What Are Your 99 Wines? (Part 3)


“The fault, dear wine drinkers, is not in our wine, but in ourselves.”

– Andras F. Babero (with all due respect to William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar)


Well, I am up to 33 wines and experiences, and this is getting harder. I must admit that I am having fun reminiscing about the wines and experiences and the people with whom I shared them.

9. Merlot, my Gateway Wine.

I began my wine journey by drinking white wines, exclusively. I did not even try red wines, even when offered. I attended wine tastings, and I would focus exclusively on white wines. There were Rieslings, Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, and Albariño, why would I need to drink red wines?

Merlot Grapes

We sold our bank, and I opened my own law firm. I also co-founded a new bank. I decided that it would be a good idea for me to have a Holiday party. One of the bank’s co-founders and board members, Sue Lowden, a dear friend who was a hotel and casino owner, former news anchor, state senator, and not to mention a former Miss New Jersey, served on our board. Sue happened to mention to me that she only drank Merlot. Attempting to be the good host, I wanted to make sure there was Merlot available at the party, so I did some research on Merlot wines.

Merlot was more interesting than I had imagined. I was intrigued. I started sampling different Merlots from different terroirs. They must have just started making Merlot because there was no way I had been missing out on such a prodigious grape for so long. I remember saying to no one in particular, “Did you know that Merlot is a dominant grape on the Right bank in Bordeaux?” And “Did you know that Merlot is grown in California?”

That is how I came to love a good quality Merlot, and eventually, a new world of red wines opened for me. The day of the party came, and Sue and her husband Paul arrived. I asked Sue, “Would you like a glass of wine?” To which she said, “I only drink Merlot.”

I responded, “I have one I would like you to try.”

Sorry Miles!

The "Ironic" Wine in Sideways
“Ironic” Wine of Sideways!


10. Local Table Wines Overlooking Lago di Garda.

It was July 1999, and Iruka, who would later become my future ex-wife, and I had been dating for nine months. She wanted us to go to Italy to have me meet her aunt and uncle. Her youngest sister, Ona, whom I adore, was also summering there. Their family had a summer home in the lake region of Garda in the Dolomite mountains of Northern Italy. Italy is my favorite European country, and I have been there many times. It is a country I know well. I was baptized at the Vatican, and my godparents were Italian from Venice. However, I had never been to Garda.

Lago di Garda is Italy’s largest lake, approximately 140 square kilometers, and is surrounded by the Dolomite mountains. It is about a 90-minute drive from Milan. There are no motor crafts allowed on the lake other than the ferry that stops at the various towns and villages that dot the lake. There is windsurfing, diving, and other watersports. The lake is, in a word, breathtaking.

Lago di Garda, Italy

Iruka’s Aunt Dominica and Uncle Gianni were wonderful people, very kind and loving. The cousins were there in abundance, and we laughed, told stories, ate incredible food, and drank terrific wine. The house is located on the lake, and it has ample gardens and orchards. Everything we ate that week was local. The seafood came from the lake, the vegetables from the garden, the fruit from the orchard, the rice was from nearby fields, and the pasta was made by hand. I did not associate kiwi with Italy, but there it was hanging from a tree, and Dominica put it in our salads.

It was the wines that were the stars. The problem is I do not know what the wines were. Gianni would take clean, empty wine bottles to one of the local wineries and fill them. This is something that I experienced in other parts of Europe as well. The problem is that Italy has more than Barbera, Sangiovese, and Primitivo grapes. Italy has more than 350 authorized varieties of grapes and over 500 different kinds of grapes. In comparison, France has only about 60 authorized varieties of grapes. Local table wines can be magnificent if you open yourself up to the experience. Unfortunately, you will probably never have them again outside of the local town or village. What you will have is the memory of sharing local table wines with people who will become long-term friends.

11. Paradigm

Helen, my then-girlfriend, and I went to Napa for the weekend. She had never been to wine country, so I arranged for tastings at several wineries. A wine broker whom I sometimes use also arranged some wineries for us. One of those was Paradigm. I was unfamiliar with Paradigm’s wines at the time. Paradigm is celebrated for its remarkable Cabernet Sauvignons, but they also make Cabernet Franc and Merlot, including a Rosé Merlot. Their consulting winemaker from the beginning was Heidi Peterson Barrett. That was all I needed to know.

Paradigm is a family-run winery owned by Ren and Marilyn Harris. Marilyn’s family came to Napa Valley in the late 1800s, and Ren’s family came to California in 1769. They are a down-to-earth couple, and most of their employees have been with them for many years. I love the picture of Ren kissing Marilyn on their website. It is emblematic of their approach to making wine: The wines are made with love.

Paradigm is located off Highway 29 on the western slopes in Oakville. Should you go past Paradigm, you will run into a gate that houses Harlan Estate Winery. Helen and I began early in the morning starting with the vineyards. We walked between the rows of vines with our guide patiently explaining the planting and harvesting process. Helen had never tasted grapes directly from the vines, and she was taken aback at the difference between the wine grapes Vitis vinifera and the table grapes to which she was accustomed. Our guide took us throughout the winery, showing us the operations and explaining the wine aging, fermentation, and bottling processes. We ended our tour in the tasting room, where our guide poured us a broken vertical of bottled goodness.

