What Are Your 99 Wines (Part 9)


“Happiness, like a fine wine, should be savoured sip by sip.”
– L. Feuerbach

I am stagnant at 52 wines. I know I have more wines and experiences, but I am having a mental block. I have a personal code that I will not open a bottle costing more than $50.00 when I am not sharing. Clearly, I need to get out more and broaden my social circles! Maybe that will help.

32. Taittinger Champagne 1980 – If not now, when?

I bought a magnum of Taittinger Champagne Brut Millésimé 1980 at auction around 1981 or 1982. I always loved Taittinger Champagne, and it remains one of my favorites. Too often, one keeps a bottle of wine for that special occasion, and somehow, that special occasion just never seems to happen. Even crueler, one forgets they have the bottle. The worst that can happen is the wine is past its prime when it is finally opened, and you are left to imagine what could have been.

I married Gerry in 1984, my kidults were born in 1987 and 1991, we bought homes, sold homes, and I started my law practice. I even co-founded a bank and got a divorce. Somehow, I never found the right occasion to open the magnum of Taittinger.

Two of my favorite wine writers and critics are Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, who created the wine column, “Tastings” for the Wall Street Journal. They named the last Saturday of February of each year Open That Bottle Night or OTBN, to encourage people to open that special bottle they had been hoarding, as opposed to cellaring. I participated in OTBN over the years, but I still held on to my magnum of Taittinger Champagne.

Iruka and I married in Maui in 2001, just 40 days after September 11. I thought it was time I opened the magnum of Taittinger. It was a very small wedding, as many people were reluctant to travel following the September 11 attacks. I hand-carried the Taittinger on the airplane (you could do that at that time), and I let the bottle settle for two days prior to our wedding. I wanted to import the wine for the wedding, but the hotel would only allow us to select from its wine list. However, I did cajole them into serving my magnum of Taittinger.

The staff handling our wedding made sure that the magnum was properly chilled prior to the reception. Only 19 people attended our wedding, and about nine drank wine. I held my breath, listening for a muffled pop as our attendant eased the cork out of the bottle. The Taittinger was the color of honey. The nose was resplendent with notes of brioche, peaches, and floral tones. The effervescence was present but barely discernible.

Iruka, who is not much of a drinker, had never had vintage Champagne of this age. She pronounced the Taittinger the finest Champagne she had ever had. It was truly brilliant. The Taittinger was everything one would expect of a great Champagne House. The palate followed the nose, and it was caressed by additional notes of vanilla, honey, and white fruits.

We had other wines that evening, but they paled in comparison. Iruka’s and my regret was that we did not get to enjoy more of it. I have had many Champagnes since that day, but the Taittinger Champagne 1980 will always be one of the most memorable.

It is no wonder that James Bond’s Champagne of choice was Taittinger (not Bollinger) in Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. In the novel, when just prior to defeating Le Chiffre at the gaming tables of Casino Royale Les Eaux, Bond with Vesper summons the sommelier, and “With his finger on the page, Bond turned to the sommelier: ‘The Taittinger ’45?”’

33. Louis Roederer Cristal 1990 – Ona and Mauricio’s wedding

Ona is my youngest sister. In truth, she is my former sister-in-law, but I never liked hyphenated relations. Iruka said I married her family when I married her. That was okay, because I love them, and I remain close to my former in-laws. Besides, I always wanted a sister, and I now have three.

Their eyes remained closed for what seemed like an eternity as they rolled the wine over their palates.

Ona was raised in Italy, so it was only natural that she would marry an Italian. Mauricio worked in the wine industry in Italy before Ona and he moved to China where he served as a wine ambassador based in Hong Kong and was awarded the Decanter Scholarship as top Level 3 graduate in Asia. Maurizio is a Level 4 WSET Somm. He is a DipWSET/WSET Educator, author of many articles and books, Italian Wine Scholar, University of California-Davis Winemaking Certificate Program, Napa Valley Vintners Scholarship as North America high achieving graduate, a Decanter World Wine Awards Judge, Italian wine ambassador, and is presently a Master of Wine Candidate. (Watch the film series Somm if you want to know what that involves.). Whew! (Do you think I am proud of him?)

Ona and Mauricio married in Las Vegas on October 1, 2012. The Italian contingent arrived from Milan for the wedding. I had no idea what to give Ona and Mauricio for a wedding gift. It finally occurred to me that a special bottle of wine would be appropriate, so I selected Louis Roederer Cristal 1990. As it turned out, Mauricio, who has an affinity for sparkling wines, had not had Cristal, unbeknownst to me.

