Gallery: Ask a Sommelier: What's The Greatest Wine You've Ever Tried?

The Burgundy Revelation
The Burgundy Revelation

"Sometime after being entrusted to buy wine for a well-regarded restaurant, I admitted to an older, well-seasoned gentlemen that I didn't really get Burgundy, it hadn't clicked and that frustrated me. He sagely looked me in the eye and told me one day I would understand. And then the day came, and I did. I get why people chase that dragon. The few sips of the Grand Cru have nearly moved me to tears. They have a profound sense/memory thing—the whole experience could sound corny here so I will refrain from sharing—but I get it in a really personal way." — Star Black (Olympic Provisions)

 
A Goodbye Gift
A Goodbye Gift

"I should probably say something crazy fancy, but the greatest one to me was 05 Coche Dury 'Perrières' Meursault. I shared this bottle with my mentor Michael Madrigale on New Year’s Eve at Bar Boulud in NYC. After working there with Michael for some time, I was leaving the nest and heading west to San Francisco. It was kind of like a going away/celebration present and darn was it delicious!" — Josiah Baldivino (Michael Mina)

 
Aged Bordeaux
Aged Bordeaux

"It was my first year at Crystal Springs Resort, and it was the 4th Annual Wine & Food Festival. Gene Mulvihill, the late owner, hosted a 'Secrets of the Wine Cellar' seminar. We opened up four bottles of special and rare wines, unbeknownst to the guests. They were all amazing, but before I opened up the rest of the wines I tasted a pour from the 1955 La Mission Haut-Brion and I just stopped. If this were a movie, the corkscrew would have fallen from my hands to the floors in slow motion. I thought, 'This is what it’s all about. This is what everyone is always talking about!' It was this beautifully aged Bordeaux, packed with so much flavor my palate could barely function afterwards. Old leather from your favorite pair of shoes, some tobacco, stone, blackberry. It will remain with me for the rest of my life. My only regret is that I couldn’t enjoy more of it, over dinner, with some great friends." — Samantha Shaw (Crystal Springs Resort)

Wine is 95% Emotion
Wine is 95% Emotion

"I've had wines that are empirically great, and I've had wines that I think are great. I think the most renowned wine I've ever had was a DRC La Tâche at IPNC a few years ago. It was late in the evening and everyone at our table was pretty drunk. I remember it being good... but I really wish I had been sober when I tasted it.

I had a 1961 López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Blanco when I was in La Rioja a few years back. It changed me—I became a junkie for aged white wines after that. The Jura in France reinforced this...tasting vin jaune, drawn via thief from under the flor yeast—absolutely monumental. 

However, tasting one of my dear friend's Pinot Blanc, his first wine, makes my heart swell every time I drink it...or tasting my sister-friend's Pinot Noir, especially from the vintage I worked for her, it does something to me that is bigger than the words Domaine Romanée-Conti. Wine is 95% emotion for me, and the wines made by a friend or tied to an event or a place I'm holding dear, those are the wines that I consider the greatest." — Brianne Day (Riffle NW)

A Champagne Moment
A Champagne Moment

"I’ve been lucky enough in my time to enjoy many ‘great’ wines. Wines well beyond anything that I could personally ever afford to buy myself. Wines that are written about in books and go down as legend. For me personally though, the most memorable glass of wine that I’ve ever had was Vilmart ‘Grand Cellier’ NV. It was what I drank on the night that I proposed to my wife." — Dustin Wilson (Eleven Madison Park)

Australian Greatness
Australian Greatness

"The greatest wine I ever tried was a 1907 Muscat from Yalumba. At the time I tasted it in 2006, I was the proprietor of a restaurant in Vancouver called Rare. We were hosting a Yalumba Library Tasting, the first of its kind in Canada. It was the color of cola and tasted of raisins dusted with sugar. To be able to taste something that old wasn’t so much about the flavor as it was the history that had taken place since those grapes were picked and put in a bottle—for example, the Titanic hadn’t been built yet and the First World War was still seven years away." — Tim Keller (TAO Asian Bistro, LAVO Italian Restaurant)

A Winemaker's First Vintage
A Winemaker's First Vintage

"1995 Raveneau 'Butteaux' Chablis. I’m not going to say I haven’t had better stand-alone wine experiences but popping this at the Domaine with Bernard Raveneau was pretty special. It was his first vintage as a winemaker and meant a lot to him and us to open that bottle." — Brian McClintic MS (Les Marchands Wine Bar and Merchant)

