Sat 8 Mar 2008
It has been in my head for years to write a book called “100 Wines: A Chronicle,” in which I would describe, not the best or greatest wines I have tasted — ha-ha, I tasted these wines and you didn’t! — but the wines I learned the most from. Obviously some of these wines could be simple and direct examples of their grapes or regions, they could be wonderful wines, they could even be bad wines, the point being that I gained knowledge and insight that I didn’t have before.
And then, a few days ago, I thought, sacre bleu, F.K., you have the means to accomplish this feat at your finger-tips, meaning this very blog. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m poring over the notebooks I kept when I was first learning about and then writing about wine — my first wine column appeared in July 1984 — and I’m finding not just a great deal of charming naivete but genuine efforts to learn and understand.
So we’ll begin this chronicle, which I will attempt to contribute to once a week, with the first wine on the first page of my first wine notebook, the Sutter Home Zinfandel 1977 from Amador County. That’s it, huh? you thinking. Remember, up to this point my principle wine-drinking rituals included Gallo Hearty Burgundy, Carlo Rossi Paisano, various cheap Beaujolais and Chianti wines (the latter in straw wrappers), Gallo Chablis Blanc and Paul Masson Green Hungarian. Such wines weren’t (too) bad, and they certainly got the job done, but I hungered for more. A friend brought this bottle to our house on Nov. 29, 1981 — this is when my first wife and I were teaching at a junior college in Senatobia, Miss., about 40 miles south of Memphis — thinking that it might elevate the tone of our typical quaff. And it did.
The Sutter Home Zinfandel 1977, Amador County, was the first wine I tried that offered the bite and grip of tannin, the complexity of spicy berry flavors, the feeling of weight and body, the sense of lively robustness and fullness. Vintage 1977 was a drought year in California, producing grapes with intensity and concentration, a quality surely reflected in this rich, dark wine. Not a bad place to start in gaining experience in wine’s diversity and possibility. This was the first wine that I made notes on, the first whose label I saved, though that process of saving labels eventually became tedious. I don’t know how much it cost — it was a gift — but I’ll try to include prices with as many of these wines as I can.