Wednesday, August 13, 2008

WBW 48 and MFWT 300: A Blast from My Past

Well, it’s that time of the month again – Wine Blogging Wednesday time. Today marks the 48th installment of the venerable institution, making it the 4th anniversary of the event started way back in 2004 by Lenn Thompson of LennDevours. By way of celebration, Lenn is also hosting today’s edition. It’s a milestone of sorts for me as well – my 300th post. So, a special thank you goes out to Lenn, not only for hosting but also for his serendipitous good timing.

Mr. Thompson’s theme for the day is getting back to your roots. Your wine drinking roots, that is. In his words, “I just want you to pick one of the wines from the beginning of your journey, taste it again for the first time in a while, and tell us about it.”

I’ve decided to tell you about three different wines, representing three different phases of my formative wine years. In a rare example of MFWT restraint, though, I’m only going to revisit one. However, so as not to disappoint anyone, I promise to spice things up a bit in another fashion. It’s a long journey, so sit back and relax.

While wine has been an important part, parcel and passion of my adult years, it took a distant back seat, from my childhood all the way through young adulthood, to music. I wrote about music long before I ever dreamed of writing about wine. Though I’m nowhere near as actively involved in the music scene as I was at one time, music – like wine – remains a strong driving force in my life. So, without further ado, here’s an entry from McDuff’s Wine & Music Trail: the formative years.

Part One: Early History

It’s not that wine was never around my house or on the table when I was a kid. For my folks, though, wine was not a serious matter of interest. The bottles that did make it onto the table were generally the usual suspects of the 1970s: Mateus and Lancers, Black Tower and, only around the holidays, Andre Cold Duck. It’s the latter of the bunch, the purple, fizzy juice called Cold Duck, which stands out most clearly in memory. Whether there’s any truth to it I’ll never know but my parents were convinced that Cold Duck was my grandmother’s favorite tipple. So almost without fail, it made an appearance on the table at every Thanksgiving and Christmas meal throughout my childhood years. No offense to Andre, whoever he is, but I’m not about to plunk down any of my hard earned cash on a bottle of Cold Duck, even if it is for WBW. So, you’ll have to settle for a picture (courtesy of WineChef) and a taste of what I might have been listening to before sitting down to one of those holiday meals.

My first teensy taste ever might have coincided with something like this:

By the time I was allowed a real sip or two, it was probably more like this:

And during the heart of my skateboarding years of teen rebellion, it just might have been:

Cold Duck was there all the way.

Part Two: The Awakening

What was the first wine that really opened my eyes? I hate to tell you I can’t remember exactly what it was. I do remember, though, where and when I drank it, at a long defunct restaurant in Baltimore. I think the name was Auberge or Aubergine… it’s been a long time. I was in college and was also a pretty strict vegetarian at the time. Our waitress suggested a wine for our meal, a Mosel Riesling, most likely a Kabinett from the late 70’s or early 80’s. I remember that much, just not the producer or any more specific information. What I definitely remember is an incredibly refreshing, flavorful blast of apple and peach fruit, and the distinct minerality of the wine. It was also great with whatever was on my plate. I was sold. Not to the point of becoming an instant wine geek, mind you, but I was henceforth very interested in the possibilities. It would just be another few years before I really dove in and started to explore them.

Riesling remains, to this day, one of my true wine passions. Because I write about it here with some regularity, I opted not to pick one as the wine to taste for this episode. If that bums you out, there’s plenty to read here. At around the time of that eye-opening bottle, by the way, I was almost certainly into something like this:

The sound/video quality's not great but it was a fun show.

Part Three: The Trail

By the late 1980s, wine had become a much more regular exploration for me. It was during my first trip to the Napa Valley in the early 90s, though, that the big bug really bit. I was accompanied by the woman who would eventually become my wife. And I was hooked. California Cabernet (and Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Riesling, etc.) would become my primary focus for the next few years. I was already exploring European wines at the time but the best wines we tasted on that trip took me in their grip.

We visited several wineries on that first journey, as well as taking in the sites of the valley. The winery that really stood out for me was V. Sattui. Their tasting room is a pretty little spot on Highway 29 between Rutherford and St. Helena, right in the heart of the valley. It’s still a fun place to stop for a picnic lunch and a glass of wine. We tasted everything they offered us that day, from Muscat and Gamay Rosé to estate bottled Cabs. I joined their wine club on the spot, my first and, to this day, only wine club. I’ve long since canceled my membership and long since consumed most of the wines. I also don’t drink California wines nearly as often as back then. However, there are still a few bottles of V. Sattui Cabernet Sauvignon, just a few, lingering in my cellar from the latter days of that monthly subscription. Lenn’s choice of topics has given me a perfect excuse to dispatch with one of them.