I Still Remember
I Still Remember

"I spent my 30th birthday in Burgundy with a friend and we ate at a nice restaurant in the middle of Beaune and drank a Raveneau Chablis from 1985. It was fresh and lively still, like it had just been bottled. The moment is still fresh in my mind, I can still taste that bottle. I think wine often acts as a conduit to memory that way. We remember people, places, narratives and these remarkable wines serve almost as a backdrop for the context of those moments." — Dan Beekley (Remedy Wine Bar, CorksCru)

A Flight in Italy
A Flight in Italy

"For our honeymoon we spent about a month in Italy. On our first night in Alba we ate at a restaurant called Li Libera with the winemaker from Cavallotto who just won the Tre Bicchieri Award for his wine, so I wouldn't say it was just one wine, it was the 9-vintage flight of Barolo from Cavallotto that we had. Just the richness and almost dirtiness of the Barolo started my love affair with Italian wines." — Stormee Wills (Restaurant Beck)

Context Matters
Context Matters

"Tough one. What is great? I'll give an example: Just recently I was in Piedmont and had two great wine experiences. The first night I went to 2-star Piazza Duomo in Alba, went the whole way in, 11 courses, etc., and drank a bottle of 2005 Emidio Pepe Trebbiano d'Abruzzo to go along their fantastic food. It was mind numbingly delicious. The next night I stayed close to the hotel in Barolo and went to a family-run place called Osteria La Cantinella, where I also did a pre fixe and along with that threw down and got a bottle of 2004 Monfortino from Conterno. On paper, the Conterno is THE GREAT wine. One of Piedmont's icons for sure, but it was such a baby that it was just showing a small fraction of its beauty that night, that the Emidio Pepe from the night before is emblazoned in my memory that much more (not a humble white wine obviously, but not Monfortino, either!). In other words, the context of when you drink the wine is just as important as the wine itself." — Michael Garofola (Genoa)

A Wine With No Label
A Wine With No Label

"December 5th, 2003, I encountered the greatest wine I ever tasted which was also my Burgundy epiphany. I was in Vosne-Romanée and fortunate enough to get an appointment at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. I was by myself and spoke no French. The winemaker Bernard Noblet spoke no English but we did our best to communicate. After barrel tasting the '02s we were in the cellar and he pulled out a bottle of white wine that had no label on it and it forever changed my life. It was the 1986 Bâtard-Montrachet. They only make 1 to 2 barrels a year and to this day I have never seen a bottle since. My tasting notes literally read: 'Best white wine ever tasted. Like sex, you want it to last and last and then tell your friends.'" — Sabato Sagaria MS (The Little Nell Hotel)

Forget the Label
Forget the Label

"The more truly great big name bottles I drink, the more I feel that great bottles are not just names or labels but the whole experience you have while drinking a wine. I like a wine much more when I am drinking it with friends, in an epic setting, and with some really great food. When all of these things line up, you almost have an out of body experience and step back from the situation and realize how great the wine truly is. For me the first time I had an experience like this I was at a farmer's market in Anges, France. We bought a few pitchers of Muscadet (no producer, vintage or AOC specified), fresh shellfish and walked to a local park. This might not have been the best wine ever but it was the best wine for that experience. Sometimes the simple things are truly the greatest." — Eric Railsback (Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant)

An Aged Chablis
An Aged Chablis

"The greatest wine, or perhaps the one I reminisce about the most, was a magnum bottle of 1985 Domaine Raveneau Grand Cru Chablis, from the Les Clos vineyard. I was invited to a comparative tasting between Burgundy and Northern California. This aged white wine was a revelation. It was still full of life, vibrant, bristling with power yet elegant and refined. It was my first inkling to understanding the inner tension and power of great wine. I liken this characteristic of great wines to a ballet dancer; intense power expressed with subtlety. I have only experienced this in a few other wines." — Steven Izzo (Waterbar)

All About the Experience
All About the Experience

"About two years ago I went to Italy and after 3 connecting flights and a bus drive from Nice, France to Liguria, Italy, we arrived at the winemaker's home (Bio-Vio producer), and his wife had cooked dinner for us. All the homemade food was simple and delicious. He had poured an orange wine from Pigato grape called Grand Père. I like orange wines. I don’t think it was the best wine I have ever had, but it was definitely one of the best wine experiences. The wine, the food, the company, and I was in Italy. This is what wine is about to me—good times, good friends, and good wine." — Petra Polakovicova (EPIC Roasthouse)

