Time in a Bottle

A vintage is either an expression of a moment in time or an excuse for good-natured wrangling among wine enthusiasts—or both.

February is such a chilly month in many parts of the world that it strikes me as odd for it to be the month that we associate with romance. Maybe its origins lie in snuggling for warmth. Whatever the case, in honor of Valentine’s Day, this issue you’ll find in-depth treatment of some of the classic components of romance—weddings, chocolate and harvest.

Harvest? Romance? Casual wine drinkers sometimes express astonishment to me at how much attention harvest receives in our magazine. In this issue we spend a good ten pages detailing the quirks of weather, hang time, pick date, sun exposure, brix numbers and other arcana in our worldwide harvest report. Our annual vintage chart—the equivalent of a retrospective weather report—takes up two more pages. But true wine enthusiasts get it. The romance—the artistry, if you will—of wine lies in the winemaker’s skill in using what nature has given him or her. The romance of wine is in its global nature, that it’s rooted in the earth, in its history, and being subject to the whims of nature. Harvest is when all of these components come together. For the wine industry, it’s Valentine’s Day in feel, but with a Sadie Hawkins Day pace.

I recently had the honor of attending tastings that were quintessential expressions of vintage. In Napa Valley, a spectacular tasting of Beringer Private Reserve was held to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Beringer, our 2001 American Winery Of The Year. Ed Sbragia has been the winemaker at Beringer for 25 years, and he walked us through each vintage of this landmark wine from its inception year of 1977 into the 90s. Two days prior I had been in Nashville for a vertical tasting of Chateau PĂ©trus ranging back to vintage 1917! It was a privilege to taste the historic vintages of ’29, ’45, ’59, ’61—35 vintages in all.

Two incredible verticals—the best of the Old World and the New World—Beringer, primarily Cabernet Sauvignon; Pétrus, a product of Merlot. I enjoyed comparing notes with the other tasters, arguing good-naturedly over which were showing best and which had faded. Overall, I was amazed at the high quality and intense fruit in most of the older wines from both Napa and Pomerol, and even more impressed, once again, with the twin miracles of successful winemaking over time: the subtle differences from vintage to vintage, coupled with the consistent quality. It tells a story, and it is a look into the past.

That’s the romance of wine, of nature, of the vineyards. And that romance hasn’t gone unnoticed by couples engaged to be married. For the beauty of the vineyards coupled with elegant facilities, wineries are increasingly becoming popular places to hold weddings. In this issue, intrepid associate editor Daryna McKeand has assembled all the information there is to be found on prices, rules and regulations, do’s and don’ts (or is it, “I do’s” and don’ts?), caterers, cakes and much more.

One marriage made in heaven, according to many people, is wine and chocolate. But like many marriages, it’s a tricky business and difficult to generalize about. Managing editor Tim Moriarty reveals the results of his informal poll of winemakers and chocolatiers; he asked these craftsmen on both sides of the aisle to name the wines and other beverages that most successfully pair with chocolate and desserts. (Hint: Port is mentioned more than once.)

In the way that it is made and marketed, Port is perhaps more firmly rooted in tradition than any other beverage. But an enormous change is taking place in that industry, as a new, young generation (young, meaning men and women in their 40s) takes the reins of the great Port houses. In this issue, you’ll find F. Paul Pacult’s report on the people and the issues they face.

When you think Australian white wine, you think Chardonnay, and it makes sense: The Chards Down Under are justly prized. But there are many world-class white wines being made in Oz that also show great varietal character. Read this issue for Tim White’s report.

If the February weather in your part of the world is chilly, you can always let your thoughts drift to wine country, whether California or Italy or France. A romantic imagination and a good bottle of wine can provide all the warmth you need.


Published on February 1, 2002