What Are Your 99 Wines?


“Wine is not a beverage reserved for the elite but can and should be enjoyed by everyone. A wine’s place is on the table right next to the salt and pepper, as a compliment – even a condiment to the food. It is not meant only to be collected, but to enhance your meal and your way of life.”

– André Hueston Mack

I participated in an ungodly number of wine-related Zoom calls and online seminars during the 17 months most of the world was in the Covid-19 quarantine. One of the most interesting featured André Hueston Mack. André is an amazing man. He is one of the nation’s top sommeliers, yet he grew up in a household that did not serve alcohol. His persistence and hard work enabled him to become the top somm at Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York and French Laundry in Yountville. I met him once years ago when he was at the French Laundry. He was formerly an investment banker, and I was in banking at the time. I recall we had a great conversation about more than just wines. He was a fount of wine knowledge, and he had also previously been named America’s Best Young Sommelier.

By Andre Hueston Mack - Source (final picture on page as of November 16, 2016), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56965801
André Mack

I bought a Pinot Noir called Oregogne from an online retailer around 2010. It was not terribly expensive, and it sounded interesting based on the description. The Pinot was delightful. The wine was from a winery called Maison Noir Wines located in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I did not realize until that Zoom call that André was the owner and founder of Maison Noir Wines, and he was also the engaging somm I had met at French Laundry. The man works like a Jamaican: He has also opened two restaurants, & Sons Ham Bar and & Sons Buttery, both located in Brooklyn, New York.

André spoke about his experience in the wine industry during our Zoom call. He also spoke about his book, “99 Bottles: a Black Sheep’s Guide to Life-Changing Wines.” The book is whimsical, irreverent, a fast-read, and offers an insider’s look at wines, spirits, and the industry. It also presents his take on 99 wines and spirits that were meaningful to him. Do not think that the wines discussed are just a compendium of exclusive, ultra-premium, high-end wines. Yes, the list does contain Petrus Pomerol 1972 and 1980, Antonin Rodet Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru, and Château Mouton Rothschild Haut-Brion 1961. Let’s just say that his voyage begins with Olde English “800” malt liquor and Boone’s Farm, and it also includes San Pellegrino sparkling water, Cîroc Vodka, and a Senegalese drink called Sorrell juice. I highly recommend his book.

His persistence and hard work enabled him to become the top somm at Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York and French Laundry in Yountville

André’s book got me thinking. What are my 99 wines? How have those wines or regions, experiences, and people involved shaped my tastes in wine, for better or worse? I started making a list. Thus far, I am only up to 13, but I guarantee you my list will grow. I thought I would share my list with you, and I encourage you to think about it and share your list with me. I am not going to just recite a list of 13 wines, because there is a backstory I wish to share behind each one. I am sure that even André had to smile, frown, or even cry as he thought about each experience or event, such as the bottle he held when he learned that his stepfather had died.

So, this is my list (in no particular order after the fourth one).

1. German White Wines.

My father enjoyed wine and alcohol on occasion, and my mother never drank. My relationship with wine did not start until the summer of 1976. I did not really drink wine until that summer. I was about to turn 20 years old. Nineteen was the drinking age in Texas where I had moved the year before. I had just completed my first year of law school. I did not have anything against wine, or alcohol in general, for that matter. I had just never tasted anything that I liked.

A friend of mine shared some wine with me one day. I do not recall what it was, only that it was a white wine, and it was, as my brother would say, “not nasty.” He also introduced me to Mr. Henry, the manager or owner of one of the more prominent wine shops in Houston. Mr. Henry felt sorry for a broke, starving student like me, so he took pity and made sure that I would taste something good (meaning, unaffordable for me) each time I came into the shop. Now, this was the 1970s, and $20.00 bought a great bottle of wine. You could buy a bottle of Château Romanée-Conti Grand Échezeaux for only $30.00 (A bottle today sells for about $4,654.00). A case of Château Lafite Rothschild 1969 was only $234.00, or $19.50, a bottle in 1972.

Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@elmuff?utm_content=creditCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash">Sandra Grünewald</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/photos/white-and-red-labeled-bottle-O4irwJUtaOs?utm_content=creditCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash">Unsplash</a>
German Rieslings

Mr. Henry was from Germany, and his wheelhouse was German Rieslings. He taught me to differentiate between Qualitätawien (often designated as QbA, and the next level up from table wine), Prädikatswien (a preeminent wine literally meaning, “quality wine with special attributes”), Kabinett (translated as “cabinet” in English and intended for a winemaker’s personal cellar, so it is a good quality wine), Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese (meaning “select berry harvest”), Eiswein (“ice wine”), and the high-end Trockenbeerenauslesen (“select dry berry harvest” wines).

