In Pursuit Of Wine Happiness 8 min read

Wine has long been a source of inspiration for many, not merely due to its range of palatal properties, but due to its uncanny emotional appeal.


Many pondered and some have ridiculed the cost of drinking the world’s finest wines.


In my experience, it’s simply the price you pay for greatness. Next time someone assures you that you can get just as exciting of a bottle for $40 rather than $400, don’t believe them.


In wine, as in life, you often get what you pay for.


If you want a good bottle of wine, $40, depending on varietal composition will get you there. If you want an experience unlike any other, you have to play the odds in a category prohibitive for most. $400 will not guarantee you an ethereal experience, but it will give you better odds in your pursuit of wine happiness.


Trends come and pricing follows, however nothing worthwhile had really been subject to trends. DRC (Domaine de la Romanee Conti) may fluctuate in auction market but it will never be a bargain, and for a good reason.


Those of us who spend quality time on Planet Wine have had a few epiphanies. My first one occurred in the presence of 1995 Bryant Family, the wine I will never forget, followed by 1997 Marcassin which rearranged my perception of what Pinot Noir can deliver.


With tasting extraordinary wines comes an inevitable conclusion that truly exceptional examples transcend the original source (i.e. grape, varietal, winemaking, time and perception.) Somehow, the confluence produces a result that is more magic than manipulation. An illusion that feels as real as the purple liquid you see in your glass.


One of  my wine life-defining moments came with 1978 Henri Jayer Richebourg out of a Magnum. One of my dining companions, a man who is hardly easily rattled, cried. Another one excused himself to walk around the block to have a solo moment in order to clear his head. Instinctively, all of us knew that this was a special moment, not soon to be forgotten.


As is, I think about it to this day.


It’s human nature to try to replicate the ultimate ecstasies, that are highly allocated by life itself. The rules of the game is that there are no rules. You simply don’t know where your next wine or food high will come from. On numerous occasions I have sat through elaborate, multi-course food and wine pairings prepared by the finest chefs and served by top winemakers and felt grateful, not turned on. Like really great sex, if you knew the precise ingredients that facilitate it, you would never stop having it.


My recent winegasm revealed itself under somewhat unlikely circumstances. Yes, Champagne Krug is a revered house unlike any other in the world, which was amply confirmed by Olivier Krug who brought a stunning line-up to the GourmetFest Festival in Carmel-by-the-Sea.


The thing is, I always thought it would come from a red wine, likely Pinot Noir. I often compare Pinot to a watercolor, versus oil or acrylic that allow you to paint over or blend the flaws, as a Cabernet or other Red blends do. Pinot Noir is pure, and cannot be manipulated post production. Maybe that’s why Pinot folk had always struck me as a different breed of winemakers and wine drinkers.


To put it in proper context, here are some wines which were presented that weekend:


The Domaine de la Romanee Conti Richebourg line-up included:


  • DRC Richebourg 2010
  • DRC Richebourg 2009
  • DRC Richebourg 2006
  • DRC Richebourg 2005
  • DRC Richebourg 2002
  • DRC Richebourg 2001
  • DRC Richebourg 1991
  • DRC Richebourg 1971


The Chateau Cheval Blanc vintage line-up was:


  • Cheval Blanc 2010
  • Cheval Blanc 2005
  • Cheval Blanc 2004
  • Cheval Blanc 2000
  • Cheval Blanc 1998
  • Cheval Blanc 1990
  • Cheval Blanc 1988
  • Cheval Blanc 1986
  • Cheval Blanc 1967


The Krug line-up of Champagnes included:


  • Krug Grande Cuvée (current)
  • Krug Clos d’Ambonnay 1998
  • Krug Clos du Mesnil 2000
  • Krug Vintage 2000
  • Krug Vintage 2003
  • Krug Grande Cuvee (2003 base)
  • Krug Rosé
  • Krug Collection 1989


In terms of background Krug Grande Cuvée is an annually produced blend of well over 100 wines (this year was 124) with grapes sourced from multiple vintages utilizing Pinot, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay from numerous vineyards. In total, over twenty years are required to create a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée, including at least six years during which the bottle sits in the Krug cellars.


