You haven't had your favorite wine yet
My wine obsession has been building slowly for a decade, but it only came to form recently. Sure, I drank it earlier in life—like when I played kings cup with a $5 bottle of tawny port in college or slammed shiners from Poggibonsi on the steps of Piazza San Lorenzo during a year abroad with Dusty—but it was just a drink. I didn't know or care anything about it. In fact, I knew so little that my dad had me convinced the reason you smell cherries in a wine is because they put cherries in it.
But for some reason, I was the guy people asked to pick the bottle at restaurants. Until I met my wife, Kendall.
Our first date was at a tiny wine bar in Redlands (where we live today) called The Dregs (which, unfortunately, is no more). She was born in St. Helena to parents who go back generations in Napa. A drive down Silverado Trail with her dad is a history lesson—any petit chateau or domaine you pass has his brushstrokes as an artisan painter all over it. Her grandma has—so I'm told—a sizable, hidden collection of Beaulieu from the 70s which she and her husband bought for a few bucks a bottle at the tasting room.
Before we started dating, I'd never been as far north as San Francisco (we met in school in Southern California), so we visited wineries up valley to get to know one another. She introduced me to friends managing wine clubs or pouring in tasting rooms. We went on cave tours and barrel tastings with her mom. I still had no idea what I was drinking, but I was developing a taste for big wines. The 2012 Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon was the best I thought I'd ever have.
When we moved in together and combined our books, I was drawn to the titles in her library. Wine Tasting in California. Secrets of the Sommelier. Our apartment was in Los Gatos at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and I would spend weekends casually reading and buying up as much local wine as I could afford, not yet appreciating how fortunate we were to live in one of America's great wine regions. I even remember visiting Testa Rosa Winery and being disappointed they only had Pinots and Chardonnays. How could they survive without any serious wine? I'd made up my mind about what I was looking for.
Mt. Eden helped set me straight. Drinking their Cabernet Sauvignon from 2012 was like feeling for the first time the truth behind a cliché: Wine isn't just a drink. That bottle took the top spot on my list until the cliché was made undeniably true after taking the winding Montebello Road up to Ridge Vineyards and beginning a lifelong love affair with mister Paul Draper's work in wine.
Kendall and I moved back down to Southern California because we knew there wasn't a better place to live than the town we fell in love in. It also happens to be where Dusty and my brother live.
Redlands has proven to be the best place to kickstart an obsession with wine for a few reasons: No one has an outsized opinion, everyone's been down to drink just about anything, and liking a particular kind of wine does not mean you can't enjoy others. Selecting according to Robert Parker's palate on Friday does not mean you can't enjoy a Gravner on Saturday. Once, for an entire month of summer, Dusty opened bottles of mid-nineties Sonoma Cabs he got at an estate sale (they were all busted...almost). The next month we drank nothing but cheap Grüner Veltliner and Vihno Verde. For a while, Kendall and I only had grower producer Champagnes in the house, then later had to have a serious discussion about who was going to call to cancel what had become an untenable number of wine club memberships. Having a favorite bottle of wine has become a quaint idea. How could we possibly stop drinking new ones long enough to rank them?
John Bonné has written that one should "drink the rainbow," which I love. While there is purpose and real beauty in the intentions of many wine movements that insist that a wine is one thing or another, the sense of discovery has become the truly obsession-worthy part about wine for me, and I've been lucky enough to be introduced to wine and drink with people who are far from dogmatic. My favorite bottle will always be the one we're about to drink together.