All too often, tasting wine — no matter how high the ratings climb — has the potential to become a rote exercise. Good wines vary in flavor and aroma profiles, but most critics would admit that good wines also tend to hit the same kind of high marks.
The likelihood of finding a wine that is both surprising — introducing you to a whole new world of flavor — and yet still worthy of high praise is therefore slim. The same goes for restaurants: There are many excellent restaurants around the world with impeccable service, carefully plated food and elegant ambiance, but there are only a handful that push the envelope so much that they produce revelatory experiences.
What’s sad about this fact is in repeating the experience of tasting good but similar wine, we tend to forget that wine can have that kind of powerful impact. Indeed, there are wines out there that stretch the limits and offer what might be termed “expansive experiences,” an opening to new doors and possibilities. But it takes a lot of searching and a bit of luck, because you never know when you’ll find that wine. There’s nothing written on the label that will alert you to its potential and even the loftiest of ratings are no real indication; all you can do is keep “shooting for the moon” and praying the next bottle you uncork is the one you’ll never forget.
Glen and Bob know this experience well; after all, Wine Lines can trace its roots to a steak dinner at which the dynamic duo’s eyes were opened thanks to an impressive pairing. It’s the moment you go “WOW,” and it’s the moment you hope to replicate every time you start to cut the foil and twist in the corkscrew. Maybe, just maybe, it’s this one…
For me, the first and (and only) time this happened was in Copenhagen, at Sune Rosforth’s “Inn Under the Bridge.” It was only my second time at the bar and I didn’t yet know Sune, or that he would eventually play a role in introducing me to several of the Loire Valley’s well-known natural/biodynamic producers.
After a few glasses of a relatively unremarkable but still tasty red, the kind of thing you’d serve at an outdoor meal with friends, I strolled up to order another — what was supposed to be my last drink before heading home. Sune, who by that point knew I was working at Noma and had an interest in wine, was talking to what I figured were a few good friends. They turned out to be vignerons, fresh from France.
One thing led to another, and what started as one glass wound up being three or four. To be honest, I don’t really remember — there was an earthy Chinon that smelled of manure and sweat, there was a humdrum red blend, and there was something else that was clearly irrelevant. It grew late, very late, and I finished the boring wine and sat quiet, listening to the winemakers.
Sune placed another round of glasses on the table and with them, another bottle, one which he had stored under the bar. We opened it and cheers-ed to a night well spent.
I had no idea what I was drinking.
No, it was not Lafite, or Petrus, or Romanee-Conti.
The label said “vin de table.” The taste was miles from it, a slightly oxidized explosion of wildflower honey, Turkish apricots, campfire smoke, dried grass, cedar wood, burnt hay and goat butter. Yes, it was all those things. I smelled and smelled over and over. It couldn’t be right. Smoke and apricots don’t just show up in wine!
Evidently, my surprise was visible enough that Sune and the winemakers started to laugh appreciatively.
“Have you never had a Chenin before?” Sune asked.
Of course, I had had a Chenin Blanc before. But for the most part, the varietal isn’t exceedingly popular in the U.S. And this wine, it was so good, it was so unbelievably special … and Sune’s Danish accent was so thick … no, he mustn’t have said Chenin at all. He must have said something else, some tiny hereto unknown French sub-appellation capable of producing uncommonly delicious wines.
“Can you believe it?” Sune laughed with the winemakers. “He’s never had a Chenin. Do you understand what this means?”
“No,” I replied, taking impossibly small sips of the wine.
“You can never drink Chenin again. You will never drink better.”
And he was right, I probably never will. A surprise is only a surprise the first time.
But that doesn’t mean I won’t try.
P.S., for more information on that very special Chenin Blanc, read the full review here.