A Love Story

The 'best wine ever' doesn't necessarily hinge on vintage or price — or even taste


At some point, sommeliers, winemakers, and even wine writers are asked: "What's the best wine you've ever had?"

It's a tough question to answer. It seems that every other week I find the new best wine ever.

But the best — and my favorite — answer I ever heard was years ago from an erudite Frenchman from one of the great wine families — a name like Sichel, Hennessey, or Latour, though I no longer recall.

We were at lunch for this scion at the old London Chop House when someone asked the "best wine" question.

Some of us stumbled around; then our guest raised a finger and announced: "I have one."

It seems his parents, wanting their son to have a truly international education, sent him to Harvard Business School in the 1950s. He arrived speaking little English and felt very out of place.

At a social event, he met a beautiful young American student. They went out for coffee, and the attraction grew stronger. She asked him if he would come to New York and meet her family. He agreed.

The student found himself in a lovely apartment off Central Park. His hostess had packed a picnic basket and announced that they would eat in the park. She led him to a perfect spot with just a little privacy and spread a blanket.

From the basket emerged all kinds of very difficult-to-find food items in the 1950s: a pâté de campagne, a baguette, slices of jambon de Paris, croissants, a slice of Camembert cheese — an effort to make a French guy feel at home.

And, Mon Dieu! She had a bottle of wine.

Our storyteller continued: The weather was glorious, and the hormones raged (although propriety was maintained). One package after another emerged. The perfect baguette was broken, the nibble of cheese and ham ingested.

He looked up at the blue sky and wondered how life could possibly be better than this moment.

Then his hostess handed him a glass of wine. He sipped. It was indeed marvelous.

Then he noticed the bottle: Ernest & Julio Gallo Hearty Burgundy with a screw cap — one of the cheapest, most common wines on the American market at the time.

"It was the single best wine I ever had," said the storyteller, explaining he eventually married the picnic-maker, had several children, and went into his family wine business.

The point of the story, he said, is that wine is what you make of it, what you wish it to be at a particular time. It is an enhancement to your day, wherever you are, whatever you are eating.

Any wine can be the signature to an event. It doesn't have to be expensive or a particular vintage or great.

Gallo Hearty Burgundy continued to hold a special place in the storyteller's heart, and he said he often drank it with his wife on special occasions.

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