In my early days of exploring wine, I heard regularly that wines don’t really travel well. That seemed rather curious since nearly all of the wines I was experiencing came from far-away vineyards. My mentors explained that contention by explaining that the wines we bought in retail shops had been packed and shipped in temperature-controlled containers by professionals, that the reason they said most wines don’t travel well pertains to people buying them at one site then transporting them by private car or in checked baggage to their home. Some of then argued that wines just wouldn’t taste properly if removed from their native climate to be served with a diet of food combinations with which they were not familiar.
The allegations that wine doesn’t travel well seemed even more curious when I moved to England in 1960 and found my British colleagues passionate about wines from France, especially claret. In spite of their having traveled from Bordeaux or Burgundy, the wines seemed perfectly fine to me. So I began wondering about whether the travel itself affects the wine or the treatment it received during travel was a factor; or is it really true that wine changes when served in an alien environment. Or does the quality of the wine or the grape variety have anything to do with it.
In the late 1960s I began hanging out in the South of France during vacation seasons. There I learned to enjoy pleasant rose wines and light red ones. We used them in our vacation flat overlooking the sea and at cafes on the beaches. We were surrounded by salt air, handsome beach goers, and often serenaded by accordianists singing romantic sea chanteys. When we took those same wines back to our home in the Rhine Valley, where from late fall to early spring we saw very little daylight, experienced a lot of rain and a considerable number of snow flurries, those little wines just didn’t seem the same, not even when we offered them with gently grilled white fish or scallops and Niceoise salads. Perhaps, we thought, it’s really true about wine not travelling well. (That’s when I began paying careful attention to how I handled wine when driving it from the Mediterranean to the Rhine, from the Pacfici to the Ohio.)
Those south to north memories were resurrected yesterday when I poured a 2006 Veraison Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stagecoach Vineyard in Napa Valley. I recalled a pleasant afternoon last September when its producer, Dr. John Krupps, seated us at tables in his vineyards and gave us a tutored tasting of his wines right where his Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot vines intersect. Under the oak trees and a blue sky, each wine surpassed the other in complexity and elegance. It was impossible not to bring a few of them home.
Across the Central Valley, the High Desert, some lofty mountain passes, and the Great Plains we took pains to assure fresh ice in the coolers, checking temperatures before signing into motels and assuring new ice before checking out. The bottles were refrigerated for more than a week and subjected to altitude changes, rough roads, temperatures fluctuating between 100 and 45 degrees Farenheit, desert aridity, and riverside humidity.
Christmas Day, with pride and some apprehension, I poured Dr. Krupps’ most prestigious product. Not much bouquet but plenty of distinct strong fruit flavors, greatly subdued tannins, and fantastic length. In spite of dark clouds and chilly winds outside, the Stagecoach Veraison took me right back to Dr. Krupps and his generous table in the vineyards. We need to redefine the old myth that wine doesn’t travel. His certainly did.