For those of you who have already basked in your epiphany wine experience, allow me to congratulate you. And if you are not sure if you have had it or not, then it most definitely has not happened, as it is unmistakably crystal clear when it does occur. The beauty of the epiphany wine moment is that you never know when that illuminating discovery of the senses will come and knock you off your feet.
My moment came early on in my wine journey, and as it happens would end up leading me into wine as a career. I was living in New York City and going to school for my Master’s in Education while working to put myself through school. I had always been interested in, and enjoyed, wine as part of our Sunday Italian family dinner ritual at my grandparents’ house. Of course, it was usually baskets of Chianti on the table, but on special occasions my grandpa would bust out a bottle of somewhat generic Burgundy—comparatively it was a real treat.
California reds were next; and, boy, were those wines eye opening. All that fruit, oak and alcohol opened a whole new world of flavors and textures. But they still didn’t provide my “holy crap, is this wine phenomenal” moment. That happened at Sparks Steak House in Manhattan where my family was celebrating my dad’s birthday. He was feeling saucy that night and splurged for a bottle of 1986 Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin, which at that point was about 10 years old.
I swirled; I smelled; I sipped. Then I think I passed out for several seconds. But when I came to, the berry fruit flavors combined with the black pepper spice, floral notes and earthy, mushroom undertones lingered unlike anything I had experienced before. And the unwavering creamy texture on the palate is something I have yet to experience again. It literally left me speechless for about a minute, but once I came to and started raving about it, I haven’t stopped since.
“They still didn’t provide my ‘holy crap, is this wine phenomenal’ moment.”
What is this epiphany experience though? It can be an ethereal sniff and sip of wine that mystically opens all your senses to how an incredible wine can smell and taste. All those wine descriptors that you may have heard in the past that probably sounded a little wacky, start to have meaning. The crushed rose petals, the grilled bing cherry, the delicate and harmonious balance of searing acidity and sleek, silky tannins. It’s astonishing when a wine can turn on that sensory light bulb in your head. It’s downright emotional.
It also feeds into the potentially lifelong quest of replicating it. Wine lovers search their whole lives trying to wrap their arms around another epiphany wine experience, but it is easier said than done.
The moment the aha-wine passes your lips it opens your eyes to the intricacies of the universe inside a grape, and you start to question and understand the differences in varietals, regions, terroir, ageing, vintages, winemaking processes and cellaring. It almost forces you into thinking while you’re drinking to decode the mystical experience to determine what you love so much about certain wines and why, and what you don’t enjoy and why not. Yet when it comes to that one wine, the one that lit the fuse, there is no thought on that one. It goes directly on the Janis Joplin theory of enology: “You know you got it, if it makes you feel good.”
This article originally appeared in the February/March 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!