Please indulge me while I share parts of two separate conversations I heard recently.
I wonder how many of us can relate to these stories and perhaps have similar stories of our own?
The first was from an acquaintance who took a late-fall trip to Napa Valley.
He and his wife, both discerning wine people with an appreciation for California-style wines, were visiting friends in the valley and were introduced to a winemaker who owns a small, boutique-style winery.
During that initial conversation, the three quickly bonded and the winemaker mentioned how excited he was to meet young wine devotees who shared his vision of wine and winemaking.
Soon, he was inviting his new friends to visit his winery, which normally isn't open to the public.
During a late lunch after touring his vineyards and winery, the winemaker graciously opened a couple of bottles from his personal library.
No sales pitch, no pressure, simply a gesture of friendship at our friends' interest.
The wine, said my friend, "was a Cabernet (Sauvignon) and was simply stunning."
Not surprisingly, at least to me, our well-funded friends brought a couple of these bottles back home to Colorado.
The second conversation, similar but with its roots 6,000 miles away, began when another acquaintance, this one a wine importer from Denver, remarked how he had met "too many to count, maybe hundreds of" winemakers and their representatives while attending a weeklong wine festival in Verona, Italy.
"Almost everyone implored me to visit their winery and hear their story," this friend recalled. "They all want to be part of the American wine market and are eager for any American, especially if he's a distributor or importer, to taste their wines."
I'll add that this is something nearly every American who shows promise (i.e. capable of building a brand name and/or American market) hears during these large European wine fairs.
So my friend, an impulsive sort with a few days free after the wine festival, decided to take advantage of a couple of invitations.
"I saw some amazing estates in Tuscany and some tiny places where one family did all the work," he said. "And mostly I tasted the same wines there that I tasted in Verona."
While sharing lunches and dinners in out-of-way bistros and private homes, he also got an insider's peek at how Italians view their wines and their role in the everyday life.
He gladly paid the extra baggage fees on the way home after being gifted a few bottles of Sangiovese-based Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Here is where our stories converge.
Both men said that after arriving home, they invited over some friends to share the wines and hear their stories.
And both, unknowingly but in similar words, told how the wines showed well, but something was missing.
"It's not that the wines were less than great, they just weren't that great, not like I remember," one said.
"Everyone said nice things about the wine and were entertained to hear about how the winemaker's grandfather had saved his wine from the Germans during World War II by hiding it under the stable," said the other. "But to me, it just wasn't the same wine."
I was fortunate to taste both wines and both were way above what I normally drink. So it probably wasn't the wines that were lacking.
It was, both men affirmed, the experience of being there that made these wines most memorable.
Seeing the vineyards, walking through the cellars, listening to the wine as it aged in the barrels, sharing a man's or a family's story — that, in great part, is what makes an unforgettable wine.
Fortunately, both of these men realized that and neither was in any way disappointed by the wines.
"It's always expectations versus reality," one mused. "I know it won't be the same once I get home, but I want so much to share the experience."
Today, social media (and extra baggage fees) allow us to share, from a distance both special and temporal, some of that experience.
Still, it's but a tantalizing taste of what wines are, what they can be and what they mean to the people who make them.
Being there is best
Seeing the vineyards, walking through the cellars,
listening to the wine as it aged in the barrels, sharing
a story… that's what makes an unforgettable wine