HOME > Chowhound > Wine >


Your First Ah! Moment -- What bottle turned you into a wine fan?

Which bottle offered that magical sip that turned you from a casual wine drinker to a serious one? For me, it was in a little boutique wine shop in Pasadena. I was a poor college student but I did their wine flights as an alternative to going to the pub. The bottle that turned me into a serious wine drinker was a 1998 Domaine Font de Michelle from Chateauneuf du Pape. It was spicy and smoky and jammy and is still my measuring stick when drinking Rhone varietals. I could only afford one bottle at the time, but I kept seeing it on shelves at other wine shops for a few years afterward. I remember picking it up later (2002 at this point, I think) and it was like being re-introduced to a long lost friend.

So which bottle was it for you?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. In 1976, I was living in Columbia, MO and had just been admitted to law school. I had been interested in wine a little bit, but had just started really educating myself in earnest. On a trip to a local liquor store, I found a case of magnums of '66 DucruBeaucaillou. Remembering that I'd seen it in the lists of Bordeaux crus, I examined furhter. The store, being an offshoot of a large grocery, liked to keep stock turning over, and since these hadn't sold, reduced the price to 17.99 per. I thought I'd take a flyer, even though that was a whole bunch of money to a starving student-to-be. Well, we fixed steaks and I don't remember what else, but that CDB was a revelation. I went back to the store and bought all 5 remaining bottles with my birthday money, and never looked back. We drank the last one in 99 and it was still pretty terrific.

    1. Actually, I had two, within a month of each other. My wine guru, introduced me to a Taylor-Fladgate 20 Year Tawny Port. I though I knew port, and thought that I knew Taylor, but this was different. We’d always bought a gal. of Taylor California Cellars' “port,” to use as a base for our beach party punch, back in my "surfer" days. We’d usually throw in fresh seasonal fruit, a block of ice and add Rum and often soda water. Little did I know that there was Taylor and then there was Taylor [Fladgate & Yeatman]. Same with port. There is port, and then there is Port.

      Within the month, we dined again with her and her hubby, at Victoria & Albert’s, at the Grand Floridian. I was having a Margarita, and she ordered a bottle of Vieux-Château-Certan, Pomerol. Since I had just spent the last few weeks learning all I could about Port, I had to try a glass of this wine. I put the Margarita aside and accepted a glass. It was quite interesting. A few sniffs and swirls and a taste or two indicated that I’d like this. As the conversation went on, and the first few courses cleared, I went back to my glass. It had changed! The black berry notes and smoky oak were now replaced by chocolate and cedar. I nursed that glass of wine all night, and marveled at how it changed in the glass, as the minutes ticked by. At that moment, I was hooked and could never look at a bottle of Lancer's or Mateus Rosé again. My wife still chastises this wonderful lady for creating Dr Frankstein’s monster in me. The moment that we returned from that Florida trip, the cellar was started, and I have never looked back. To this day, it’s still pretty heavy on Port and Bdx. Some years later, my wife *really* introduced me to white wines, which she loves, so at least the cellar is a bit more rounded now.


      1. 1988 Taurino Notarparano - This stuff was very popular with some friends of mine who were into wine back in college. They would purchase cases so their was lots of it around at parties and stuff so I drank quite a bit of it. It was during one of those times that I realized that wine wasn't supposed to be enjoyed like other beverages (i.e. cola, or punch) but that it could be appreciated almost like food is it being dry.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Chinon00

          the "meditation" wine or so it used to describe itself

        2. I was underage. A friend of a friend worked in a Berkely Wine store and had selected some wines for us to taste, probably my first official wine tasting. She poured a Cakebread Chardonnay circa 1980 and it was unlike any wine I had previously drank. And no, I had never tried Ripple or other similar rot. It was clear and clean and so refreshing in how it still stands out in my mind. I vowed then that if I ever had enough to dough to routinely spend such an enormous amount of money on wine (I think the bottle then cost $12), I would certainly stock up on Cakebread!

          1. Several:

            1) A Chalk Hill Chardonnay
            2) An '85 Grahams Port
            3) An 1980's something Caymus Special Selection (86?)
            4) Some early 80's Chilean Cabs
            5) An Amador County Late Harvest Zinfandel
            6) A Guigal Cote Rotie
            7) Some spanish riservas

            these are inspiring early wine experiences I still recall today...

            1. It was Thanksgiving dinner in 1963; my uncle, who owned a wine shop when everyone else owned liquor stores, opened up five bottles of dessert wine: 1937 Erbacher Marcobrunner Trockenbeerenauslese Schloss Schonborn. I was 10, and I remember thinking that this was a lot better than Manischewitz, and wondering -- never mind the swastika on the bottle -- why we couldn't have this on Friday nights. CLEARLY there was something to this wine stuff . . .

              From then on, every time we had dinner at my uncle's house, or he came over to ours, I'd taste the wines and he would tell me about them. In 1969, I went to work for him, and by the time I was 18, I was traveling up to Napa to buy wine for his six stores in the LA area.

