Drinking Down Memory Lane

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - October 06, 2006
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I don’t know if you are like me, but I love it when a wine reminds me of a great experience or a place. It is common knowledge that our sense of smell is closely linked to our memory, but research has shown that our sense of smell is also linked to the emotional center of our brain. Wine actually evokes emotional responses within us, some bad but hopefully mostly good.

Just two days ago I tried a bottle of 2004 Crozes Hermitage from Yann Chave. This wine made 100 percent from syrah immediately transported me back to the Northern Rhone Valley, its birthplace. I remember getting out of the van on one of my wine-tasting tours and stepping onto a rocky driveway next to a vineyard built into a hillside overlooking the swiftly running Rhone River cutting deeper into the rock and sand of the valley floor. The scent of hard rock, granite, dust and cool savory herb-filled fresh air still rings in my brain.

The darkest of black berries cannot hide the essence of earth that sang through the wine. It wasn’t over-layered or covered by any wood smells, just a wonderful purity of place. I remember the cellar with the gravel and dirt ground with the smell of freshly fermented wine. I joked with one of my companions about how we could break away from the group and check out what was in the winemaker’s personal cellar, probably a bunch of Australian Shiraz that he got as gifts but would never drink. (You’d be surprised to find out what wine-geeks think about on our trips.) The emotions are so strong that I’m still giggling about it even as I type these words. We had pizza for dinner that night - I take that back, it was really good pizza around a long table where we kept passing back and forth even more bottles of syrah grown in the hard stone that surrounded us. Good bottles really do have a message in them.

A bottle of 2002 Francois Jobard Meursault ‘En la Barre’ conjured the figure of Monsieur Jobard, the lanky, slightly gaunt and severe but wise apparition, along with his thick and strong hands that easily forced a bung from the barrel and drew the wine with his “thief.” The dirt floor in the cellar, the mold on the walls and all over the oldest corners of bottles stacked in bins that looked like they had never been touched since the day they were laid all came streaming back.

I wanted to ask what was under those layers of mold. I wondered how old they were and what they would taste like after their long sleep in the dark cold. I remember Francois’ son at the behest of his father ran back into the part of the cellar where there was no light and re-appeared with a bottle, not so clean, but not so dirty for us to taste blindly and identify. In the wine I could smell the crumbly limestone earth I walked through in the vineyard and kicked with my shoe, held in my hands as I took pictures of the budding vines. What an enchant-ingly complex agglomeration of smells: citrus, earth, caramel and spices! I guessed it was 1990 Meursault Poruzots. I was wrong, it was the 1989 vintage. Wow! This is great wine. I thought to myself, I’d better buy some of his current vintage wines to see how magnificent they become after many years.

I’ve read some writers describe some of their favorite wines as “compelling.” I often wonder what that wine compels people to do. My favorite wines are the ones that bring out emotions within memories.

May you have as many beautiful emotions in the bottles of wine that you drink as I do. It’s one of the unique experiences that wine offers that almost no other beverage can.

Other emotive wines: 2000 Antinori Tenute Marchese Chianti Classico Riserva ($30). If you’ve ever been to Tuscany, you never forget it. Florence and the countryside all in one bottle.

2005 Champalou Vouvray ($13). What a welcoming and cute family, mother, father and daughter making singular wines from the noble Chenin Blanc grape grown in hard limestone soil - refreshingly real.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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