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Why We Cling To First Wine Memories

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Apr 8, 2009 12:57pm ET

There’s an explanation for why we are so cognizant of the first wine that changed our lives--our first wine "a-ha" moment (which was also the subject of a recent Wine Spectator video).

I'm asked this question as often as any other (the answer: Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet 1968). A close runner-up query is what is my all time favorite wine, for which I don't have an answer. There have simply been too many great wines and wine experiences to single out one.

I'd like to read about your life-altering wine moments. The theory of why we cling to those long-lasting memory moments is what brain specialists refer to as "first in, last out." That is, the things that we learn the first, or earliest in life, often stay with us the longest. I’m not entirely sure about that. But considering the staying power of the "firsts" in our lives – childhood friends, homes, pets, your parents, your first bike or even your first date or first speeding ticket -- it certainly seems that the hypothesis has some merit.

With wine, that "first in" experience is often the one we cling to the longest, since it usually brings with it fond memories and a powerful link to the past.

Jay J Cooke
Ripon CA —  April 8, 2009 3:15pm ET
Without a doubt, the 1976 Jordan was a special wine to remember. The wine was great,very accessible & went with almost any type of food. Our daughters first taste of wine was the 1976 Jordan & to this day she prefers Jordan over any other wine. James, you once called it a Pinot diguised as a Cab. Perfect description of a very special wine to our family.
Bruce Edwards
Fredericksburg, Tx —  April 8, 2009 3:25pm ET
James:My AHA moment was in 1976,77,or 78 I can't remember which, but it was Drouhin La Montrechet (sp). I'm a red drinker, but that wine has been indelible in my taste and mind ever since.Bruce EdwardsFredericksburg, Tx
Jim Gallagher
Jim Gallagher —  April 8, 2009 4:12pm ET
I also have a very strong memory of my first tasting of the 1968 Heitz 'Martha's Vineyard' Cabernet Sauvignon. It was at the celebration of Carolyn Richmond's doctoral degree. Despite serious oral impairment, full mouth Periodontal surgery, the bouquet and flavors showed a magnificient wine. I remain in debt to Jim Olsen for providing that bottle and first experience with Heitz's Martha's Vineyard.
Frank L Hugus
Danville, CA —  April 8, 2009 5:00pm ET
All our friends know this story but you're new meat! It was '99 at Le Petit Zinc in Paris and I, a confirmed beer drinker, decided to taste a little of my wife's Bourgogne Pinot from Beaune. It was an epiphany! Maybe because it was our 30th anniversary or maybe it was just Paris but I've been drinking good wine ever since and I'll never forget that first time. Thanks for the opportunity to share.
Amy Gardner
Sacramento, CA —  April 8, 2009 8:36pm ET
Ok, I've just written down and erased three AHA moments--all being better than the last. Sentimentally, it was the glass of champagne at my wedding, smuggled in by my future sister-in-law. What a celebratory wine. Champagne continues to be my aha moment--big days and regular days.
James Rego
Redding, Ca., Shasta County —  April 8, 2009 8:39pm ET
That wine was the first great Cabernet and, for that matter, wine, that I had ever drank (early Seventies). It has to share the stage with a Chambolle Musigny that I drank a couple of years later, but it remains a benchmark Cabernet for me. Thanks for the memory!
Jason Carey
willow, ny usa —  April 8, 2009 9:05pm ET
It was (1970's) and got my hands on a wine from someplace called the Winemaster's Guild or something like that.. it was a red zinfandel and wow.. I must admit I had taken a day off school and took it on a hike.. anyhow it was amazing.. the other one was a 1978 Martha's Vineyard drank at thanksgiving 1983 maybe. and That really really blew me away. I do remember thinking wow, 20 dollars for a bottle of wine,, how can wine cost this much?. But when I opened it.. WOW! 20 bucks.. oh well. how times change.
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  April 9, 2009 12:06am ET
A while after I started drinking some finer wines, I was offered a glass of the 1982 Pichon Lalande. I must have smelled it for five minutes before I would even taste it. Two later big wows were the 1966 Haut Brion and (probably a bit odd to some) the 2000 Argiano Solengo I tasted in the cellar at Argiano.
Tom Carney
Barrington, IL —  April 9, 2009 11:02am ET
I have 2 moments. 1985 Napa Silver Oak. It was like a whole new world opened to me. 1989 Haut Brion. Hailey Idaho. Maybe it was the altitude but that may have put me over the wine edge. It was like playing golf at Pebble Beach. Other places can be great but it never is quite the same.
Dan Perlman
Buenos Aires —  April 9, 2009 1:20pm ET
A side by side tasting of 1976 Cos d'Estournel and 1975 Lafite-Rothschild at a little wine shop in Greenwich Village that was trying to sell their last couple of cases of each in the mid-80s
Brian Peters
Broomfield, CO —  April 9, 2009 3:48pm ET
Spring of 1999 on a business trip to Paris...my wine taste was limited to the occasional glass of champagne...stopped at a Nicolas wine bar/store near L'Opera with a co-worker...tasted about 5 or 6 different French wines and I was hooked...the one that got me was a 1995 Chateau Leoville Barton...still one of my favorite wines.
Jim Mcclure
DFW, Texas —  April 9, 2009 9:26pm ET
2000 Rust en Vrede Estate. It was New Year's dinner with my girlfriend of the time. Neither of us knew anything about wines, other than we liked it and enjoyed picking out (mostly $10 or under bottles with entertaining labels) bottles at the store. It was a nice dinner, we picked the wine based on never having heard of wines from South Africa, and the fact that one of my parents' dogs was named Rusty. It was the first time I'd ever tasted the depth and complexity, richness and smoothness possible in a glass. The girl didn't last, but a love and passion for wines was born. Your post spurred me to open one of my last bottles of this wine tonight, and though it's time is short it's influence is not.
Dan Murphy
Tampa, FL —  April 10, 2009 9:49am ET
I have one definitive "aha" moment, dating back to the Millennium New Years Eve, 12/31/99. I had read in the Wine Spectator about this great little Pinot Noir producer called Williams Selyem, and had then managed to secure a bottle of the 1997 Olivet Lane vineyard, the last vintage made by Burt Williams himself. The experience was astounding; the wine proved to be stunningly complex and lively and fascinating and just so damn good. I wouldn't have believed it was possible to enjoy something that much and have it still be both legal and moral. That one bottle successfully jerked my eyes wide open to behold just how compelling a great wine could truly be. Now I spend my days chasing after smaller versions of that same "aha" moment, and happily finding them on a regular basis. But hey, you always remember your first time, as they say.
Michael Homula
Howell, MI —  April 10, 2009 4:38pm ET
I have mentioned it in other places here on WS but the wine that shook the very ground I walked on was the 1986 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.

