I would wager that the most memorable bottle of wine you ever enjoyed wasn’t so much about the wine as it was about where you drank it. An unforgettable bottle, one you will remember until the end of time, is always as much about the where and the who than the actual liquid itself.
A moonlit beach on a tropical island with your favourite (insert man, woman or, whoever) and any wine, just pick one, will forever be locked in your memory bank. Chances are good that a cheap bottle of eau de puit would be your newest most beloved wine if shared over a romantic dinner with, say, Scarlett Johansson (Esquire’s Sexiest Woman Alive), or Adam Levine (People’s Sexiest Man Alive), on a sun-drenched beach in Bora Bora with dazzling white sand and warm azure seas. Oh, yes, sweet dreams are made of this. Pour me another glass of that delicious plonk du plonk!
Conversely, that bottle of Domaine Leroy Musigny Grand Cru becomes merely average, forgettable even, when opened anywhere in the vicinity of the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine and shared with Kim Jong-Un and his pal Dennis Rodman. Yikes.
There is no denying it, place means an awful lot and can turn the wine drinking experience from heavenly to hellish if you are not oh, so very careful.
I will never forget a Mitchell Peppertree Shiraz 1998 from the Clare Valley in Australia that I enjoyed on a wet, cold, windy and otherwise dreary winter’s day Down Under.
In the driving rain I was dropped off at the Mitchell Winery, just another in a long string of Aussie wineries visited over a stretch of 10 days. Andrew Mitchell thankfully suggested skipping the winery tour and heading instead to his family cottage to warm up, drink some wine and chat, which was music to my ears. The rustic yet homey Mitchell cottage is an inviting retreat for a weary traveller. We were met at the door by Andrew’s wife Jane and inside there were lovely aromas wafting from the kitchen. Andrew Mitchell started hauling out bottles of wines and we drank heartily.
The smells were overwhelming as Jane coaxed us to the table where Andrew had found room for another six bottles of wine. Piping hot plates of osso bucco were dropped in front of us. Diving into that glorious dish of lamb put it all into perspective when paired with the Mitchell’s Peppertree Shiraz. At that moment in time, there wasn’t a more perfect place to be or a more perfect bottle of wine to share with new friends who had opened up their home to a tired stranger.
There have been countless other memorable bottle of wines enjoyed over the years — Domaine de la Romanee Conti Romanee Conti 1994 and Screaming Eagle Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 shared with Rush frontman Geddy Lee in the basement of the Chicago Chop House in Calgary come to mind — but one experience looms larger than all the rest.
It was a stinking hot day as our plane touched down on isolated Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia. The sun beat down relentlessly as we were whisked away for the short drive to a waiting fishing boat.
The 38-foot Hot Spot Too,skippered by salty sea veteran Lance Tyley, embarked on a course for the serene waters of Emu Bay. Our mission on this day was reeling in some King George whiting — a long, thin salt-water fish prized for its delicate and tender flesh.
We would not be denied our prize catch. Tyley wasted no time finding the perfect shelf where the whiting could hang out. We filled the ice bucket with plenty of fish that would soon become the perfect grilled lunch paired brilliantly with some of Australia’s finest Rieslings.
With catch in hand, we made our way to the deserted and pristine beach, waves softly crashing along the long sandy beach. A brilliant sunny day, fresh-grilled King George whiting garnished with nothing but fresh-squeezed lemon and chilled bottles of Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling right there on that beach a million miles from anywhere; life does not get much better than that. Memories are made of this.
And so it is with a number of Canadian wine personalities when asked what their most memorable place to enjoy a bottle of wine is. From sharing with interesting people and sipping in exotic locales to a long, hot bubble bath after a hard day’s work, here’s a sampling of their answers.
Lydia Tomek, winemaker at Hernder Estate Wines, Niagara
“I have always had a deep love and appreciation for bubbly because of all the wines out there, they truly arouse you on all five senses. So on those days when I just want to relax, have my mind wander and take in the comforts of being in my own personal special place (my home) I jump into the tub, make it bubble, turn on the chilling music and pop open a bottle of 2002 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. (I open that particular vintage because not only is it yummy but 2002 was milestone year for me, so I collected a few from that vintage to remember and celebrate the great memories of that time.)
