My wine adventures reached a pinnacle with a surprise bottle of wine. This happened some years ago on a visit to friends in Tucson, Arizona. By this time I had some real wine tasting experiences under my belt. I had become so committed I took out a subscription to that famous wine magazine and religiously read the stories, interviews and trade ads. Looking back, I hoped my ego wasn’t racing to far ahead of my actual knowledge. But bottom line, I was having fun.
My hosts lived in an area just outside the city limits. Their house was Southwest adobe style architecture with a comfortable open living room with a high ceiling and a seating area in front of a large stone fireplace. Art by major Taos Founders artists filled the wall. There was pottery by well-known Native American artists accenting the room’s ambiance. And even though it early spring, thank heavens the air conditioning worked wonderfully.
After the tour of the living room viewing the art, we went into the equally spacious kitchen. Seated around the granite island counter we were discussing California wines, something my host was just learning about. I shared a couple of wine stories (but not the vertical tasting one) about some of my favorite wineries and wines when he asked me, “Would you mind picking out a wine we can drink now?”
Sure I thought, any number of California wines flashing through my head that I had just mentioned. “I haven’t really made any real movement into California wines yet,” he continued. “Oh, this is going to be great,” I thought, “a couple of bottles of wine he randomly picked up from a liquor store.” He then continued, “I don’t have a wine cellar per se,” pointing to a wooden door off to one side of the kitchen. “I share it with my wife. It’s our sauna. We didn’t use it much so it got another use.”
Opening the sauna’s door, I saw lose bulbs and bulbs in bunches tied together on the right side. That was the narrow part of the sauna. Then, looking to the left, in the deeper part, I was stunned. There was nary a California wine in sight. What was there was box after box, row after row of 1st growth Grande Cru French wines. There were bottles of Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafite Rothchild, Chateau Margaux and next to them were bottles of Domaine de la Romanee Conti. My breath was taken away with this treasure trove of wines. In a sauna (turned off, of course). Sharing space with his wife’s iris, tulip and other bulbs, waiting the right moment to be planted.
“Pick whatever one you want,” he told me. I felt like a judge in an art show where all the paintings were masterpieces. How do you pick just one? How do you choose? Well, knowing we had dinner reservations waiting for us around the corner, I made my choice. Slowly exiting the sauna, so as not to step on any of his wife’s bulbs, or knock over a case of irreplaceable Grande Cru wines, I closed the sauna’s door and put the wine on the granite kitchen top. “Good choice,” he remarked. My host then produced hand blown Italian wine glasses. Not just any old wine glasses, but glasses where one could see and then feel the craftsmanship that had gone into creating each one.
I know you’re wanting to know what I picked? Well, after I had looked and looked, I chose a DRC Échézeaux.* We moved back to the living room and seated so we were facing each we began to enjoy the wine. I know wine writers have a tremendous vocabulary of hundreds of words they use to describe a wine. I think they would all fail with what this marvelous gift from the gods had to offer. And it wasn’t just the first sip, but the ones that followed. They all revealed nuisance and nuisance of surprises, taste sensations, avenues that lead to little by-ways of flavors that announced their presence with subtle hints that gently caressed our taste buds.
I’m sure my brain got overworked releasing massive quantities of endorphins from what was happening as the wine was slowly and lovingly sipped. The memories from that wine are still with me. I can recall the exciting journey this single bottle of extraordinary wine took me on. And it wasn’t just me. Everyone raved about the wine’s cornucopia of flavors. Finally, as we sipped the last from our glasses, we all glanced at one another knowing that that we had shared a truly remarkable wine moment for the ages.
* Sadly, I don’t remember the year.