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon “Suzanne’s Vineyard,” V. Sattui Winery 1995
I’m consistently amazed at how differently good California wines and good European wines evolve. At thirteen years from its vintage, this is still extremely solid in color, a dark ruby red just barely going pale around the edge of the glass. It’s also still surprisingly sturdy, with resolved but firm tannins and an edge of acidity that still merits a good grilled steak. 1995 sits right between the two benchmark vintages of ’94 and ’97 in Napa, a period when things started to change from the leaner, food friendly styles of the past into today’s prevalent big-point, fruit-bomb style. This bottle still shows a sweet fruited element that’s typical to wines from the period but it also possesses a real sense of Napa Valley terroir that’s all too hard to find in many of today’s wines.

The first thing I notice when I stuck my nose in the glass was a pure blast of eucalyptus, immediate and unmistakable. Following that minty nose were hints of thyme and cedar riding on a crest of medium-rich red currant fruit. The oak influence is still present but drying and well balanced by the wine’s other traits. After an hour or two of air, the alcohol – even at a modest, fairly old school 13% level – makes itself more known than I’d like. I’d hardly chalk it up as a classic of the ages, but it’s still a pretty solid wine, one that hasn’t lost touch with its roots. I’d be happy to drink it again.

Oh yeah, the tunes….

These guys were there for me through Parts 2 and 3, and they're still turning me on today.


Edward said...


No wonder I suffer (willingly) from insomnia. I don't want to sleep, when I could read such a great post and listen to your selection of music (I skipped the muppets though).

Well done on the 300.

Anonymous said...

Hey, that's a great post, and I enjoyed your musical selections as well, even KISS, whom I remember reading about in the mid-70s in the then-hilarious CREEM magazine. Speaking of Sonic Youth, you can catch them in the film from last year 'I'm Not There', the homage to the many faceted Bob Dylan.

Taylor said...

David, we should get smashed on wine and go see a show. My vote is for The Muppets. Mahna Mahna!

Anonymous said...

you're insane........

Anonymous said...

You are a hardy, tough character, for sure. Surviving Cold Duck is no small feat.

Love the music selection too. Talk Talk, The Cure and Nirvana, with some Miles Davis, I guess, would part of mine. Buddy Rich on the Muppets was before I drank wine...

Cheers, and happy 300th!

Joe Manekin said...

David -

Congrats on your 300th post - a real winning entry, by the way. V Sattui was the second winery I ever visited, back in (I'm dating myself here) June of 2001. It was after visiting Mondavi, and as it was free, a real bargain! I'm glad that your cab was showing pretty well.

What's up with Kim's Knicks jersey?

Now get going on posting 300 more....

Anonymous said...

Excellent! Would you believe that Matt and I sat here and watched the entire Muppets song! What a perfect way to start the day. My Grandmother's favorite was Mogen David 20/20, she said it helped her sleep!

Nat said...

Hey Dave-
I can remember like it was yesterday, all the aunts and uncles bringing very festive aluminum foil wrapped bottles of Cold Duck to bring in the New Year with Guy Lombardo. I kind of remember it smelling pretty bad upon opening. Very weird.

Congrats on the milestone! N.

David McDuff said...

Thanks, everyone, for the great comments.

Glad to give you something worth staying up for, Edward. I suppose I can understand skipping the Muppets, though it's an incredibly culturally pervasive tune.

Thanks for the tip on the Sonics being in "I'm Not There." Haven't seen it yet.

I'm always up for going to a show.

Thanks, Bill. You're probably right.

Miles figures large for me as well. It just didn't make sense in the context of this post but, if you search around, you'll find a Miles YouTube clip here that I posted a few months back.

Joe M.,
The date on the Sonic Youth clip is wrong. It's actually from the Letterman show on May 17, 1994. Kim was pregnant at the time, so it's her home town team maternity dress, I guess.

I don't even want to think about MD 20/20, Amy. But I'm glad you enjoyed the clip.

And Nat, thanks for the kind words and for sharing your Cold Duck memories.

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