I’m not sure who coined the phrase “the one that got away” but it occurred to me lately when thinking of some great wines I’ve had and will never taste again for whatever reason. These are the illustrious wines that, when you think of them, cause a wistfulness or yearning to well up inside.
These wines are special due to the place, person(s), or the moment in which you had them. They become the ones that got away due to the passing of time (an old vintage no longer found), limited production (not many to start with), location (you had them in a place that doesn’t make their wines available where you live), or simply the fact that you can’t or won’t pay what a still-existing wine costs. We’ve all had these wines that make our hearts (and palates) sing.
When I think of some of my wines that got away, they are often wrapped up in an experience with other people. Like watching a thought-provoking movie or hearing a great concert, enjoying special wine is always heightened by the good company.
In the category of passing of time, there are many. Standout Cabernet Sauvignon years in Napa such as 1996 or 1997 for my favorite Freemark Abbey are long gone. White Cottage Estate was a beautiful winery up in Napa’s Howell Mountain which made scintillating and long-aging Cabernet Sauvignon. I still have three bottles left but am always hesitant to drink them since I know they are truly the last of their kind.
Limited production wines are also extensive. These don’t have to be high-priced wines although sometimes the fact that they are limited releases does increase the price. For me, one of these would be Winter, a wine made in only a handful of vintages by a truly inspirational woman winemaker (Helen Mawson) from New Zealand who had the courage to come to Napa and give it a go. She’s since moved on to bigger things but this early attempt by her is always a special wine and story when you can find it. There are a few bottles of 2005 and 2006 Winter to be found but they are few and far between.
There are few things as poignant as location when it comes to wines that stand still in time in one’s mind. You remember the wine being out-of-this-world but was it the wine or the environment you had it in, or both?
It’s undeniable that lavender and thyme scents wafting in over the hills positively impacted my perception of the 2011 Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione tasted while IN the Tuscan hills. The electric energy swirling in the background of an outdoor café at St. Mark’s Square in Venice enlivened the Franciacorta (Italian sparkling wine).
The visceral undercurrent of life and death playing out by the minute magnified the 2012 Landskroon Merlot while on safari in Tanzania. All of these wines left an imprint in my mind that I’ll always remember and likely never experience quite the same way again back at home.
The other aspect to location is simply being somewhere where the wines you love don’t leave the country/area or don’t easily get to where you live. In Rioja, we had marvelous wines from Miguel Merino’s collection, 2004 and 2005 Gran Reservas which were shared with a tiny group in his contemporary yet cozy cellar. In South Africa, we spent an unplanned long rainy afternoon trying all kinds of wines from Glen Carlou overlooking the yellow-splashed fall vineyards. The 2007 Gravel Quarry Cabernet Sauvignon still remains one of my special wines.
In Barolo, Italy, the 2012 Conterno Fantino Ginestra Sori will always be on my list. Overlooking the Barolo hills with the Alps clouding the horizon, this wine was not even bottled yet and we got to taste it. It was love at first taste and not even properly aged yet. That wine is going to be spectacular in its prime and I’ll never get to try it again as it’s not sold here in the United States.
Moment-wise, there was the 2013 Iris Late Harvest Chardonnay consumed while discussing my dream job to run a winery. The 1952 Niepoort Vintage Port I bought when I knew very little about wine but was becoming fascinated. The 2015 Gebruderkauer Secco I had with my dad in the most intimate yet quiet village I’ve ever visited (Bretzenheim, Germany).
The 2007 Anthonij Rupert Western Cape Cabernet Sauvignon I had with the actual winemaker at a Wine Spectator event when I knew I was headed to South Africa for the first time. The 2011 Bradgate Cabernet Merlot I had at the biggest surprise dinner of my life. And, of course, the 1996 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon which was the first wine that put me on the path I travel now in terms of passion for wine education.
If you think about your wines that got away, you'll likely come up with a great memory collage of special times. What wines are on your list of ones that got away?
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