It was Fall of 1994 and I was a young 24 year old professional who was just starting to explore wine. I had yet to have anything all that great when a colleague of mine asked me to join him with this bottle. I can still remember the indelible nose of dark berries, currant and spice and a palate of the same with some plum and cedar. It was simply incredible and I can remember it today as though I just tasted it.

This was the wine that made me realize how much I had been missing in wine and how much more needed to taste and learn. It was as if the universe opend itself up for those few minutes and revealed to me things I could never have understood before partaking of this elegant and beautiful cabernet sauvignon.

I will never forget that day, that wine or Robert Mondavi.
Russell Quong
Sunnyvale, CA —  April 10, 2009 10:03pm ET
Funny how almost of these are very nice bottles of wine. My aha wine was the 1987 (?) Napa Ridge Cabernet for $5 at the local grocery store. I wasn't that into wines, but friends would order this consistently and several months later I realized I would hanker for the taste of this wine. Its memory still defines what Cabernet should "really" taste like to me and I still regard it as the king of the varietals.
Denise Lowe
Burbank, CA —  June 11, 2009 12:40pm ET
I started drinking wine in the '70's - back in the days of Taylor Lake Country Red and Reunite Lambrusco, but my friend, Walter, who managed a "State Store" in PA, brought me a bottle of Ruffino Reserva Classico as a birthday present. The year of the gift was probably '81 or '82; I don't know what the vintage was. The bottle cost $10 - and that was big bucks for a Chianti or any wine that I was buying at that time. It was different from any wine I had drunk previously, and it was life-changing. Thanks, Walter!

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