Krug Clos d’Ambonnay is a tiny production single vintage wine, and its grapes from a single 0.68-hectare walled plot of Pinot noir in the heart of Ambonnay, a village in France’s Champagne region. Bottles are aged for over twelve years in Krug’s cellars.


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Krug Clos du Mesnil is a single vintage, sourced from a single plot (known as a clos in French) of Chardonnay: a 1.84-hectare vineyard in the centre of Mesnil-sur-Oger, a village in the Champagne region of France. It is kept in Krug’s cellars for over a decade.


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Krug Vintage Composed only of wines from a single year, Krug Vintage sits in Krug’s cellars for at least a decade before release. The 2000 vintage was born of the House’s desire to create a vintage for the last year of the millennium.


Krug Rosé is an annual blend of several different vintages from Krug’s library of 150 reserve wines and a skin-fermented Pinot Noir, and is aged for at least five years.


Krug Collection, an extension of Krug Vintage, consisting of bottles that have been kept in the House’s cellars in Reims for at least ten additional years to allow the development of second-life aromas and flavors. The current offering is Krug Collection 1989.


That is in addition to Maison Joseph Drouhin, Halan Estate, Quintessa,  Weingut Donhoff, Weingut Kunstler, Calera, Flowers, Roar, Pahlmeyer, Lail, Heitz and many, many more. As you can see, this was no ordinary weekend. It was an extraordinary one, the kind that evoked self-envy. To pick one bottling out of this line-up is like the Duggars picking a favorite child. They are all different but all beautiful it their own way.


Beauty is not a standardized notion, and is somewhat subjective but not entirely so. It is often associated with symmetry, balance, harmonious appearance.  It reveals itself in an unmistakable way and had inspired humanity since its inception. I was surrounded by it that weekend, in a form of terrific, glorious wines, thoughtful, impeccably executed food and many amazing personalities, whose paths I would not have crossed had it not been for David Fink who plotted to create an event that was nothing short of epic.


Do I disturb you?- Katya Orlova


So there I was, utterly clueless as to what’s about to happen to my heart and my palate, casually putting my lips to 1998 Clos d’ Ambonnay.


The world has effectively stopped moving at that moment. It wasn’t abrupt, yet palpable, unmistakable, strangely comforting and disturbing all at once. Time and space became a casual if not superfluous commodities. Any tasting note I could have produced would have fallen far short of what I was actually tasting. I didn’t want to merely taste that wine, I wanted to be it…


It was getting close to noon as I reclined on a balcony of a sprawling Chateau, overlooking French countryside. A light breeze was caressing my face and the air was filled with spring in all of its refreshing glory...the perfume emanating from my glass was subtle yet entirely intoxicating...alluring, profoundly seductive filled with floral, creamy, delicate notes, balanced on the palate by superb acidity, laser-like focus and vivid minerality that lingered on for a luscious lifetime... the delicate, golden bubbles reminiscent of the tiniest, perfect caviar spheres were dancing in my sunlit filled glass and an aura of sweet anticipation filled my heart before each sip.


There will always be a B.C. (before Clos) and after, that much was clear. What was not is whether I will ever get to experience the same high. And more importantly what it means to be bestowed an unexpected gift of perfection and ultimate harmony. The bar has been set and it is impossibly high. Will I subconsciously compare every single glass of bubbles to my new Queen of Hearts?


Over the years I asked dozens of prominent winemakers the same question: What is your epiphany wine? The answers always came back different—producers, vintage, circumstances all varied. What was constant was the way they spoke. when the recounted the experience, their demeanor changed. Their voices became softer, their eyes glazed over with that dreamy look when someone is sharing a special, somewhat naughty secret with a stranger. The emotion those wine evoked was clear and present. Like a great book or film, wines can transport your mind and take your emotions to a whole new level. Cheers to that.


Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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