What Are Your 99 Wines? (Part 2)


“I drink Champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad.  Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory.  I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it―unless I’m thirsty.”

― Lily Bollinger, (1899-1977), Bollinger Champagne

I will pick up where I left off. I have identified 24 wines, regions, and events that have brought me to where I am today on my wine journey.

5. Silver Oak

Silver Oak

Victoria and Howard are some of my dearest friends. Victoria and I went to school together, and they live in Laguna Hills, California. They have been married longer than anyone else I know in my age group. They got married whilst Victoria was in high school. Victoria is tall, slender, and as stunning today as she was in high school. In fact, she still has her high school sweatshirt, and it still fits. All the guys were highly upset when Howard took her off the market. Victoria and Howard have a lovely daughter, Nicole, and two beautiful grandchildren.

Victoria and Howard love visitors, and I used to spend the weekend with them every few months before the quarantine. Victoria’s parents, Chuck* and Marilyn, were wonderful individually, but truly amazing when they were together. They would summer in Newport, and we would all go out to dinner at Chuck and Marilyn’s favorite restaurant whenever I visited.

Chuck’s favorite wine was Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. The servers sometimes started decanting as soon as they learned Chuck had reservations. We would invariably go through several bottles over the course of the evening. Silver Oak has all the hallmarks of a Napa Cab. It is big and bold. It has a deeply inky, purple color, jammy, with dark cherries, plums, blackberries, and other dark fruits on the nose. The palate follows the nose, with additional hints of leather, oak, tobacco, and vanilla. It is a beautiful wine with a lovely finish.

I just described Chuck, Marilyn, Victoria, and Howard. Unfortunately, we lost Chuck a couple of years ago during the Covid-19 quarantine. I cannot see or think of Silver Oak without thinking of my friends.

Here’s to you, Chuck. Cheers. I will always think of you, your wonderful family, and the time we spent together over so many bottles of Silver Oak.

*Charles “Chuck” M. Heers sadly passed away on January 2, 2021, at the age of 94. Chuck was a prominent real estate developer in Nevada and the Southwest. He and his brother built numerous single-family subdivisions, the Paradise Spa, commercial centers, thousands of multi-family condominiums and apartments, and the Tuscany Suites and Casino in Las Vegas, amongst other projects. He is survived by his beautiful wife, Marilyn, five of their seven children, 11 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren. Chuck had a wicked tennis game and turned croquet into a blood sport.

6. A Magnum of Louis Roederer Cristal Rosé

I met Gerry on May 20, 1983, on a blind date. Our first date was at Windows on the World, which was located on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center in New York City. Gerry is a brilliant and accomplished woman; she is also beautiful, and I was gobsmacked. I was a confirmed bachelor, but suddenly, I had strange thoughts that I tried to shake from my head. I, who did not want or even like children, had found the woman I wanted to be the mother of mine. We were engaged on leap year day, February 29, 1984.

Gerry and I (well, mostly Gerry, well, entirely Gerry), planned our engagement party at Nagasaki, a small Japanese restaurant in TriBeCa. I decided I needed a new suit for the party, so I flew to Los Angeles to shop at my favorite men’s shop. Whilst in LA I called a buddy of mine, Dennis Johnston. Dennis was a UCLA grad and a successful attorney at a large firm in Century City. Dennis and I met when his firm represented my bank on our first acquisition. He and I had hit it off, and we became instant friends. Dennis was a wild man, but he had a heart of gold. He had broken his nose years before but had never bothered to get it fixed. His blond, thinning hair was perpetually unkempt. His nickname was, appropriately, “Crazy-assed” Dennis. Despite all of this, he dated only the most beautiful women. He also enjoyed only the finest food and wine.

I bought my new suit, and I called Crazy-assed Dennis. Dennis suggested that we go to dinner at a restaurant called Le Canard. Le Canard means “the duck” in French. The restaurant was then located in Little Santa Monica in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, Le Canard has long since closed, but it was a great little restaurant specializing in, aptly, duck. Dennis and I caught up, and I told him that Gerry and I had gotten engaged and why I was in LA.

Crazy-assed Dennis was jubilant and said, “We have to celebrate!” Dennis asked, “Have you ever had Crystal? I like it more than Dom Pérignon. The Rosé is the best.” Dennis immediately summoned the server and ordered a Magnum of Louis Roederer Cristal Rosé. Crazy-assed Dennis was right; the Cristal was incredible!


We had almost finished the Magnum when I looked at the time. I told Dennis I needed to leave to drop off my car and get to the gate for my flight. However, I did not know the directions to the airport. Crazy-assed Dennis lived in Santa Monica, overlooking the water. He said, “Follow me!” Dennis took off, tearing up the 405 freeway with me in hot pursuit.

I am a literal guy. Crazy-assed Dennis said, “Follow me,” so I did. We ended up in front of Dennis’s house. He said I was supposed to continue on the 405. “But you said, ‘Follow me,’ so that is what I did,” I responded. Crazy-assed Dennis gave me the directions to the airport, and I took off, praying I would not miss the flight.

I dropped my car off at Hertz, took the jitney, and I arrived at the gate just before they were beginning to board. I realized that I had left my new suit in the rental car. I called Hertz before we took off, but I was told they could not find my suit.