              I finally left the wine trade in 2002.

              2 Replies
              1. re: zin1953

                > I finally left the wine trade in 2002.


                You seem to still have a contagious passion for it.

                (No offense taken if you opt not to respond.)

                1. re: ttriche

                  I left for what are primarily medical reasons: after years of stomping on grapes and the like, I needed reconstructive knee surgery on both knees -- I was on crutches for most of two (out of three) years, 2000 and 2002. By the time I was healthy enough to resume working . . . well, let's just say that I'm of "an age" (53) where it's tough to get a job. These days, the wine trade is indeed primarily a young(er) person's profession.

                  You're right, I remain passionate about wine . . . and the trade. But I have to say that the trade itself has changed dramatically in the past 15-20 years. That leaves me with mixed feelings about having left. I guess I miss more the way it WAS, rather than the way it IS.


              2. '82 Chateau Prieure Lichine Margaux... we opened it in 1996... a deep garnet red the color I've never found in another wine. Magic in a glass, truly.

                1 Reply
                1. re: lynnlato

                  I should clarify... that margaux '96 was my first time experiencing a legendary vintage. Prior to that I really only attempted new world stuff.

                2. Such a great thread!

                  It wasn't the bottle...it was the company...

                  A wonderful viognier, brought and shared by a very talented sommelier friend, and I don't even remember whose it was! Made me realize that wine is about so much more than fermented grapes in a bottle...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: tsfirefly

                    agree re company being an influencing factor

                  2. The grapes, wines, and I grew up in California at the same time. I was 18 in 1968 when I had Charles Krug, Mondavi, and a few other cabs from what is now a much more mature wine industry.

                    1. I don't know, but I'm thinkingit was either a 1986 Chateau Talbot or a 1994 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir. The Pinot made me love wine, the Talbot made me realize that I knew nothing about what wine could achieve.

                      1. The first wine that made me stop cold and actually think about what I was drinking was a reserve mondavi cab that we had during xmas in '93. It made that cliche phrase "iron fist in a velvet glove" come to life.

                        More recently, I met a complete stranger who invited my wife and I over to his house for "a drink" with his wife.

                        After recovering from the shock and awe of his cellar, we enjoyed two very fine bottles; one was truly exceptional and probably ranks as the finest wine I've tasted to date.

                        It was a 2000 Sine Qua Non Syrah In Flagrante; perfect balance of power, finesse, complexity, acidity, alcohol and flavor.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: vinosnob

                          I have to say, there wasn't one wine in particular...more so, an experience. I'd been developing an interest in wine, and had been to Tuscany a couple of times. Wine was a part of those trips, but not the focus. Then, I went to Sonoma and stopped by Nalle Winery, and there weren't any other people in the tasting room. We tasted with Doug Nalle and his wife, and being February it was still empty at the winery an hour later, at which point Doug took it upon himself to take us around the Dry Creek area to meet his other winemaker friends. He must have taken us to four or five wineries, where we got to talk directly to the winemakers, drink barrel samples, and learn a ton. That was the defining day for me.

                          1. re: domaine547

                            Agreed, the experiences through wine are magic as your Nalle story shows. My best friend and I were just visiting the owners of Ampelos Cellars (SRH AVA) who we know and we were hoping to take part in the harvest. Unfortunately, the weather the previous week has been cool and slightly rainy in CA and the grapes weren't ready.

                            So, instead of picking grapes, we all hopped into the owners' pick up (along with their 3 dogs) and we drove out to one of their vineyards and ate lunch underneath an oak tree. Literally, the skies opened up and the sun came out, we cracked a delicious rose and viognier and enjoyed each other's company. A great experience indeed.

                        2. A 1971 Riesling Spatlese which I picked up at a local wine store whilst studying in London, England years ago!!

                          1. My moment was not associated with a single bottle, but was more along the lines of a realization of the potential of a great wine. I always considered myself a lover of great food, but the beverage accompaniment was incidental. I was perfectly content to drink mediocre wine, until I did a wine pairing during a dinner at a Danny Meyer restaurant in New York City--Tabla. It was really an eye opener. I was also a grad student at the time and this dinner was during restaurant week in New York, all I could afford at the time--which is a testament to the effectiveness of restaurant week as a marketing tool. It was a revelatory moment to experience how a well matched wine can change the taste of food and vice versa. Now I love to experiment with food and wine pairings, have taken many tasting classes and have begun to create my own cellar. It really adds to the enjoyment of life!

                            1. a bottle of Cyril Henschke's final vintage Cab Sav.

                              I seriously thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

                              I was 27, and had never really had a really good wine before and my ex FIL served it at a dinner party.

