What Are Your 99 Wines? (Part 4)

“She lived frugally, but her meals were the only things on which she deliberately spent her money. She never compromised on the quality of her groceries and drank only good-quality wines.”

– Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

I am up to 38 wines and events. This is getting harder. Each reminiscence has caused me to reflect on my life’s journey and not just the wines, but the people and circumstances involved.

13. Isosceles Reserve by Justin.

My friend Jeff moved from New York to Scottsdale. Jeff is a pulmonologist, and his work slows down in the summer months when the snowbirds leave the desert for home. It was probably around 2002. Jeff invited Iruka and me to spend the weekend with him. Jeff and I have been friends for so long that we finish each other’s sentences. Jeff is a passionate wine enthusiast. Our tastes in wines were very similar. He particularly enjoyed California Cabs, as do I.

We had a great time, as Jeff and I always do when we are together. Jeff took us to an amazing restaurant called Atlas. Atlas restaurant is in a wine shop (or the wine shop is in the restaurant). You can buy a bottle to accompany dinner or bring one for a reasonable corkage fee.

The food at Atlas was superb. Jeff and I enjoyed copious amounts of wine that evening. Fortunately for us, Iruka is not much of a drinker; she was only good for a glass at best. Thus, we had a ready-designated driver. This worked out well because Jeff and I loved to challenge each other to see which of us could select the best wine of the night. Jeff and I had great bottles that evening. I would tell Iruka to try each one, and she would take her usual sip. Jeff had brought his wine bag with him, but he had not shown me what was in it. Finally, he opened his bag and pulled out a bottle of Isosceles Reserve by Justin.

I was unfamiliar with Isosceles at the time. Isosceles is a triangular blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Hence, the name Isosceles. It is a deep purple-colored wine, complex with a wonderful nose of dark fruits, particularly cherries and cassis. There are hints of vanilla, leather, and cigar box. The palate was incomparable. It had spices, cedar, and hard-core dark fruits. I called Jeff an assortment of names in as many languages as I could muster. How could he have held this back from me for so long?

Isosceles is from California’s Central Coast. I have been to Santa Barbara several times, but I have never been to other parts of the Central Coastal areas. I still have not gone to any of the wineries. My wine friends and I have an inside joke. I refer to Paso Robles as a place that does not exist, as I have never been there.

Sunday arrived too soon, and Iruka and I prepared to leave. Iruka and I had gotten married in Maui shortly after September 11. Unfortunately, Jeff could not attend our wedding. Jeff said he had a wedding gift for us. He sent us home with several bottles of wine, including a Whitehall Lane, Turnbull, and a bottle of Isosceles Reserve, as well as two Riedel Sommelier glasses. The wines we had that weekend were incomparable, but I still wish my brother Jeff could have come to the wedding.

14. Châteauneuf du Pape – the juice is worth the squeeze.

Like Voldemort, her name shall not be mentioned for fear she may reappear in my life, so I will simply refer to her as “She.” It has been more than 40 years since I first met She. I admit, albeit begrudgingly, that She had an excellent palate, and her taste and depth of knowledge of wine were incomparable. She wanted to be a Sommelier, but doors were constantly closed to her solely on account of her gender. This was 1979, and a female Sommelier was unheard of at that time.

She introduced me to Old and New World wines, but it was the Old World that was her specialty. One day She asked me to try a red wine, knowing that I was exclusively a white wine drinker. She presented a Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc. I did not understand, as I thought She said that I was going to try a red wine. She explained that Châteauneuf du Pape was made as both a red and a white wine. The key was the Grenache Blanc grape. She also gave me the background on Châteauneuf du Pape, knowing how much I enjoyed history.

She then shared a red Châteauneuf du Pape using my love of history as her opening. I actually tried a red wine. CNP is a unique blend from the Southern Rhône region. I found the red CNP interesting, but not enough to switch from usual white wines. Honestly, I think I did not give the red CNP a chance. It really was because She had introduced it to me. I did not have another CNP, white or red, for more than 20 years. I did not even have CNP during a trip to the Rhône. (Irene’s note: it’s actually CdP. We will argue forever) 

It was probably around 2000, and I was drinking almost exclusively red wines by that time. I also asked why should I deprive myself. I was finally ready to embrace my inner-CNP. I purchased a bottle. It was magnificent. I loved the blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Syrah. Yes, I do think of She whenever I have a CNP (but I still cannot bring myself to say her name). Fortunately, it is only occasionally. You know what? Sometimes the juice is worth the squeeze.

