I have three distinct memories of such wines. Each is from a region best suited to the variety, and displays the central characteristics of the variety produced from vines grown in that particular piece of ground.
My first such experience happened in January 2006; the wine was a Latcham Winery (El Dorado) 2003 Special Reserve Amador County Barbera ($25). Amador County is well-known as an ideal region for Barbera as well as for its historically famous Zinfandels.
I had discovered this lovely Barbera a year earlier, when on a guided tasting tour of El Dorado County wines with Les Russell, founder of Granite Springs Winery. As partial as I am to the El Dorado Zinfandels, it was Latcham’s Amador County Barbera that stole the show for me that day. With a deep garnet purple color, bewitching aromas of black currants, black berries, plums, and rich spices, together with the big bold, succulent flavors of ripe warm blackberries and dense ripe plums typical of Amador County, yet with soft tannins and a velvety texture unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, it was a wine to set you dreaming.
So I bought a half-case, and in January 2006, took a bottle with me to Victoria, Canada, to celebrate the New Year with a couple of my favorite cousins up there.
A few days after arriving, my Victoria cousins and I drove up island to Qualicum Beach for a visit with another West Coast cousin. Lunch was almost ready when we arrived. While we were standing about in the kitchen that quiet afternoon along the Strait of Georgia, catching up on family and other news, I opened the Barbera, poured it out, and handed it around.
Although it greatly impressed me in the tasting room, I hadn’t tried it since. But before I had a chance to ask “how is it?” conversation had stopped. There was no need to ask how it was. The looks of bliss on my companions’ faces told the story! The wine was gorgeous. It was a wine to savor in silence. And a wine I still dream of.
Because wines that can stop conversation are so rare, when it happens, it reminds one of just how mysterious, almost magical, is the process of turning grapes into wine. So many factors figure in: viticulture practices, crop yield, harvest date, winemaking practices. While these factors through human intervention can be nearly replicated year after year, the effect of weather over the course of the year on the vintage produced from a particular piece of the earth is in Mother Nature’s hands alone.
These mysterious, indefinable, and unpredictable components of each vintage are Mother Nature’s gifts to the magic of wine, and help to explain why each vintage from a great piece of earth will always differ, if only slightly, from every other vintage, and why those conversation-stopping beauties that occasional materialize from great pieces of earth are as elusive and mysterious as the will o’ the wisp . . .to be enjoyed in silence, and replicated only in one’s memory.
Next posting will present conversation-stopping wines II (Madrian) and III (Zinfandel).