Most of us can recall the wine and even the moment or situation when we tasted a wine that changed our perception and appreciation for the world’s greatest beverage.
For me it was a close encounter with a 1968 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet. I’d been drinking wine for a couple of years and one day visited the Heitz Cellar tasting room in St. Helena, where the host poured the new releases, including the 1968 Heitz Napa Valley Cabernet, followed by the ’68 Martha’s. The differences between the two Cabernets – the dimension, richness, complexity and distinctive minty currant personality of Martha’s – could not have been more profound.
I’m also interested in wines that -- for lack of a better phrase -- changed the wine world. Whether or not they were the first of their kind, or truly unique, matters less in this exercise than the impact they had on either the market, or consumers.
Whoever “invented” Champagne is a perfect example, as is whoever created the first port or Vintage Port. The who is less important than how it influenced the wine industry.
Piero Antinori’s Tignanello added Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon to Tuscany’s anchor grape, Sangiovese, and effectively helped usher in the era of Super Tuscans reds. Antinori’s break with tradition and the elevation of quality of Tuscan-grown wines elevated our perception and appreciation of all Italian wines.
It’s easier for me to identify the modern milestones. Most old-world wines evolved over time, whereas most contemporary pioneering efforts are easier to identify.
Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel created a new category of “pink” or “blush” wines.
Penfolds Grange, or Grange Hermitage, set a new quality standard for Australian Shiraz.
Blue Nun popularized Riesling, as did Georges Duboeuf with Beaujolais.
Randy Dunn gave Howell Mountain Cabernet an identity.
Turley reinvigorated and buffed up Napa Zinfandel by using single vineyards.
Robert Mondavi shone a light on Fumé Blanc.
Hanzell broke ground in Sonoma with Burgundian-inspired Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Pesquera introduced us to Ribera del Duero and Tempranillo.
Mas de Daumas Gassac gave Languedoc a buzz.
Phelps Insignia ignored varietal identification.
Glen Ellen Proprietor's Reserve wines created “fighting varietals.”
That’s just a start. I’m thinking of additions and hoping you have a few.