“After spoiling myself with a few glasses and soaking in the tub, I’m left feeling euphoric as if all the little bubbles (both from tub and glass) have scrubbed and tickled all my stresses and worries away. By the end of it I get out feeling invigorated, relaxed, and naked in all senses of the word.”
Mike Weir, Masters champion, PGA tour player and founder of Mike Weir Wine Inc, Niagara
“A number of years ago I was golfing in South Africa. My wife and I (Bricia) took one of those African safaris. My choice for the most interesting place to have ever enjoyed a bottle of wine was on that safari in Africa with Bricia while enjoying a bottle of wine from Stellenbosch.”
Sandra Oldfield, winemaker, president and CEO of Tinhorn Creek Winery, Okanagan
“The best place I ever drank, or still drink, a bottle of wine is on a bluff overlooking Bodega Bay in California with a dear friend of mine. High elevation, rolling green hills, on a locals-only road surrounded by pastures. It is a special, almost sacred place to me when shared with this life-long friend of mine. The world melts and finally wine seems like its true purpose has shone through, sharing friendship, real conversation and nature with whatever wine you brought to enjoy.”
Donald Ziradlo, Ziraldo Estate Wines, co-founder of Inniskillin Wines, Niagara
“During each Vinexpo, Count Lur Saluces (then owner of Château d’Yquem who retired in 2004) threw a reception at the Château. I had met the Count at the New York Wine Experience when he came over to the booth and asked to taste Icewine. I have always thought of d’Yquem as the pinnacle of dessert wine.
“He then came to Toronto for a $2,500 a plate charity dinner. The French Ambassador hosted a luncheon that same day to which I was invited and presented the Count with a bottle of Icewine. When the Ambassador apologized for not having Château d’Yquem for the lunch along with a fine collection of French wines, the Count suggested we open the Icewine. I was, of course, very flattered and we became great friends.
“The following Vinexpo I was invited to the Count’s reception at the Château … wow! What an event. He poured 1986 d’Yquem with lemon roll cake. I must admit I drank so much I had a sugar high and, of course, I love ‘sweet.’ My guests Jeffrey Caldeway, label designer and author of Icon, The Art of the Wine Label, and his wife Rhonda from California … were suitably impressed.”
Allison Slute, export manager and certified sommelier, Pillitteri Estates Winery, Niagara
“The best place I ever drank a bottle of wine was at a restaurant called Cin Cin by the Sea in Barbados. It was 2012 and the newly opened Cin Cin was one of the best restaurants on the island. It was a picture perfect day and our table was outside looking out into the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.
“The wine bottle on the table was Pillitteri’s own Gewurztraminer Riesling. A wine I have consumed many, many times before, but to enjoy it in such a remote part of the world and know that I had a hand in getting the wine into the market made each sip all the more refreshing. For me, there are few places and wine memories that come close to the significance of this one.”
Angela Aiello, founder of iYellow Wine Club, Toronto
“My story begins with a romantic Italian trip with my beloved sommelier boyfriend. After many amazing nights in the heart of Tuscany we decided to drive to Naples and enjoy more wine and pizza. After arriving in Naples we planned a getaway to the Island of Capri. My boyfriend had made us a reservation at a Michelin star restaurant, so we woke up early to beat the crowds on the ferry to the island. It was such an amazing day and we still had time to spare before our 1 p.m. reservation, so we were two romantic lovebirds walking to our Michelin star restaurant for an amazing lunch.
“We were slowly climbing north on the island of Capri, up massively huge steps in what seemed like the middle of nowhere with no one else around. By 1:15 pm we were getting hot, hungry and a little anxious. Where was this amazing restaurant that had been recommended to us? My boyfriend asked one of the only people we had seen on this ‘trail’ where the restaurant was, and they replied: ‘Up the steps.’ We continued to walk for an hour, and by this time we were exhausted.