The wedding was beautiful. We chilled the Cristal, as they were going to have it at the reception. I will never forget Mauricio, his father, and Ona speaking soto voce in Italian as they carefully examined the color of the wine. They alternated between short and long inhalations and rapid discussions in Italian regarding the attributes of the Champagne. Finally, we took a taste. There were only the four of us drinking the Cristal. I will never forget the look on Mauricio’s and his father’s faces. Their eyes remained closed for what seemed like an eternity as they rolled the wine over their palates. Slowly, their eyes opened simultaneously, and a broad smile came to their lips. Mom and Iruka were given some, but everyone else was left with mere descriptions of the Champagne. The description included hints of floral, pears, citrus, peaches, and white truffle on the nose. The notes on the palate included dried mangoes, hazelnuts, and apricots. It was, in a few words, knee-buckling.

I guess they liked my wedding gift, because Ona and Mauricio took the empty bottle back home to China. I always saw the empty bottle on the shelf, intentionally or not, whenever we had Skype calls. They moved to Las Vegas about nine years ago. The empty bottle of Cristal 1990 still graces a shelf at their home.

34. Husic Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – My Find Wine of the year!

I have made it a practice to name a wine of the year annually that became my personal favorite or was newly discovered. I call it my “Find Wine.” I was visiting Marché Bacchus one day about ten years ago, intending to buy a bottle of wine for the evening. I had selected a bottle when I ran into my friend Angelo Reyes, who was then working there. He has since opened his own restaurant, Tres Cazuelas. Angelo saw the bottle in my hand and gave an approving smile, knowing my preference for Napa Cabs and Bordeaux blends. He asked me if I had ever had a Husic Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. I had not, but I trusted Angelo’s recommendations, so I placed my selection back and took a bottle of Husic.

Angelo of Tres Cazuelas

I opened the bottle that evening. The Husic Cabernet Sauvignon was everything Angelo had promised. It was all that I loved about Napa Cabs. It had a beautiful deep purple, almost opaque color. The bouquet was filled with dark fruits, particularly blackberries, cherries, and plums, with dark chocolate, cedar, and spices. This was a complex wine that was outstanding and velvety on the palate, with a long, lingering finish.

I immediately logged on to the Husic website and signed up for the wine club. I unexpectedly received an email moments later to my surprise. The email was from the co-owner, Frank Husic. I do not know if Frank just happened to be there, or if he is that responsive. I just know that he is in an industry where service is everything. Frank and I spent the next 15- or 20 minutes emailing back and forth. He wanted to know how I became aware of his wines and what I thought. I told him where I bought it. He said I had just missed a wine dinner there a few months earlier, but not to worry as they were planning another. Frank ended by extending an invitation to visit the winery anytime I was in Napa. Frank was as gracious as his wine was excellent.

Marché Bacchus Lakeside View

Marché Bacchus had a wine dinner featuring Husic wines a few months later, and Frank and his wife, Julie, attended. I finally got to meet Frank in person. I told him how much I enjoyed his wines. The dinner was excellent, and the pairings were superb. Frank and Julie brought their Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, a Late Harvest Sémillon, and Palm Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon, in addition to their premier Cabernet. All were outstanding.

I took Frank up on his invitation to visit the vineyards. The people I met at the vineyard were just as gracious as Frank was the day he responded to my email. I named Husic Cabernet my personal favorite and Find Wine that year. Husic remains a preferred wine, and I like to pull out a bottle and share it with friends. I also share the story of how Frank sent me an email after I joined the Husic Wine Club.

35. Whitehall Lane, Turnbull, Hewitt, and Nickel & Nickel, “Oh my!”

My friend Jeff is my brother from another mother. We have been friends for so long we can finish each other’s sentences. We also have similar tastes in wine. We are both passionate about Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons. I was visiting Jeff in Scottsdale one weekend around 2002, and we were having our usual good time. I brought a couple of bottles with me, as Jeff and I planned our usual weekend of wine, dine, and long conversations.

Friday night began with Jeff pulling out a bottle of Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon, which I had not had before. This wine was velvety smooth and rich, with a long, lingering finish. Jeff asked if I had ever had a Turnbull Cabernet Sauvignon, which I also had not. The Turnbull was a cavalcade of joyous dark fruits, with graphite and floral notes. Clearly, I had to step up my game on Saturday.

I had brought bottles of Hewitt and Nickel & Nickel, which Jeff had never had. Both wines were young but showed great promise. I had not heard of the term, “Rutherford dust.” Jeff explained that wines from Rutherford, such as the Hewitt, have vines grown in deep soil and a longer growing time. This tends to result in expressions of dusty tannins and cocoa, which our Hewitt certainly did. Jeff and I talked until the early hours of the morning, which was not unusual for us.

Jeff sent me home on Sunday with bottles of Whitehall Lane and Turnbull Cabernet Sauvignon tucked into my bag. There is something about sharing a bottle (or more) of wine with someone who is special to you. It does not have to be a great bottle, but the person will make it so. However, having a great bottle of wine does make even the mundane so much better.

Jeff and I shared many bottles of wine that weekend, they were all outstanding. I have had all the wines from Whitehall Lane and Turnbull wineries since that weekend. All the wines we had were special. They are wines you will want to share, preferably with someone who is special to you, but you will always remember your first time.


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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