Not long ago I was at one of those dinners with maybe 10 people at the table and everyone brings at least two very good bottles of wine, and when it was all said and done I felt like I didn't really get to spend enough time with any of the wines. One of the wines was a real surprise, the 1991 St. Innocent Pinot Noir Seven Springs Vineyard. It's not the quality of the wine that surprised me - I honestly cannot comment on the quality because I spent maybe 5 minutes with it while consuming a soup dumpling and chatting with my neighbor. And then I moved onto my two ounces of whatever the next amazing wine was. Not being critical - this is the way it goes sometimes. These dinners happen and it's great fun to be there. I'm just recognizing the fact that wines can get lost in these settings.
And I was surprised to see St. Innocent, that's all. It was like running into an old friend, some one who I hadn't seen in a long time and had no expectation of ever seeing again.
Five ways that I'm a different wine guy now:
1) I drink way more white wine than red. My Cellartracker notes in 2011 show that 62% of the wines I drank from my cellar were white wines. So far in 2012 it's 70% white wine. The thing is, I want white wine with everything, even red meat (is brown Sherry really a white wine though?). Red wine is almost never as light as I want it to be. When I drink red now, I want it to be mature and gentle.
2) I'm much pickier as a buyer. I have a better sense of what it is I want to drink, and I drink mostly those things. I almost never spend money trying new Burgundy, or new Loire Chenin Blanc, or new anything. Too expensive. I have opportunities here and there to taste things that are new to me, and friends whose recommendations I trust.
3) Restaurants...I'm much more skeptical about ordering wine at restaurants. Even some great restaurants store their wine in boxes in the basement. No temperature control. Bad glassware. Servers who pour glasses almost to the top so they can sell me another bottle quickly. Some restaurants have good wine programs and good wine service, and I order wine in those cases. More often though, I drink beer or cocktails at restaurants.
4) Natural, organic, and biodynamic...these are not the things that drive my decisions about what to drink. Not that they ever were, per say, but I used to be a lot more concerned with those things. I still believe in eating and drinking in a healthy way, and like to support producers who are respectful of the environment. But some of my favorite wines would not fit in those categories. So be it.
5) No more industry tastings. They're not really about the wine anyway - they are professional networking events, and they are probably quite valuable in that way to wine professionals. I am not a wine professional, and I can't deal with the atmosphere at those things. I need a compelling reason at this point if I'm going to go.
At some point during the dinner a friend pulled out a wine that surely could be the focal point of any wine evening, the 1976 J.J. Prüm Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese. A 35 year old wine from one of the great masters in Germany. It was by far the oldest bottle of Prüm that I've had, and it was in great condition. I really tried - I paid a lot of attention and focused as best I could, and I think I got a sense of the wine. But I'd love to be with it for a few hours. It got me thinking about how after almost 5 years of writing this blog, I'm still the same.
1) I still have never had many of the great wines of the world. And when I have, very few mature bottles. Great old wine is expensive, and I think that many of us who started getting serious after the '90s will need an awful lot of money if we are going to experience the great ones. I mean seriously, a bottle of Rousseau Chambertin from a decent vintage costs $1,000 now. Hard to imagine being able to afford that. I've never tasted Rousseau Chambertin. It is entirely likely that I never will.
2) But I still don't claim to have had those wines, and I still have no dogma whatsoever about what I like and don't like. I have my opinions, and now a little tiny bit more experience to back them up, that's it.
3) I'm still driven by curiosity and the desire to learn, I still ask a lot of questions, I still try to listen very carefully, and I still understand every day how much there is that I don't know. And I still rely heavily on a couple of world-class wine gurus, who continue to patiently and generously share their knowledge.
4) I still care more about who I am drinking with than I do about how rare or awesome the wine is. Even is a wine is great - if we aren't sharing the experience together in a meaningful way, it's like a tree falling in the woods with no one there to hear it.
5) I still want to be thrilled by wine, to find something that makes me want to delve deeply into the whole region from where it came, to understand all of its iterations and categories. And then sometimes write blog posts about what I learn, for no reason other than that it makes me happy.