendor of 1967 Chateau d’Yquem.
I have been fortunate to enjoy these wines and many others multiple times over the years but what makes each memorable – not necessarily a favorite – is the complete experience that surrounded the wine. However, while each of these wines is highly esteemed and remarkable on its own, other wines lacking similar pedigrees are not necessarily excluded from my list of “memorables.”
There are countless examples of times shared with family and friends where a seemingly unknown wine took center stage and rose to the occasion. The rosé my wife, Barbara, and I enjoyed one summer day for lunch in Cannes, the delicious Brunello di Montalcino paired beautifully with a regional wild boar pasta for dinner in Siena or a delightful Possip on a beautiful autumn-day in Dubrovnik. These were not, by any means, legendary wines but they were perfect in the moment. And although they were not necessarily intended to become someone’s “favorite,” each one certainly became an integral part of a “memorable” experience.
I realize we may have our favorites (note the plural) when thinking about wine, food, restaurants, locales or a wide variety of other interests. But “a” favorite, I don’t think so. Thankfully, at any given time my memory bank is filled with remarkable wines I’ve enjoyed over time (regardless of price, lineage, varietal or a critic’s score) and the impact they’ve had on the occasion. Isn’t that what makes something “memorable?”
My column “Cork—Is the Jury Still Out?” generated several comments from the recognition of the cork industry’s efforts to overcome TCA taint, to both questioning and affirming cork’s reliability as a closure along with the convenience of screw cap vs. cork.
Carl—What is the life of a cork in the bottle? I remember not many years ago Chateau Lafite Rothschild sent representatives to the U.S.A. to re-cork and top-off vintages over 25 years old. I haven’t heard that this is still being done—but should it?
No, I haven’t heard of Lafite continuing their re-cork program that is also considered very controversial by other chateaux and world-class producers given the “topping-off” with younger vintages and exposure to air. It would be tough to accurately predict the lifespan of a particular cork as there are many variables that need consideration from the quality of the cork and expertise of the producer to storage conditions in the cellar, etc.
And there is no direct relation to a fragile cork that may break on removal and its ability to have preserved the wine while in the bottle. The Durand wine opener is also showing remarkable results in successfully removing corks from older bottles without damage.
Tony—Cork, to me, only represents the “romance” of wine and an elegant “pull” tool is nice. But give me a screw top any day.
Allen Balik has been a wine collector, consultant, author, fundraiser and enthusiast for more than 35 years. Each year, he and his wife, Barbara, produce the Evening Of The Culinary Winemasters event at Warner Bros. Studios, a benefit for Cystic Fibrosis.