Monday, April 9, 2012

Wine Epiphanies

When I interview candidates for employment at CoolVines, one of the most important questions I ask is “have you ever had a wine epiphany?” I ask them to tell me a story about a moment, a specific moment, when wine became something more than just a beverage to them. There is no wrong answer to this question – except no answer. We’re looking for passionate people, passionate about wine.

I remember mine. I had just graduated from business school and was working as a consultant on my first client assignment – a gloves and slippers company in Secaucus NJ. My colleague was a fun-loving guy from the firm’s Charlotte, NC office. We were knocking the ball out of the park with the client employing some very simple, practical operational practices and feeling like heroes (the bar was very low to start!) and so we felt justified in hitting the City one night a week for a good dinner. I was 26 and knew nothing about wine. My experiences in college, despite going to Cornell with its famed “Wines” course taught in the Hotel Management School, were more about “Hearty Burgundy” than Burgundy.

One night we went to a small Italian restaurant, tucked into a brownstone near the park. It was quiet and very serious. It was the first time I’d ever seen a cheese cart, let alone a sommelier! Although I’m sure we looked like total greenhorns, the waiter was impeccably polite. He walked us through the menu and we made our selections. Then he asked us about wine. He recommended something called a Barolo. I loved the name. It sounded so masculine, yet so poetic (which, now that I think of it, is probably how I love the world to see me!). I’d never heard of it and had no idea what it was; that it was one of the finest wine regions in the world, comparable to (the real) burgundy in its complexity and aging potential. “Sure, that sounds great,” we said with a shrug. I think we paid about $80, which in 1987, and especially for me, was quite a sum for a bottle of wine. When he served it to us, though, I remember sipping it and feeling stunned. I looked over at Kevin and said “oh my god.” “I know” he said. I was transformed. (It’s crazy, my eyes are misting over as I write this!) Suddenly, this stuff, this formerly static liquid in a bottle with fancy labels had become a living creature, filling me with sensation and experience that I’d never known before. That particular wine might not have even been that good. But I do know that it was the first time I’d ever tasted the “layers” of flavor and aroma that make up the most interesting of wines. To this day, it’s what I look for in wines – those layers and layers of flavor that remind me of listening to complex piece of music – Kind of Blue by Miles Davis or Kashmir by Led Zeppelin, it doesn’t matter – when suddenly, one day, after listening to it hundreds of times, you’ll notice the part where Robert Plant holds a note seemingly endlessly, only to realize that it’s no longer his voice, but the synthesized strings that have merged with him and taken over the note…that’s what happens on that 18th sip of an incredible wine.

And after that…there’s no going back.

Mark

If you’ve had a similar experience, we’d love to hear about it. Send us your story, to mark@coolvines.com

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