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California 5

Okay, I’ve now spent almost a week in Napa Valley, California, and I’ve learned something about myself. For my entire life, I thought I didn’t really like wine very much. What I’ve discovered is that I really didn’t like cheap wine very much. Let me tell you from a committed bourbon drinker: Try a $200 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and you’ll start to like wine, too.

The Lovely Louise drinks Cabernet. She’s always told me not to spend too much money on a bottle because she can’t tell the difference between a $5 bottle and a $25 bottle. She has now discovered that she can readily tell the difference when the price goes over $50 a bottle, and even more so over $100 a bottle.

We went to a tasting at a lovely little winery called Grgich Hills (yes, it’s really spelled that way). A friend of mine who knows what he’s talking about recommended it, and so off we went, expecting that distinctive vinegary taste we’d grown accustomed to. While neither of us cared much for their white wines, when we got to the Cabernets, Louise’s eyes grew wider with every new bottle that was put in front of us.

I’ll never forget her comment near the end of the tasting: “It’s not fair. First they get you sozzled, and then they ask you if you want to buy their wine. They’re being silly. Of course we do!” After a little paperwork, a case of their best wine was being shipped to our home in Florida, just in time for when we return.

As we headed back to our rented home for the week, Louise started to sober up. She looked at me and asked if we’d just done what she thought we’d just done. Did we really buy a whole case of wine? And we paid how much? With a look of utter horror on her face she announced, “I must call them and cancel it right away.”

When I finally convinced her to just let it go, that we’re not usually extravagant with money and this was a special situation, she reluctantly agreed and then announced, “Okay, I’ll let it go, but when the case arrives, you can’t drink any of it.” So who is going to drink it? “No one. No one is going to drink any of that wine. It’s too good for anyone we know, including us.” Then what are we going to do with a whole case? “I don’t know. Maybe we’ll just have one a year.” I have decided not to let her near my collection of specialty bourbons.

The next day we went to another winery, Castello di Amorosa. Yes, it’s a freaking castle in the middle of the Napa Valley. The wine business must be a good business, because the guy who owns it started in the early 1970s selling homemade wine out of the back of his truck, and a few years ago he built this $46 million castle to serve as his winery. I don’t care who you are, that’s pretty good. Unfortunately, his red wines didn’t live up to our expectations of castle drinking, but his Chardonnay and pinot grigio were excellent, and so another case is headed to Florida.

I drink maybe two or three bottles of wine a year, and so I decided that two cases should last us quite a while, particularly since Louise won’t let me drink any of the first case. And thus ends our excursion into the creme de la creme of Napa Valley wine drinking. I’m still not sure I understand the fruity notes of blackberry and cherries or the earthiness of grapes grown on the western slope of a 1,500-foot hill, or why putting stress on a grapevine increases the intensity of flavor. I would think that a nice, relaxed grapevine would make a much better-tasting wine. I guess that’s why I’m not a winemaker. As soon as I could taste the alcohol, I would pronounce it ready and drinkable, but I probably couldn’t sell it for more than about $1.50 a bottle. I guess the wine business is a business that’s simply not for me.


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