Return with me now to my clueless twenties. Newly divorced and raising my daughter alone, we would eat at home 29 days out of 30… or 30 out of 31 each month. (In February, we might not eat out at all.)
But once a month, we would treat ourselves to a meal at a restaurant, where someone else would do the cooking and the dishes. More often than not, we’d head for the local Sizzler steakhouse.
There, I could feed both of us for under $15. She would get something off the kids’ menu, while I would order the salad bar and, for a special treat, a glass of “Chablis.”
I knew nothing about wine at the time. Less than nothing, really, because, as I would find out in later years, that “Chablis” wasn’t from the Chablis appellation of France. It was a white wine blend made from less than “noble” grapes grown primarily in California’s red-hot Central Valley — a blend I’d later find out was known in wine circles as “plonk.”
But, to me, it was cold and refreshing, and it took just a little bit of the edge off. So I was fine with it. I’d even order a glass of “Chablis” on those rare occasions when I’d opt for a sirloin steak instead of the salad bar.
It wasn’t until a few years later, while on a “press junket” in another industry, that I discovered just how bad the wine I’d been drinking was. Our group was taken out to dinner at a Yugoslavian restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area and told to order anything we wanted — including from the wine list.
Nobody at my table knew anything about wine, so we basically opened the wine list book to a random page, closed our eyes, and pointed at one of the listings.
And that is how the Three Palms Vineyard Merlot from Duckhorn Vineyards became my “epiphany wine.” I recognized immediately that there was something different about this wine. Different… in a good wine.
Now, had that bottle we’d selected at random been a big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux or Barolo, assaulting my senses rather than dazzling them perhaps I would have gone right back to that non-Chablis “Chablis” I’d been drinking. But this wine was smooth, packed with sweet fruit flavor, and absolutely perfect with the steak I’d ordered.
My love affair with wine had been ignited. There was no turning back. I was hooked.
That bottle of Duckhorn Vineyards “Three Palms” Merlot changed my life, and I have enjoyed virtually every vintage since. It has become quite expensive, but I think of it as a present to myself, and then it’s okay. Hey, I’m worth it!
If you’re just getting wine, or if you have a friend with whom you’d like to share your enthusiasm, there is no better red wine for opening their eyes… and their palates… than Merlot — preferably a bottling from California or, even better, from California’s Napa Valley.
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Tomorrow: “Breaking news” about Duckhorn and the vineyard that made its Merlot famous — and my “epiphany wine.”