Some say it’s a calling. Others may simply call it extinguishing one’s thirst. Either way, many of us in the wine trade remember the one sip of wine (read: bottle of wine) that pushed us over the brink from habitual enthusiast to hard-core oenophile. Often times we remember not only the wine we had, but we also recall where we found ourselves in the world and with whom we were drinking, along with other mundane yet unforgettable details of the transcendent moment.
I remember backpacking through Europe with some childhood friends following the final year of our undergraduate studies. Towards the conclusion of our trip, we ventured to Le Cinque Terre in Italy and stumbled upon the small shops that line the few main strips of the towns. Famished from navigating the European rail system from Germany via France en route to Italy, we stocked up on some salumi, cheese, and wine, and headed for the beach as the day slowly waned and the Mediterranean evening swallowed the sea.
The sand padded our feet like silk beneath our toes as we sliced and diced our way thru links of cured Genoa salami and broke some proverbial bread. The wine that cemented the night and set me on a never-ending journey in wine was Silvio Nardi Brunello di Montalcino 1995. By then the wine was nearly ten years old, having slumbered for nearly seven years in the bottle. Silky tannins and a velvety mouth feel beautifully outlined the signature aged-Sangiovese flavors and aromas of dried cherries, balsamic, and leather. The air was crisp, the wine was ripe, and the future – although uncertain – was mine for the taking, and from this moment on I was sold on navigating the waters of the wine trade to make my way in the world.
The story is different for all of us, but the theme remains the same – one wine tickling our soul and markedly changing the direction of our lives. I recently had the privilege of speaking with some of the wine industry’s most celebrated writers and critics about this very concept at the 11th annual Napa Valley Vintners Wine Writer’s Symposium.
Here’s what these luminaries had to say:
Andrea Immer Robinson – Lindeman’s Bin 65 Chardonnay; paired with microwave popcorn with girlfriends in NYC as a young and budding sommelier.
Karen MacNeil – E. Guigal Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde with Ray Wellington at The Post House in NYC. She recalled the aromas and flavors freshly cracked black pepper and noted it was possibly the first time she had ever tasted Syrah.
Evan Goldstein – Romanée-Conti 1945 with mom at the dinner table as a teen growing up. (he received small sips of wine in exchange for good grades in school). He also recalled drinking magnums of “Bob White” and “Bob Red”, referring to the late great Robert Mondavi and the early trials and tribulations of the pioneer American winemaker.
Jancis Robinson – Chambolle Musigny 1959 (no details were given but there was a comical head jerk and contagious smile as she instantaneously came to her conclusion).
If you feel like you have the wine bug, but haven’t yet felt the ground shake beneath you, keep on tasting and trying new wines, and sooner than later Bacchus shall deliver.
Dan Amatuzzi is a wine and spirits professional and the beverage director at Eataly in NYC. His website, wineforthestudent.com, is a blog based on wine appreciation and education. He holds a MBA degree from the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at NYU and is an adjunct professor at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at NYU. His latest publication, How to Host a Wine Tasting Party: The Complete Kit (Race Point Publishing), is now available.