We all have ‘aha’ moments that define our relationships to people, to our surroundings, to the things in our lives. They are not unique, but they are rare. They mark our memories, and are indelible. One moment for me was my introduction to great wine. Like many of my generation, I cut my teeth on Asti Spumante and Mateus Rosé (nothin’ wrong with those), but those wines didn’t prepare me for the revelation that was Hermitage La Chapelle. It’s often said that even if you don’t know anything about wine, you would recognize greatness when it presents itself. It might not always be true, but it was for me.
I was in my mid-twenties, and was at a family reunion on the family farm just north of Legal. We were all there; quite a bunch. My cousin Alan worked for CN at the time and he came over to me. “Hey Ken, I’ve got a wine I want you to try”. Twist my rubber arm. We hustled off to a side hut beyond the barn. Alan produced the bottle; I did not ask how he managed to wrangle it, and he wasn’t offering too many details. We were a cabal of two, on a secret quest; neither of us knew what was waiting for us. We opened the bottle; Alan poured two glasses. There have been a few other times in my vinous life when a wine’s color was extraordinary; this was the first. I was a troll to a candle flame. The color was a deep, midnight, bluish purple. I had never seen anything like it. When critics wax on about a wine’s ‘robe’, I know what they’re getting at. Words cannot really express: they sound like I’m grasping for the real adjective, and as with other spiritual and quasi-spiritual experiences, the old saying “you had to be there” applies: astounding, amazing. I know I’m looking back over the misty decades of my memory, but I stand by those words, and back then I did not know a thing about wine, but I knew I was in the presence of something extraordinary. Then we took our first sips. It was all power, tannin, depth. We got lost in it for over an hour (who knows how long, time stopped) until it was all consumed. It was an experience that set me on the path that I (much) later fulfilled with my credentials as a sommelier. I knew what a wine ‘could do’! Looking back, I know that we had opened that bottle far too early; it had decades of life ahead of it, but I was supremely grateful to have the experience. We have this legend in the store right now.You can see the picture of the bottle, in my hands, and safe in my cellar. The acclaim for the 2017 is unanimous, across the board; it is a wine destined for a long, long life. My cousin has long since passed away, so I dedicate this blog to him. Thanks Alan; I’ll be sharing this bottle with you in spirit when I finally open it.