Fri 11 Jul 2014
Readers, today marks the 30th anniversary of my first wine column in The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis. That’s right, it was July 11, 1984, and I was still a full-time college English teacher living in a dry county in Mississippi, just south of Memphis. The rest, as they say, is history but a very special and meaningful history. Thanks to Jan Smith, librarian at the newspaper, for digging up that column on microfilm and sending me a copy.
Under the headline “Wine connoisseur’s palate goes public” — I was anything but a connoisseur — I introduced myself; explained the purpose of the column, which was to appear monthly but quickly went weekly and five years later national; and provided reviews of a series of wines including several examples of vintage 1981 in Bordeaux and a group of miscellaneous products. My choice for the best price-quality ratio among the Bordeaux wines was Chateau Lynch-Moussas ’81, a wine of “balance and breeding” priced at $10 to $13. I also liked the Silverado Sauvignon Blanc 1982, Napa Valley (about $9); the Mount Veeder Late Harvest Zinfandel 1980, Napa Valley (about $10 for a half-bottle); the Domaine de la Tour d’Elyssas Vin de Syrah 1981, Coteaux du Tricastin, in the southern Rhone Valley (about $5); the Simi Cabernet Sauvignon 1979, Alexander Valley (about $9); and the Shadow Creek Brut Cuvée No. 1 (about $10).
I leapt into wine reviewing with the same approach that I take today, though I hope that 30 years have honed my palate and technique. Here’s what I wrote about the Mount Veeder Late Harvest Zinfandel 1980:
This wine is a beautiful deep purple, almost opaque; the nose is tannic and fruity and just slightly sweet; deep, complex and mouth-filling, almost thick, grapes and berries, hints of chocolate and vegetal undertones. Magnificent! Drink this with a wedge of English cheese after dinner. It should last and improve for decades.
Not bad for a beginner, I guess.
Writing about wine, first for the newspaper and the Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years, then on my old website and since December 2006 for this blog, has certainly given me the chance to taste and drink countless numbers of fine wines as well as afforded me the opportunity to travel not only to wine regions in this country but around the world. Most important, though, are the trust and the friendship that I have developed with so many people, from my local retailers and distributors to importers, producers and winemakers, public relations and marketing people and other writers and journalists — I see many of you almost daily on Facebook — to the consumers I see out and about who come over and say, “Hey, just read about this wine on your blog and went out and bought it.” All of you make this effort worth while. The awards don’t hurt either, so thank you for the confidence that those many votes expressed.
Tasting wines occurs under many circumstances and in many venues, all of which have advantages and disadvantages. Best, though, is to sit down with LL to a dinner that she cooked or perhaps we prepared together and I open a bottle of wine and pour it and we clink glasses and take a sniff and sip and say, often together, “Oh, yeah, that’s good.” I dedicate all this to her.