15. Opus One. This is how to ring in the New Year!

No one would have predicted that a meeting in Hawaii by Frenchman Barron Phillippe de Rothschild and American Robert Mondavi in 1970 would lead to the creation of one of the most storied wines in American history, the grand opus, Opus One. France has always been held as the epitome of winemaking. Robert Mondavi, like many American winemakers had traveled to France to learn the French techniques. He had dreamt of making a Bordeaux-style blend in California.

The 1976 “Judgment of Paris” caused California wines to be recognized worldwide. It was the 1970 meeting in Hawaii and the 1976 Judgment of Paris that was the genesis of the fabled collaboration between Château Mouton Rothschild and Robert Mondavi. The result is a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec grapes that has become a cult wine from Napa Valley. The first vintage was 1979, released simultaneously with the 1980 vintage. I had read of Opus One, but I had never even seen a bottle, let alone sampled it.

I was invited to the New Year’s Eve Party at the Rio Hotel’s new tower on the 31st of December 1997. I had met the Rio’s then-president through friends and clients of mine who also owned my office building. The president and my friends had known each other from high school in Santa Barbara. The party was held at the new tower, which had opened earlier that year. The party was attended by the usual assorted glitterati, such as Tiger Woods, who had just won his first Masters months earlier. Tiger and I chatted, and he was very gracious. There were open bars and restaurants with preset menus. My friends, Robert and John, the president, his wife, and I ended up in the wine cellar. The president was called away after escorting us to the cellar. The wines available that night were also preset.

I was scrutinizing the wine list when the president’s wife said, “I want Opus One.” I stopped reading the wine list and looked up.

“I am sorry,” the bartender replied. “We are not serving Opus One.”

“Do you know who I am?” The president’s wife countered.

“Let me get the Sommelier,” the bartender replied sheepishly.

Moments later the Sommelier appeared, a tastevin around his neck. “Madam, may I open the bottle for you?”

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I stood quietly at the president’s wife’s elbow whilst the Sommelier opened a bottle of the 1991 vintage. He poured some into his tastevin, inhaled it, and then tasted the wine. “May I pour it for you?” he asked.

The Somm poured the wine into the president’s wife’s glass as I stood by, my empty glass in my ever-moistening hand. She sampled the wine, smiled, and I cheekily thrust my empty glass toward the Somm who filled it. The president’s wife and I toasted, and I took my first taste of Opus One. It was brilliant.

At some point, Robert and John rejoined us. I had not even realized they had left. We were on our second bottle of Opus when I looked at my watch. It was approaching midnight. We left the cellar and took the lift to the Voodoo Lounge on the top floor to see the fireworks, but first, we topped off our glasses.

The hostess greeted us warmly as we stepped out of the lift. She proffered us empty glasses and asked, “Would you like some Champagne?”

I replied, pointing to the glass in my hand, “This is Opus One. I think this is how I would rather ring in the New Year.”

16. Sake. Sorry Mr. Bond, you only live once!

I had the honor of serving as president and board member of the Las Vegas PBS affiliate. Our main fundraiser was an annual wine tasting. Typical of such events, we had local, and sometimes national personalities contribute items to be auctioned off as a part of our silent auctions. Local businesses also contributed other items such as allowing us to host events at their facilities.

Roy Yamaguchi is a Chef and founder of Roy’s, a chain of Hawaiian – Asian fusion restaurants originally located in Hawaii but also on the mainland. Roy had two restaurants in Las Vegas at the time, and he is a PBS enthusiast. Roy was very good to us. He sponsored private dinners for the station and made thousands of dollars of in-kind donations.

We planned a special dinner one evening for our major donors at one of Roy’s restaurants. I sat next to Roy that evening. I love Asian food, especially sushi. I would always have hot sake with my sushi. I requested a hot sake from the server when Roy stopped me. “What is sake?” Roy asked.

“A fermented Japanese rice wine,” I responded.

“Would you heat up a premium Cabernet?”

“Of course not,” I said.

“Hot sake is the leftover dregs used for the Western palate. Americans will drink anything if they are convinced it is exotic. Premium or quality sake should be served chilled. Let me order something for you” Roy asserted.

But Sean Connery, as James Bond in “You Only Live Twice,” said that the proper temperature to serve sake is 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Premium sake can be served as low as 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

Roy ordered a properly chilled Junmai Daiginjo Sake. The sake had floral, fruit, and even umami notes I had never experienced with hot sake. Had the sake been heated, those notes would have been cooked out.

Sorry, Mr. Bond. I have not had hot sake since thanks to Roy Yamaguchi.


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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