Sunday, December 16, 2007

The "It" Wine Experience

Column for Feb 8th.

Last Thanksgiving, my partner and I visited our parents in southern California. As the resident "wine expert", I was told to bring the wine for Thanksgiving dinner (a nice festive Mumm Blanc de Noirs).

Unfortunately, I didn't plan for dinner the day after Thanksgiving. We were going to one of my father's favorite Italian restaurants and I didn't have a bottle on hand – an embarrassing predicament for any resident wine expert.

Fortunately, I was sent out on an errand to purchase a lock to replace the one we were going to cut off of King Tut's tomb (AKA my mother-in-law’s 10x30 foot storage locker, the inside of which no one had seen for a quarter of a century and which you really don't want to get me started on because of the boxes of paper napkins stacked to the ceiling, not to mention 25 years of dust, sofas, Pittsburgh phone books and God only knows what else.).

Luckily, there was a high-end bottle shop next to the hardware store. After perusing their very nice selection for an hour or two, I picked a bottle of 2001 Rodney Strong Symmetry. I've always liked Rodney Strong's entry level Cabernet; it’s a pretty solid wine for the price. But I didn't really know anything about the Symmetry. It was just a lucky pick.

I'll skip over the whole deal with the rude waiter, but at least he opened the bottle and gave me a taste before pouring for everyone. That first taste told me that this wine was a cut above average, and as it developed in the glass, I began to realize that I was having the proverbial "it" wine experience.

What is the "it" wine experience? To your ordinary wino, it's that first taste of Thunderbird that convinces them that they could be happy spending the rest of their life living in an alley begging for enough spare change to buy their next bottle. To your extra-ordinary wine snob, on the other hand, it's usually that one glass or bottle that blew their mind and really turned them on to fine wine.

This bottle definitely blew my mind. Unfortunately, there's really no way to describe it. I've drunk a lot of wine in my life, but nothing like this. The Cabernets and Bordeaux I've been able to afford up until now pale in comparison, with ghostly faint suggestions of fruit and thin, spindly structures.

The Symmetry absolutely lived up to it's name, not only with incredibly dense dark flavors of blackberry, black cherry, chocolate, mocha and spices, but also with a wonderful balance, silky smooth tannins and a finish that seemed to go on for minutes. Every sip set off a cascade of stunning revelations.

It was a religious experience, and I could swear I felt the rapture quickly approaching.

Sadly, a bottle of wine split between five people only gives you one short glass to savor, and all too soon the experience was over. I was left like a penniless heroin addict, craving more, more, more. I went into withdrawal almost immediately, and was pale, shivering and incoherent by the end of dinner.

I went back to rob the shop where I got the bottle, but discovered that there was no more. I shot up the place in a rage and left. Then I stole a car and raced back to Chico, avoiding the law at every turn. I searched for the wine online, only to find it nearly impossible to find or incredibly expensive when I did find it. I started stealing TVs and car stereos to pay for my addiction, but to little avail. Eventually, I was caught robbing a liquor store (go figure) and sentenced to 3-5 years.

Or so it sometimes seems. Strange as it is to say, that one bottle of wine really changed my life – and not for the better. No longer does a “decent” bottle of wine suffice for Wednesday night dinner. Every bottle I drink, I compare to that 2001 Symmetry. It doesn’t matter what it is, a $10 Zinfandel or a $70 Napa Cabernet. It gets compared to that one bottle and inevitably comes up wanting.

Like an oenophilic adrenalin junkie, I’m now on a perpetual search for another “it” wine experience, spending hundreds of dollars in just the past couple of weeks on various Napa cabs and Bordeaux.

I thought having an “it” wine experience would be a good thing, but all it’s done is raise my taste beyond the reach of my checkbook. I think the only cure is to “recalibrate” my palate, and the only way to do that is with a bottle of Thunderbird. So, if you see me in an alley somewhere, be kind and toss me some change.

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