SOMM 3, the third installment in a series about blind wine tasting, had a segment where three wine connoisseurs each brought one seminal bottle that ushered him into the world of wine. For Jancis Robinson, it was a 1959 Comte George de Vogue Les Amoureuses, a climat in Chambolle Musigny. For Fred Dame it was a 1968 Ridge Montebello from California. For Steven Spurrier It is a 1908 Cockburn Port. Watching this I wondered if that wine existed for me. For example, it certainly was not the Ridge Montebello I had at the vineyard in 2015 (vintage probably 2012). It was not through love for wine that I began my exploration. It was a necessity to learn wines when dining lest mistakes like ordering a sherry during a main course happen. It was on the same trip that I had stumbled into a restaurant famous for natural wines called Relae (in Copenhagen). From a menu of the photo I see producers like Cornelissen and Angeli that were just proper nouns at the time, and now I understand to represent the essence of the natural wine movement. Around the same time, I also went to a restaurant in Florence called Il Latini. Florence is known for its proximity to Chianti, and at this restaurant, you poured yourself the house wine and the waiters would mark the starting and ending levels of the bottle and charge you accordingly.
The first forays into wine were purely intellectual as opposed to love. After watching SOMM 1, it was clear that the only way to prove knowledge with wines is too taste it. There would be tastings that cost hundreds of dollars, where the participants would not be able to differentiate between an old world Barbaresco and a new world pinot noir. Or when tasters could not tell a wine was corked. For people at that level of sophistication, comparative tastings are not meaningful. I had no spontaneous shortcuts that led to a passion in wine. It was an attempt to build layers of confidence in my own ability to identify quality wines without ever trying a particularly impressive bottle.
The first series of excellent wines I had was at a tasting at New York Vintners (which has since closed) in New York City see notes here. Coming from a province where wine selection was severely limited, the wine tasting was the exiting of Plato’s cave, or opening the pandora’s box (as it relates to my finances). Reading the notes I wrote, in 2015, it is clear that the reference by which I assessed the 14 or so Italian wines was classic testable wines. The wine Bressan Pignol 2001 was the most memorable but never did I feel the need to buy it (also not exactly inexpensive at $100/bottle). With that backstory, here are a list of wines that I found particularly memorable in my development.
Celler Escoda-Sanahuja ‘Els Bassots’, Conca de Barbera, Spain - This is the first natural wine that I had. Tried among friends at a natural wine restaurant Contra (though I did not know this at the time). The wine had that funky/yeasty quality that I have since adored.
1995 Poco Do Lobo Arinto - This was one of the truly old and oxidized wines I had. I tried it at a Boston restaurant. In hindsight a lot of the flavours here are expected for an old, slightly oxidized, white wine. Call it a stepping stone to Vin Jaune appreciation.
Jo Landron Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Sur Lie ‘Le Fief du Breil’, Loire, France (~2000) - This was the first wine I had at Four Horsemen. At that time this was a pretty expensive bottle. Muscadet ages very well and doesn’t oxidize too much, but gets nice complexity (cheesiness) while maintaining the minerality.
2004 Chateau La Vieille Cure Fronsac - A very cheap wine that a broker bought for dinner that was so surprisingly good for the price. Showed how high quality Bordeaux can be.
BFM (15th year anniversary) - This beer (first had at Four Horsemen) changed my perception of beer. I had mostly been drinking Saisons prior to this (Saison DuPont, Tank 7, etc). This one was a very high quality sour saison that was the gateway to Geuzue, which is the height of beer.
Trouble Fait - I first had this natural wine at Pierre Sang. It’s the classic funky, fruit-driven and quaffable wine you would from fashion forward French producers. This wine turned me onto natural wines definitively.
2012 Landonne Cote Rotie (Rostaing) - This wine I had at a Tokyo wine bar embodied the taste of the Rhone that I now seek out (the burnt meat flavour found in both North and South Rhone). Turns out it isn’t that expensive to get that level of quality. The first amazing CDP i had was 1998 Bosquet des Papes Chanterelles.
2005 La Chamade Bornard - This was the first aged natural wine I had. Had it at Edulis in Toronto. Aged natural wines are special. Since they are generally pretty high acid and big-flavoured, the age allows it to mellow out. When I ordered it, I had no idea what Bornard was. But I learnt. Later, I had 2001 La Souteronne Souhaut at le Verre Volé which was similarly special.
1994 Fisher Coach Insignia - Aged Napa is nothing like young Napa. I went to the winery and had some very nice bottles but they were costing $80+ retail. I then started finding a lot of aged Napa’s for <$50. They turned out to be better than the younger vintages because they were more elegant. I was extremely lucky to have found a lot of wines from this producer, who is highly respected, but from 30 years ago.
94-96 Riojas - On a trip to Madrid, we found a shop that had old ones just lying around. We found the 94-96 vintages to be the best. Younger Riojas are typically not ready, and older ones were past their prime. They tasted like bigger Bordeaux’s with more tobacco and ash.
2006 Savagnin Ouille Overnoy - I stumbled across this Tokyo without knowing what the wine was. Now it’s a priority to drink as much of this as possible. The acidity and concentration is exceptional. The poster child of natural wines. From the Jura.
Cantillon Iris - My first Cantillon was the Grand Cru Bruocsella but it left a fraction of the impression of the Iris, which on top of the classic sourness had an aluring body to it. There are very few beverages that are as rewarding for the price (I recently had one for $35 CAD at Joe Beef).
1962/1964 Alto Piedmonte “Turba” - This pretty unknown wine shows how ageable Alto Piedmonte is. The wines retain its cherry fruit while simultaneously developing port-like flavours. It happens to be the age of my parents.