                              That's all I remember about it.. have often Goggoled for the year and other notes about it, but all I was told is that it was Cyril's "last vintage"


                              1. i dont drink anymore.. but..For me, I was a very reluctant wine drinker. I really enjoyed spirits a lot more. But the turning point.. (and this was before becoming a chef) was a bottle of Reisling from V. Saturi in the Napa Valley. The staff in the tasting room was so nice to me... they made me felt comfortable as a novice. And they did not make me feel bad when I didnt "get it". Now, I know that dessert wine was probably not really a sophisticated way of getting into wine, but it was... for me, the door that opened my mind. Once I did that, I was able to find more and more wines that suited my tastes.

                                In general, I have always been able to find a variety of wines that I liked by going from winery to winery in Napa and Sonoma. (man I miss the bay area)

                                  1. Several experiences come to mind.

                                    As a very young neophyte, I remember the taste of a Mondavi Fume Blanc. I know. But still. It tasted so clean and fresh to my young, undeveloped palate... I thought... geez, this actually tastes GOOD.

                                    Later on, I remember visiting the Gainey winery in Santa Ynez and tasting both their Sauvignon Blanc and the Reisling and thinking... the same guy made both of these? Wow... this is very interesting.

                                    Later on in life I had several region specific epiphanies...

                                    My first really great aged Bordeaux from a "great" vintage - 1982 Haut Brion - I could not believe it. Wow.

                                    Burgundy - 1985 DRC Grand Eschezeaux, 1955 Richebourg - both in the same night. Was a Burgundy neophyte at that time and I kind of rue the day that the Burg bit me... countless thousands have been spent and will be now... if you value your dollars, stay away from the Burgs... they are worse than drugs... but when you hit one, Oh. My. God.

                                    Italian - 1988 Ornellaia Masseto - Could not believe Merlot could taste this good. Even with prior Petrus experiences. Holy schmoly.

                                    Waiting for my next 'great moment'.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: woojink

                                      I'm curious when you drank the '82 Haut Brion... I first tried it very young (prolly around 1989)... did a vertical of 82-83-85 and 86 HB and La Mission HB... they were all locked up at the time, nothing but gravel and tannin...

                                      1. re: Chicago Mike

                                        This would have been about 10 years after you tried it... '98 or '99.

                                        Another HUGE epiphanic Bordeaux moment was the first time I had the '89 Haut Brion. Wow. Double Wow. Needed a prolonged decant, as it was around 2002, but to see/taste it evolve with air and get good. Holy Schmoly.

                                    2. a Gigondas, about 20 years ago, with lunch. don't recall the producer or vinatge, those things were well beyond me at the time.

                                      1. I was always a white drinker until I had a Cakebread Cab, don't remember the year, with a prime NY steak at my then home in Edina, Mn. I have since never left the reds. That was 30 years ago.

                                        1. 1990 Laurel Glen Counterpoint Cabernet Sauvignon

                                            1. For me, it worked the other way. I wanted to like wine but couldn't find any I liked. In early 2002 I was in the Mondavi tasting room after a tour and I tried a $120 cabernet sauvignon. I didn't like it. I realized then that I didn't like cabernet sauvignon. I started trying other wines and found a lot I liked.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: SteveTimko

                                                Could you share a few that you found that you liked with us?


                                              2. I always loved the wine my father kept at home. I think it was, G&D Barbarone. He got it by the gallon back in New Jersey some 50 years ago. The bottle that really that really floored me was a 1995 Turley Zinfandel Black-Sears Vineyard Howell Mountain.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: 2top

                                                  I LOVE the Turley Black Sears. It was one of my "a-ha!" Zins.

                                                2. A 1997 Justification by Justin winery in Paso Robles. I'm still chasing that dragon.

                                                  1. I had already done a few sessions with the wine club at university, and we had had some very good wines, but...It was Christmas dinner 1988 or 1989. My mother had prepared a leg of lamb. I opened a 1973 Rioja; unfortunately, I forget the producer, but have the label somewhere (I'll post it if I can find it). This was before Spain started exercising some strictness about quality, but the perfume rising off this thing was by itself intoxicating - extraodinary 'dark' scents of leather, tobacco, bitter chocolate, but with lilac(?). I hadn't even tasted it yet and (I swear) I started to tear up. Then I started laughing. In the mouth the tannins were silken, the balance perfect. In retrospect, I recognise it as having been so resolutely old school, I wonder whether its like could be had again. I had really enjoyed wine before that, but that was the first time I lost my senses over one. It was like first love.

                                                    1. I began learning about wine and buying the occasional reputable bottle in the early eighties. Eventually I attended the local enological society’s international wine fair and had a taste of the 1983 Ch. Palmer (Margaux – Bordeaux). I found the fabulous subtle complexity of that wine endlessly fascinating. It's been a touchstone for me ever since. The final wine I sampled that evening was the 1967 Ch. d’Yquem. I didn’t want to swallow it; I wanted to leave it in my mouth FOREVER. I’ve had many superlative wine experiences since, but that evening made me a fan, through and through.