What was your “Road to Damascus” Moment?
“I love everything that is old; old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines.”
― Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield
Recently, I attended a weekly tasting with a group of friends at a wine shop, which we affectionately call “Church.” Five of us remained and enjoyed a bottle of wine after the tasting. You know what I mean if you really enjoy wine: The tasting is finished, yet you linger comparing notes and sharing stories and another bottle with friends. And, one thing leads to another. Well, this was one of those occasions.
Irene, aka the Vegas Wineaux, and goddess of all things Pinot (Noir, never – ever – Gris), opened a bottle of 2013 Martinelli Zio Tony Ranch “Grace Nicole” Pinot Noir (95 points Antonio Galloni, Vinous; and 95 points Robert M. Parker Jr., The Wine Advocate) from Sonoma’s Alexander Valley/Russian River. I had never had it before, and it was everything you would expect of the Vegas Wineaux’ Pinot (except that it was not from Paso Robles). Inky purple in color, it had a nose of ripe plums, and dark fruits, and a suggestion of floral notes. The palate was smooth, with a taste of jammy blueberries and leather. The tannins waltzed across my gums with a lingering finish. Timm (not a typo), another one of the churchgoers, declared, “This is what a good Pinot Noir is all about!”
I had just purchased a Tor Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (91 points, JamesSuckling.com – 14.70% alcohol), intending to take it home for cellaring. However, we needed to keep the party going, so… we decanted it. Ken was the only other one of the congregants familiar with Tor wines. This was going to be a special occasion. This wine is a 100.00% Cabernet from Napa Valley that is bottled perfection. The nose is aromatic with spices and black and red fruits. The palate is a mélange of dark berries, cedar, and vanilla, with medium acidity. The Tor is full-bodied, and the finish is astounding!
The Trailhead to the Road
The first poster I put on my bedroom wall as a teenager was of Raquel Welch in her cinematic, and Academy Awards-neglected, tour de force, “1,000,000 Years B.C.” If Raquel Welch were a wine, she would be the 2015 Tor. (I do not care if I am dating myself!)
Now, back to the purpose of this article. I asked my fellow worshipers a question, as we were savoring the Tor: What was the one bottle of wine, or occasion, that was your “Road to Damascus” moment? What wine was so earth-shattering, knee-buckling, life-altering that the moment will stay with you forever?
Mine was anything but simple. I did not begin drinking until after my first year of law school. Not in high school, not at university, nada! I had tasted beer (and I still think it tastes awful). As a Catholic, I did not even drink sacramental wine. I was given a cup of wine at a party once. It was white I as I recall, and I poured it out and replaced it with water.
I was 19 years old when I started law school, and I still did not drink. I had just finished my first year, and a friend of mine named Bill Bradford offered me a glass of wine one weekend (the drinking age in Texas was 18 at that time). Surprisingly, it was not offensive. There must have been a correlation between having finished my first year of law school and the need to have something stronger than a soft drink.
Eventually, Bill took me to a wine class and introduced me to his wine instructor, Mr. Henry, who owned or managed one of the leading wine shops in Houston. Mr. Henry also taught wine classes for Neiman-Marcus. Mr. Henry was from Germany, and his wheelhouse was Old World wines, more specifically, German Rieslings. I soon adopted his German white wine biases.
Mr. Henry took a liking to me, and he would offer me a taste of something every time I came in his shop. This was the mid-1970s, and $20.00 could buy you a very good bottle of wine. One day Mr. Henry asked me in his thick German accent, “Andreas (I allowed him to call me by the German variation of my name), vhut is Champagne?”
“A sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France?” I sheepishly answered, not quite sure of myself.
“Precisely! It is vine.” Mr. Henry declared. “Then, vhy is it that Americans drink only non-vintage Champagnes? (Mr. Henry would only drink Champagnes, not even a Crémant, let alone a Cava, Prosecco, or other sparkling wine.)
“Do you not age vines? Then vhy not Champagne?” He questioned.
The Wine Road – Damascus Proper
Mr. Henry then gave me my first taste of a non-vintage Champagne. I do not recall the House or the vintage, but I do recall that it was amazing. First, the color was not the pale, straw color that I was accustomed. Secondly, there was an almost imperceptible thread of fine bubbles streaming vertically in the middle of the glass. The palate had a honeyed nuttiness that I had never experienced in a Champagne. This Champagne was nectar of the gods, and this was my Road to Damascus, my cathartic, transformative moment.
When I graduated law school, Mr. Henry presented me with a special gift. He said, “Andreas, I ask of you two tings: Vun, you must share it vith someone who can appreciate it. Und, two, you must call me und tell me vhut you think of it.”
It was a bottle of Dom Pérignon 1961.
(Please write in and share your Road to Damascus moment.)