Corkscrew - Memories on the vine

In remembrance of great wines (and times) past

A flavor can evoke a world of memories. When I smell something, I can still recall the exact sensations in my mouth, like the sweet, suntan-lotion coconut-ness of my first perfect piña colada on St. Pete Beach. But most of my flavor memories revolve around wine.

My first wine memory occurred in Switzerland, where I lived for two years after college. I was fortunate enough to date a guy whose family was in the wine business. My first experience with dessert wine — and with wine that had been aged for a long time — originated in a bottle of 1947 Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes. Everyone at the table gawked as La Petite Americaine writhed in bliss, reduced to a salivating Pavlov dog. I never knew aged wine could taste just like roasted green apples tinged with rich caramel, pears and peaches. I quickly became hooked on dessert wines, but given the rarity and expensiveness of the older Yquems, that’s a drug I haven’t tried since.

Then there’s my cheese dealer, Raymond Hook, who set me up with an aged blue cheese from New Zealand and its best friend, Dow’s 10 year-old Tawny Port ($27). I’ve always loved the unctuous, dark fruitiness of port and its affinity for blue cheese. But this time, the two were soul mates shagging on a sultry summer night. Loaded with caramel (I loved Kraft caramel cubes as a kid, so I’m sensitive to its presence), it has a splash of candied orange with a sweet finish that doesn’t end. The salty, sourness of the blue cheese is soothed by the sweetness of the port, creating a flavor memory unmatched since.

When the world was supposed to end on New Year’s Eve 1999, I definitely wanted to end it right, with an empty bottle of expensive champagne firmly attached to my rigid, ash-crusted hand. I was but a youngster at the time, with hardly enough money to afford the Good Stuff, yet somehow managed to convince my boyfriend — who owned a wine shop — to cough up the quality bubbly: La Grande Dame from Veuve Cliquot. And he did. When the smooth, tangerine lemon-lime elegance hit my tongue, my world changed, and I knew why people lay out $150 for certain bottles of champagne. I melted like silly putty on hot cement, swooning from the experience, into the eager arms of my grinning boyfriend.

But the first time I had a Pinot Noir that made me weak in the knees, 2000 Domaine Serene Evanstad Reserve Pinot Noir ($48), the flood of earthy, raspberry and blueberry-laden flavors overwhelmed my sense of Pinot normalcy. I was sitting at an otherwise uneventful wine seminar in Atlanta, drawing on a napkin or something, when Domaine Serene came into my life. The perfect balance of coaxing tannins, elegant, rich fruit and soft acids made me realize that Pinot can be what Miles says it can be ... sex in a bottle.

The perfect dessert pairing can be the best part of a meal. Forget the vegetables and protein, give me chocolate and red Zinfandel and I’ll be the happy one playing quietly by herself in the corner. I once took a bunch of friends to Hawaiian-themed Roy’s, whose decadent Melting Hot Chocolate Soufflé is a regular habit of mine, and the sommelier suggested a glass of EOS Zinfandel to complete the nirvana. EOS is a winery in Paso Robles, where Zinfandel grows up to be big, cherry, raspberry fruit-bombs, thus it’s a perfect partner to semi-sweet chocolate. Yep-a-roo. Roy’s Chocolate Soufflé and EOS Zinfandel, all the clichés apply: two peas in a pod, peanut butter and jelly, sunrise and sunset. Sigh ... .

Flavor memories also abound from the panic situations you find yourself in — like last year’s four hurricane scares in Tampa, where I live. I drank more of my prized bottles in three weeks than I have in three years, but I cherished every moment I spent enjoying them with friends. And that’s what flavor memories are all about, right?