I enjoyed wines, such as, Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett, Reinhold Heart Goldtropfchen Auslese, and Dr. H. Thanish Berncaskastel Badstube Kabinett wines during this time. I began by drinking sweeter wines, as I recall, although not fortified sweet dessert wines. Mr. Henry also taught me that not all Rieslings were cloyingly sweet, and Rieslings, such as some Auslese, could be bone dry, yet delicious.

2. French (and only French) Chardonnays.

Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@vidarnm?utm_content=creditCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash">Vidar Nordli-Mathisen</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/photos/green-glass-bottle-beside-clear-wine-glass-Hg5evLkDDgE?utm_content=creditCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash">Unsplash</a>
Chablis – French Chardonnay!

Mr. Henry also introduced me to French Chardonnay wines. He taught me that the best Chardonnays were French, in general, and more specifically, from Chablis. My wine journey began in the summer of 1976. Ironically, the “Judgment of Paris” had just taken place weeks earlier, in May 1976. As everyone knows, or who has at least seen in the movie Bottle Shock, the California upstarts upended the wine world by besting the French in blind competition in both the red and white categories, in France, and before mostly French tasters. Irrespective, Mr. Henry never mentioned it.

I know this is absolute apostasy to those who know me now, but I came to adopt Mr. Henry’s preferences for white wines generally, and particularly German white wines. I would not have even thought of trying a red wine at that time. In fact, I recall attending a UNLVino wine tasting after having moved to Las Vegas in the 1980s, where I deliberately bypassed the reds and only sampled the whites.

3. Vouvray.

Vouvray is an appellation of the Loire Valley in the Touraine region of France. A Vouvray can be as sweet as treacle or as dry as powder. It can also be still or sparkling. Vouvray wines are made from Chenin Blanc grapes. Vouvray is on my list because it is the first wine that was not introduced to me; I discovered it on my own. It became my “go-to” wine in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Vouvray Vineyard, Loire. Chenin Blanc grapes.

I was in Costco one summer about 10 years ago, and I was passing the wine bins when I spied a Vouvray. I had not had one in years, as I had switched almost exclusively to red wines around 1994. I grabbed a bottle for old-time’s sake. I shared it with a dear friend, Cheryl, who had never had one. Vouvray became our go-to wine that summer. We probably drank about two cases over the course of the summer. Cheryl is one of those switch-hitters who drinks mostly lighter wines during the summer months, whereas I could drink a bold Napa Cab by the pool when it was 110ᵒ in the shade.


One day during that summer I was looking at one of my many online wine sites, and I saw sparkling Vouvray. I had never had one. In fact, I did not know there was a sparkling Vouvray, so I bought it. Cheryl and I shared it. It was not particularly good, but it was different. At least we could say that we had now had one.

I will always fondly remember that summer, and I think of Cheryl whenever I have a Vouvray.

4. My First Vintage Champagne.

This will sound familiar to those who have read an article I wrote for Vegaswineaux.com in September 2018, entitled “What was your ‘Road to Damascus Moment?” Ah, it was a simpler time then.

2004 Dom Perignon Champagne

It was probably around 1977, and I had never had a vintage sparkling wine. I had only had non-vintage sparkling wines, and those were probably an amalgam of the most recent vintages available. I went to Mr. Henry’s shop one day, and he poured me a glass of my first vintage Champagne. I do not recall the House or the vintage. I just know that Mr. Henry would have only given me Champagne. He most certainly would not have given me a Prosecco, Cava, or other sparkling wine, as he was very opinionated and had pronounced ideas about who could make what.

I recall Mr. Henry discussing the Champagne, his thick German accent still ringing in my head. The first thing I noticed was the color; it was not the pale color I was used to seeing in the sparkling wines I had before. Instead, the color was darker, almost a light honey in color. The bubbles were nearly imperceptible. They were there, but the bubbles formed a thin thread that was rising in the middle of the glass. I was used to seeing a foam of bubbles in sparkling wine that spilled over like that in a glass of beer from a tap. This was clearly different. The taste was exquisite. I only wish I could recall what it was.

Mr. Henry gave me a special gift for graduation, a bottle of Dom Pérignon 1961. I finally tasted the wine several years later after I had moved to Las Vegas. I can still recall it even though I tasted it almost 40 years ago. It is hard to believe that the Champagne would have been 60 years old this year!

This wine was even darker than the Champagne Mr. Henry had given me years earlier. The honey color was much richer. The nose had floral notes, but I could not specifically discern them at the time. There was an explosion of flavors, rich with toasted, buttery brioche, pears, apples, quince, and other white fruits. This was a wine that was at once opulent, yet richly balanced and elegant.

I knew at that moment that wine would be an important part of my life.



Note from Vegas Wineaux: This is the first of several parts in the 99 wines series!

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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