I flew to New York for our engagement party bringing an old suit from my closet. Gerry and I married on the 13th of September 1984. I was right: She has been an incredible mother to my two kidults who have changed my life for the better. I managed to lose a brand new, $3,000.00 suit. However, on the positive side, I had a great dinner, I was introduced to a remarkable Champagne by my insane friend, and I had a great story to tell.

On November 19, 2013, a mutual friend called and told me that Crazy-assed Dennis had passed away. He was only 63. I often think of Crazy-assed Dennis and our dinner at Le Canard, especially every time I have Cristal.

7. Château D’Yquem

There are certain events in life you will always remember, where you were and whom you were with when it happened. One of those is the first time I had Château D’Yquem. It was the 28th of September 1997. Château D’Yquem 1er Cru Supérieur is one of the most sought-after wines. This House dates to 1593. It is a coveted Sauternes that has graced the wine cellars of collectors such as Thomas Jefferson. In fact, Jefferson is said to have sent George Washington a case for his cellar. D’Yquem was the wine of choice used by America’s founders to toast following the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Chateau d'Yquem Vineyards and Estate
Vineyard and Chateau d’Yquem, Sauternes Region, Aquitaine, France

My friend Jeff is my brother from another mother. I have known him almost as long as I have lived in this country. Jeff is an avid wine collector with an excellent palate. Jeff moved out west from New York in the 1990s. Living in a spacious home, as opposed to a cramped New York apartment, allowed Jeff to begin collecting wine in earnest.

Jefferson Wines in the Rio Wine Cellar


The Rio Hotel in Las Vegas built a new tower in 1997. This was before its sale to Caesars Entertainment. The Rio’s management made a fateful decision. They determined to put a world-class wine cellar and tasting room in the hotel, so they hired one of the first American Master Sommeliers, gave him a blank check, and said, “Go buy wine.” And so, he did. Thomas Jefferson’s wine collection had just been put up for auction and the Rio acquired part of it. They also assembled an incredible wine list with over 100 wines available by the glass.

I have identified 24 wines, regions, and events that have brought me to where I am today on my wine journey.

I decided to give my friend Jeff a weekend at the Rio as a birthday present. I got us a couple of rooms, and we headed down to the cellar. It was amazing just looking at bottles of wine that had formerly graced Thomas Jefferson’s wine cellar. We also saw wines available for sale that we had only read about. Dinner that night consisted of cheese and charcuterie because we refused to leave. Honestly, it would have been cheaper for me to just buy him an expensive bottle of wine as a gift, but we would not have had as much fun.

Chateau d’Yquem

It was getting late, and we were tired. We were about to leave, and we gave the bar one last loving look. Jeff turned quickly toward me and exclaimed, “They have Château D’Yquem available by the glass?!?”

This part is embarrassing. “What is Château D’Yquem?” I asked. It was embarrassing.

He quickly explained it to me and said, “We have to try it. I’ll pay for it.”

I said, “No, no, it’s your birthday, and I said the weekend is on me.”

So, I had my first taste of one of the most storied Sauternes from one of the most revered Houses in history.

Sometimes, when you finally get to experience something, the buildup does not equal the experience. Well, this was not one of those times. I have had many Sauternes, including other D’Yquem since Jeff’s birthday, but I cannot think of any that equaled that one. It was truly an experience.

Like I said, there are certain events in life you will always remember where you were and whom you were with when it happened. 

8. Dalla Valle – I begin to worship the goddess.

I was at a meeting in San Francisco in the late 1980s. The attorneys I was meeting with had made dinner reservations at Julius’ Castle. I had heard wonderful things about the restaurant but had not had the opportunity to dine there. Julius’ Castle opened in 1924. It had been the restaurant of choice for financiers, politicians, and assorted San Francisco glitterati for years.

The lead counsel took the liberty of selecting the wines for us. He said there was a particular wine we had to try. That wine was a Dalla Valle from Napa Valley. The winemaker was Heidi Peterson Barrett, and she had just recently received a pair of 100-point scores from Robert Parker.

Dalla Valle

I had never had Dalla Valle before, and I was blown away. This was also the first time I had a wine by Heidi, but it would not be my last. Heidi is a winemaker who has been associated with some of the best wines in America. She has been the winemaker for Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Paradigm, Au Sommet, Vin Perdu, Amuse Bouche, Lamborn, and Fantesca, amongst others. Heidi also has her own La Sirena wine label. Her father, Richard Peterson, is an esteemed winemaker in his own right. She is married to Bo Barrett, the winemaker and co-owner of the famed Château Montelena winery. I have often wondered if any winemaker in the United States has been associated with more 100-point wines than Heidi. The only winemaker I can think of who could possibly give her competition is André Tchelstcheff, under whom she once worked.

I have sought out her wines since that first time at Julius’ Castle, and she has become my favorite winemaker. I have been like Diogenes, who went about looking for an honest man. I have been seeking out wines by Heidi. I would want to try one of Heidi’s wines even if it was made from gooseberries and figs instead of grapes. Thus began a true love affair, and it started with a remarkable Dalla Valle.

All hail the Queen!


Note from Irene: The Rio Wine Cellar is currently closed while the hotel undergoes a massive renovation

Andras B.
Andras B.
Andras is a retired attorney, a passionate wine aficionado, and sommelier. He is an experienced and seasoned world traveler with a gourmet palate.


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