We finally arrived around 2:30 pm to a clearing in the steps where there was traffic. ‘WE ARE HERE,’ I thought! But we were told the restaurant was another 200 steps away. By this time my mood had switched from loving and romantic to exhausted and hungry. ‘200 more steps — are you kidding me?!?!’ I wailed. ‘We’ve been walking for almost 3 hours!!!!!!’
“We finally made those 200 steps but were told we still needed to take a cab — only to be over three hours late, and find out they only serve seafood and I have a serious allergy! So we made the best of it — but the best part, and most memorable wine I’ve ever tried, was the Italian rosé we had while sitting in that restaurant. Not only was it exactly what I was craving to drink, but it was worth every single bit of effort up those 1,000 steps to the restaurant. The priceless view, enjoying three bottles of wine, while looking into my boyfriend’s eyes — it is a memory that is so pressed into my mind I will never ever forget.”
Paul Speck, president of Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery, Niagara
“I was in Hawaii working the market with my agent who had opened up a couple of Icewine stores in the late 1990s in Honolulu. My wife, Melissa, joined me and when the few days of work were over we went to Kauai. It’s not very developed and was used when they filmed the movie Jurassic Park. It has a rain forest on one side and a desert on the other. We rented a timeshare for a few days that looked over the Pacific Ocean. I brought a bottle of 1995 Estate Chardonnay from one of the tastings I had done on the mainland. One evening we sat on the porch and drank the wine and I remember thinking I never thought the Niagara wine business would ever develop the type of international acclaim that would take me to a place like this! It made the wine taste all the better.”
Brad Royale, sommelier, AIWS, wine director Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts, Calgary
“Andre described the new Apple store as we disembarked from our ferry ride from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central in Hong Kong. ‘Who cares?’ I said as we walked by. No reason to care as Andre, Bryan and I were on our way to his office to grab a couple bottles and hit the town.
“We had been in Hong Kong for 45 minutes and the thought of visiting an Apple store was destructive to the game plan at foot … drink a few beautiful bottles of wine and then descend into Hong Kong. Adventure burned at the brain.
“Andre Kok’s office was a cubicle space, situated tightly among lean staircases, tiny elevators, and grippingly narrow grey hallways. A bottle of 1999 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Vosne -Romanée Cuvée Duvault-Blochet was an easy steal and made for a ceremonious first drop.
“Andre quipped there was a back alley restaurant that served stuffed chicken wings that would make a decent, if not overly casual, place for this bottle to meet our tongues. Where do you drink DRC in an alley with chicken wings? In Hong Kong.
“You are almost invisible walking around Hong Kong with bottles of wine; no one cares. Glasses were brought promptly and we opened the wine ourselves. The alley was crowded with wicker chairs, cigarette smoke and neon lights, the smells and sights sticking to our faces.
“The wine was superb, hard at first and then succumbing to the pleasures of being stretched … firm cherries with telltale aristocracy. The chicken wings were delicious.
“The night pursued, things went from clear to fuzzy. Jet lag woke me at nine a.m. A reach for my phone revealed a soggy mess; a misplaced bottle of water had successfully nourished my phone to death.
“Dress was acquired; a walk through the streets and quick ferry ride gave way to the new Apple store where I sheepishly purchased a new phone. Welcome to Hong Kong.”
Terry David Mulligan, Canadian actor, wine crusader and host of Tasting Room Radio, Vancouver
“The most memorable and romantic setting (for drinking a bottle of wine) is hands-down God’s Mountain, just south of Penticton in the Okanagan Valley and above the blue of Skaha Lake.It looks and feels like you’re in Greece or Sicily as you look down on the azure blue lake with a wind that carries scents of sage.
“Food prepared and created by Joy Road Catering at a long, long table and holding perhaps 30 people under a line of what I thought were olive trees and surrounded by vines and a light unlike any other. That’s because at God’s Mountain, the building is made from the same white stucco that you see in all great shots of Greece. “Unforgettable.”