The Aha Wine (pt. 1)
You get choked up when your team wins the Super Bowl, when your spouse brings you flowers. You might shed a tear when you hear a beautiful melody or see a moving film. Me? I cry over the perfect wine.
Sommeliers call it the “Aha Wine,” the bottle that swivels our heads and bathes our dark, debaucherous souls in the purest and holiest light. For a moment, the duration of a mere sip, the world stops, time ceases to exist, and a choir of innocent angels strikes up a melody so sweet, you close your eyes with wonder. From that moment on, you are changed, different, somehow more whole. And then you pop bottles for the rest of your life, chasing that high, searching for some type of religion within the confines of a bottle. You are catapulted into the almighty chase, a bittersweet search for emotional healing.
And it’s never just about the wine. Who you are with, where you are, how you feel: these all influence the impact. A truly exceptional bottle doesn’t taste the same if you’re sadly drinking it out of a Solo cup on the Subway versus drinking it at a candlelit dinner in Tuscany after it’s been decanted by Ryan Gosling. But when you get everything right--the mood, the ambiance, the bottle-- your soul bows in gratitude, fed at last.
I still distinctly remember a few experiences that rocked my world and made me think “Oh yes, this is it. This is why I study wine.”
The first time this revelation occurred, I had just taken a rather diabolical wine exam and congratulated myself by going out for a celebratory drink with fellow students. Brain-fried from the intensity of the test, I begged someone at the table to order something for us all to share. The student complied, choosing a bottle of Hervé Souhaut Clos des Cessieux (vintage forgotten), 100% Syrah from St.-Joseph of the Rhone Valley, France. It was poured, and time stopped. I never forgot what unfolded in that wine: dried lavender scattered on freshly-tilled compost, decaying mushrooms sauteed in aging balsamic, a dew-splattered bouquet of violets and rosemary. A confounding dance of elegance and rusticity took place on my palate, and I halted conversation to simply process it. Right then, my love of nuanced Syrah bloomed and still lives on, all thanks to that bottle of St-Joseph.
Then, the white Burgundy moments: the life-altering string of perfect wines. The 2012 Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne, the 2014 William Fevre Le Clos Grand Cru, the 2014 Bouchard Corton-Charlemagne. The most unforgettable of these was the latter, shared with my mother on Christmas Eve. Admittedly a clandestine move on our parts, we dug out a Coravin before the family arrived and helped ourselves to a few glasses out of a magnum. Over the course of a few hours, we slowly sipped, awestruck over the roller-coaster ride of aroma and flavor. The wine warmly welcomed us with flavors of frothy eggnog and banana cream pie that gave way to the tang of citrus zest and the austerity of wet slate. Then, the dessert came back: mango curd, pineapple chutney, and later white truffle. My mother and I leaned back comfortably on a couch and agreed not to spoil the experience with meaningless conversation (unless, however, we were talking about the majesty of the wine).
When you really think about it, a great wine catapults you into the present, far away from your worries about the future or obsessions over the past. It practically requires your attention and wonder. And while a great bottle of wine doesn’t endure like worldly possessions or trifles, I believe that the memories it creates far exceed the pleasure that an item could ever offer.