A Tale of Two Bottles

Back in June, I traveled to Sonoma for what promised to be an amazing couple days “in the office.” The official business was to drive BMW’s new Alpina B7, the juiced-up version of the new 7-series. That was reason enough to accept the invitation, but the added allure of some seat time at Infineon Raceway and on the scenic roads of Sonoma made it all the more enticing.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip to Sonoma without some wine, and we were treated to hand-selected bottles chosen by the Bovensiepen family’s own wine buyer. In addition to developing super-exclusive BMWs, the Bovensiepens are also in the wine business, running a successful brokerage from Germany. Perfect. The wines chosen for each dinner were as superb as the food and the settings.

When we returned to our rooms, we were met with a half-bottle of a quintessential Sonoma wine and a copy of George Taber’s Judgement of Paris, the book that chronicles the ascension of California wines to the world stage in 1976. I read the book over the summer and after learning about Ridge Vineyards, I persuaded Kelly that we should open the bequeathed half-bottle of their 2004 Lytton Springs red on a perfect late-summer night.

We had reservations about opening a half-bottle. What if it was really good? That’s only a glass each. Our concerns were quickly confirmed, as the wine immediately hooked us. A blend of mostly Zinfandel (79%) with some Petite Sirah (18%) and Carignane (3%), it was unlike anything we had ever tasted. The first sip reminded me of scents of coastal California, with notes of cypress and eucalyptus and salt air. Spicy and earthy, it was like Pebble Beach in a bottle, taking me back to the first time I drove the PCH down to Big Sur.

Knowing we had just one glass to enjoy, we savored it. My nose spent more time in the glass than my lips did on it, taking in big gulps of its aroma followed by small sips. I nursed that glass for close to an hour, and as the dark red liquid dwindled, the flavor intensified. Bits of the must – the remnants of stem and seed – were dancing in the bottom as I reluctantly took my last swig. That was, hands down, the best bottle of California red I had ever experienced. I needed more.

A quick search on the Internet proved the scarcity of the wine. Only one dealer was listed in Chicago, Hart Davis Hart Wine Company. They had exactly two full bottles remaining in stock at thirty bucks each. We hemmed and hawed, not really needing to spend another sixty dollars on wine at the time. A few weeks passed, and I was still haunted by the unique flavor of this wine, and I reluctantly checked the HDH website once again, partly hoping they’d sold the two bottles. To my surprise, they were both still in stock, and the price of each had been reduced five dollars. I took it as a sign and bought both immediately.

For the past month, we’d been waiting for the right moment to crack one and hopefully re-experience the magic. Thanksgiving Day turned out to be the right time; for Kelly and me it was like Christmas morning as we cut the foil, pulled the cork and let it breathe. It didn’t take long to realize it wasn’t going to be the same.

To start, this bottle smelled noticeably more of alcohol. The wine is 14.5% ABV, but the first bottle we drank was nevertheless smooth and mild. This was harsh by comparison, and it lacked all of the spicy notes, earthiness and complexity of the half bottle. There was also a notable lack of particulate in the bottle. Needless to say, we were disappointed.

We still have one bottle left, and we’re hopeful – though admittedly pessimistic – that it will remind us why we fell in love with this wine in the first place. If not, we may be on the hunt for some more half-bottles. Who knows, maybe the magic is in the bottle itself.