Wine, it’s inscrutable. When Christina, the founder of Monarch and I first met last year and we got to talking about the wine industry and writing and perhaps, what if I wrote for Monarch, what would I want to write about?
Over many a conversation I relayed to Christina, who has the patience of a saint, that I while I was a columnist and I wrote about cars and watches and those shiny lifestyle things, I wanted to cover wine in a way that was less about the wine itself – which my illustrious fellow writers at this publication, who are some of the world’s foremost experts, will do in a much more in-depth manner – and more about what surrounds wine and to cover what makes a life well lived and why a well lived life is an activity that is worth pursuing.
I know that in writing about those pursuits, that these things don’t need to be fancy or exclusive or priced beyond the pale but certain things – a perfect object, like an inexpensive bottle of wine – can be inclusionary and how scholarship and research into the goods and services we all love, serves a higher purpose.
While I meant this first column to be an introduction to myself, how I covered the automotive and lifestyle industry for almost 20 years for publications large and small, what I wanted to mostly tell is my story that got me into wine and how I went from thinking I knew it all, to now, 19 years and hundreds of bottles later, where I feel I know less and less all the time and how that is a mighty good thing.
For me, like most, it starts with my aha moment about wine, the one that sent me on my personal journey because prior to this specific aha moment, what I thought I knew about wine, all went out the window.
It was November, 2004 and I was in Las Vegas for the SEMA show, the automotive aftermarket industry’s yearly convention and this year was a big one as one of the biggest movies of that past year was Fast and Furious, which, past being prologue, kicked off the tuner car market and started us down the pathway to TEN movies that are all about family.
At the time, I was the editor-in-chief at Yahoo! Autos and thought I knew something about wine because of the rivers of jammy California Cabs and troughs of buttery Chardonnay flowed at every automotive dinner and that my proximity to all of the wine made me somewhat of an expert.
Since I had the chance to travel the world for my job driving cars and the fact that I’d spent time in Europe – quaffing glasses of Burgundy and Bordeaux and touring a few wineries – plus my years of living in the Bay Area, where I got to drink what I thought was ‘The Good Stuff’, all added up to me being an expert.
I was that friend who knew wine. I was insufferable, not just because I would regale my friends with my newfound knowledge, and, as most recent converts do, or the fact that I thought I knew better, which I didn’t. What made me insufferable was how incurious I was. I drank what was in my glass and thought that was the stuff to drink
Years later, my pallet knows somewhat better and my pretentiousness, which has been sanded down as I grew older, stopped getting in the way of other people’s more insightful opinions. I learned to listen and to taste and to spend time asking a lot – and I mean a lot – of questions. This also coincides with my becoming a better writer which I chalk up to one major point, I took myself out of the equation. With writing, I did my research, I asked the questions and I stopped to listen to my subject’s talk and talk, be it about cars or watches or technology or wine. Listening to someone with vast knowledge I learned isn’t a competition of who’s smarter, it’s the opposite. It’s humbling and it’s a gift. I sometimes may disagree with the people I interview for an article, but I now know within those conversations, there are simple truths to be revealed.
That said, there were two clarifying moments that changed my viewpoint on wine and made me think I needed to know more, much, much, more. One on that trip to Vegas and the other, sitting high atop a mountain in Switzerland wearing borrowed pants (which will be a story for a different time).
Firstly, I can’t begin to explain just how important Michael Mina’s restaurant at the Bellagio was in 2004. First opened in 1998 as Aqua, by 2004, Mina’s name had gone global and his eponymously named Vegas restaurant became his flagship. The food, the vibe, the whole Vegasness of the Bellagio was sui generis and launched the modern Las Vegas we know today.
At the end of a long, three hour tasting menu dinner at Michael Mina, where I was the guest of a car manufacturer I have long forgotten, the waiter asked me if I wanted an after dinner drink.
While the rest of the table was drinking whiskey, I wanted to be different and asked to speak to the sommelier, who obliged when I told him I wanted something unusual. A few minutes later, a small glass of gold colored wine appeared in front of me.
I took a sniff and then one more. “Wow.” I said to the Somm.
“Take a sip,” he replied.
I closed my eyes, took a deeper inhale and then a small nip, letting the wine envelop my tongue and mouth. I paused
“Holy fucking shit,” I thought to myself, regaining my composure.
“What is this madness?” I asked.
“It’s a 1996 Château d’Yquem.”
“It’s a Sauternes.”
“It’s amazing.” I replied using the only adjective my sauternes addled brain could come up with.
And that was that.
I asked to see the bottle, took a picture of the label with the one-megapixel camera on my giant Samsung flip phone, asked the Somm a few more questions and then a few more, jotted down some notes in my notebook and, just like that, my wine journey had really started.
Have I gone on to buy as much d’Yquem as I could afford over the years? Yes, I did, but I also asked Somms and wine store employees and anyone who knew about wine, what else should I drink besides an d’Yquem. Thousands of opinions later, I’ve found other delightful sweet Botrytized wines to drink but, as all of you wine lovers know, nothing has ever tasted as good at that one glass those many years before.