Tue 30 Dec 2008
Remember, this chronicle of 100 wines is not about the best wines I have tasted since 1983; it’s about the wines I learned the most from, the wines that contributed to my education, knowledge and experience. Theoretically, some of them could be bad wines.
So, in terms of this chronicle, we’re at the end of 1983, the year during which my first wife and I decided that, even though we lived in a dry county in Mississippi, not far south of Memphis, we would try two different wines every week. That’s when I started keeping a wine notebook and soaking labels off bottles to keep a record.
By this time, I had filled my first, small notebook and had moved on to a larger, three-ring binder that gave me more room to write and preserve labels. It wouldn’t be long before the label-keeping became an onerous task because I was tasting too many wines to soak or steam the labels off. And a gratifying thing happened. Friends knew that I was obsessed with learning about wine, and they began giving me interesting bottles as presents for birthday and Christmas, bottles that, when possible, I shared with them.
Let’s look, then, at Christmas Dinner 1983.
With the appetizer — sauteed mushrooms stuffed with chutney and pistachios — we drank the Freixenet Brut Nature 1975, an attractive, crisp, dry fruity CAVA that cost all of $8.99. With the sherried pea soup, naturally we drank glasses of sherry, in this case the Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe, $8.29. With the roast goose, we had the first Bordeaux Classified Growth I had ever purchased, the Chateau Pichon-Longueville 1980, from Pauillac, a wine we enjoyed but didn’t love. Price? Get this. $12.95.
The wine that knocked me out on Christmas Day 1983, however, and the subject of this post, was the Mount Veeder Winery Late Harvest Zinfandel 1980, Mount Veeder-Napa County. Whoa, at 15.6 percent alcohol, this was “heady and powerful stuff,” as my notes say. We probably drank this with a chocolate dessert, but I neglected to write down what the dessert was. My notes continue: “Beautiful deep purple; tannic, fruity, slightly sweet nose; same taste but deep and complex, sweetness more like very ripe fruitiness, hints of chocolate and vegetal undertones. Should last years.” This was the first late-harvest zinfandel I had tasted, and it made a forceful impression. Twenty-five years later, I remember its assertive, dark flavors, its velvety, viscous texture and port-like character. The price was $9.99 for a half-bottle.
I think one change that occurred over this first year of devotion to wine is that our tastes were getting more sophisticated. On December 22, we went with friends to a restaurant in Memphis called the Bradford House, a sadly short-lived French restaurant that was one of of favorite places in the early 1980s. I took three wines: the Antinori Galestro 1981, imported by Julius Wile (pleasant but not distinctive, $7.99); the superb Silverado Sauvignon Blanc 1982 ($8.99); and the hearty and robust Saint Joseph 1975 from Alexandre Rochette, imported by Kobrand (an amazing $4.95).