Paradigm Winery, Aerial View

Ren and Marilyn just happened to be working that morning, and they graciously spent some time with us. The wines were nothing less than amazing. There is nothing better than comparing the same wines from different vintages. Helen was astounded by the experience. Several different vintages were shipped home. Needless to say, Paradigm has become a staple in my cellar.

Paradigm Wine Sign

I participated in many wine-related Zoom calls during 2020. One call featured Ren Harris discussing his Paradigm wines. There were only about 10 – 12 of us on the call. Ren, ever gracious, shared his philosophy about his wines. Someone asked how he came to name the winery Paradigm. Ren explained that Marilyn and he did not want to name the winery after themselves, in his typical self-effacing manner. Thus, they held a contest. The winning prize was a case of wine. Per year. For life! They liked the name “Paradigm,” and the winner has been receiving his case each year since the 1991 vintage.

Someone else asked about Paradigm’s prices. Remember, the terroir is just below Harlan Estate. Ren’s response was telling. He said most of his club members have been long-term. “Many of my members have become friends, and I would feel guilty if I increased my prices. The winery is debt-free, and everything is owned free and clear. Why increase prices, just to increase them?

“We were moving things around a while back and found a few cases of some of our earlier vintages. Those are more expensive, but otherwise, there is no reason to increase prices.”

I asked a question, and as Ren was answering, he said, “Andras, you look familiar. You’ve been to the winery, haven’t you?” I never felt so honored that he would remember me from our brief encounter years earlier.

That was Ren, and that is only part of why I love Paradigm.

12. What do you get if you Plant Grapes Closer to Heaven?

Malbec should be a filler or blending grape, or the principal grape preferably from the Right bank of Bordeaux, or so I thought. I never liked the Argentine Malbecs I had tried over the years. I certainly did not like the typical Argentine Malbecs that were found in shops in the United States. Honestly, they were not very good. Those wines were of poor quality and had a short finish. Despite my biases, or perhaps because of them, I decided to take a trip to Argentina after watching a movie, the name of which I have long since forgotten.

I flew into Buenos Aries and took a connecting flight to Mendoza, Argentina’s Napa Valley. After more than 20 hours of traveling, I checked into my hotel and settled in for a rest. I woke around 10:00 p.m., and I was hungry. I was going to try room service until I realized I was in Argentina. People start heading out to dinner around that time.

Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@pauleinerhand?utm_content=creditCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash">Paul Einerhand</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/photos/cooked-food-on-white-ceramic-plate-dwtt3noJG2k?utm_content=creditCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash">Unsplash</a>
Steak and Malbec

There is probably a special circle of Hell reserved for vegetarians and vegans, and it is in Argentina. You will definitely lose weight if you are in Argentina and do not eat meat. Meat is very prominent at Argentine dinner tables. I ordered a grilled beefsteak and decided to pair it with a glass of a local Malbec.

What was I drinking? This wine could not have been an Argentine Malbec! It had to be a Cabernet Sauvignon or maybe a Cabernet Franc. This wine was not the thin, cheap Malbecs I had sampled in the United States. This wine was bold and complex, with notes of herbs, cherries, dark fruit, and hints of vanilla, chocolate, and leather. I asked my server if there had been a mistake. He assured me there was no error.

The next day I went to the first winery. The people were very gracious, happy that I was visiting, and anxious to showcase their wines. I was immediately taken to school. My host explained that Malbec grapes were first brought to Argentina in the mid-1800s from Cahors in southwest France.

Map of Cahors

Phylloxera is a microscopic louse or aphid, that eats the leaves and rootstock of grape vines. Phylloxera started in the United States in the mid-1800s and was imported to Europe where it, unfortunately, thrived. It attacked grape vines throughout Europe. Over 70% of the vines in France were affected, and farmers tore out or burned even unaffected vines to stop the infiltration. Ironically, unaffected American rootstock was brought to Europe, and it saved the wine industry. However, very little of the original phylloxera-resistant European rootstock existed.

European farmers emigrating to Argentina prior to the phylloxera outbreak brought rootstock with them. Original French Malbec were amongst the varietals brought to Argentina. Thus, Argentina has original French rootstock clones that are no longer available in France.

The French clones loved the Argentine climate and thrived. Grapes could also be grown at considerably higher altitudes, as high as 11,500 feet (3,500 meters) in the perpetually snow-capped Andes mountains.

Malbec vineyard (dormant) at the foot of the Andes

The resulting Argentine Malbecs are visually beautiful, inky in color, distinctive on the nose, and flavorful on the palate. I told the presenter about my experience with the wine I had with dinner the night before. He told me, sotto voce that the reason I did not like the Argentine Malbecs I had previously was that there had been a deliberate decision not to import the good Malbecs into the United States. (Thankfully, that attitude has changed.)

Winery after winery presented its wines, and each was contrary to the Malbecs I had experienced at home. The wines I had were sophisticated and well-structured. A well-done Malbec can be enjoyed by itself, but it really stands up to Argentine meat, especially grilled beef.

I have been a fan of Argentine Malbecs, ever since.




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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