Great Wine Can Make You Stop and Think
Great Wine Can Make You Stop and Think

"So many great wines. It is always about the person and the place, not just the liquid. I was in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, this past May, with my wife, Nancy. It was pouring rain, we were having a picnic under the gazebo, drinking out of little glass yogurt jars. It was 2003 Domaine Roulot, Meursault, Genevrières. It tasted like grilled levain with butter from the best bakery in the world. Toasted hazelnuts and ripe Bosc pear. A touch of oxidation on the finish just made it more complex. It affected me by making me realize, again, how lucky I was to have the greatest things in life. Great wine can make you stop and think." — Randy Goodman (Bar Avignon)

A Great Spanish Wine
A Great Spanish Wine

"The year was 2005, the place a one-bedroom apartment, the food—simple but perfectly roasted lamb chops rubbed with harissa. And the wine: 1990 Vega Sicilia Unico from Ribera del Duero. Three distinct phases—silky and approachable out of bottle, tannins that blossomed but were complemented by the richness of the lamb and the earthy and smoky elements of the wine played well with the harissa. The simplicity of the meal allowed the wine to be the star as it unfolded gracefully with layers and layers of flavors." — Sarah Knoefler (Gitane, Café Claude, Café Claude Marina, Gaspar Brasserie)

Aged Riesling
Aged Riesling

"I had been given a bottle of 1983 Zilliken 'Saarburger Rausch Spätlese' and couldn’t figure out when the best time to drink it was or what was the PERFECT food to pair with it. Finally, I decided that it was more about who I was going to drink it with than what I paired it with. A handful of friends and I hung out in front of fireplace, drank this amazing wine, had an incredible meal (raw oysters, followed by roasted bone marrow and then a spicy fish stew). The wine was complex, rich and maintained impressive acid. Needless to say the wine did not last the duration of the meal but the impression of it did (and much after that)." — Julia Travis (Cull & Pistol)

A Wine That Lasts
A Wine That Lasts

"The first wine released to the market with the label Malbec was Weinert 1977, which I tried unexpectedly at a casual dinner with a friend in 2001. The producer happened to be seated next to us and asked us to join him in a glass—I remember being in awe of something that nearly 25 years later could taste so delicious." — Sebastian Koncurat (Malbec and Tango House)

Eye-Opening Pinot Noir
Eye-Opening Pinot Noir

"I'd have to say the '06 Rodet 'Clos de Thorey' 1er Cru Nuits-Saint-George I had a few years back was an eye-opening epic work of mastery (I'm trying not to oversell it). My friend and I had a regular Monday night tasting session and each week we'd focus on a different region of France. That week was the Côte de Nuits.

That wine was amazing. It was rich and full of contrasting aromatics. There was a strong fruit component, herby tones, animal scents and a marked earthiness. On paper you'd think this wine was at war with itself, but it wasn't. Everything sang in unison. It made me wish I had purchased another bottle." — Patrick Dorsey (Hatfield's)

Never Moved from the Spot
Never Moved from the Spot

"1956 Cabernet Franc from Pierre Breton, made by his father and grandfather. We drank it in the family’s underground wine cellar in the countryside after Pierre had been given the keys to it (a first time occurrence for him). While cooking a 4-inch thick côte de boeuf on a wood fire, he opened it. Amazing body and flavor of rich berries and soft earth; very well balanced. The wine had not moved from the spot since it was made. Of course the 1941 he opened later that night was not too shabby either..." — Chris Johnson (Cherry)

The Generosity of a Friend
The Generosity of a Friend

A good friend (who passed away a couple of months later) decided to share some of his collection for my birthday weekend in 2006. We invited fifteen people to a tasting at his house. The star bottles were a vertical of Château d’Yquem 1975, 1967, 1937, and 1929. My friend was very generous, and would abhor the term collector. He bought wines to share with friends. This taught me some important lessons about wine’s place in the world. Wine is about relationships, and sharing with friends.

Château d’Yquem is one of the greatest wines in the world, and most experts would agree is the greatest sweet wine in the world. The wine was aged but alive, and took quite a long time in a decanter to show its best. The wine was rich, sweet, and warming, with an ethereal quality.— James Tidwell (Café on the Green)

Two Significant Memories
Two Significant Memories

"This is a hard question to answer, but it would be one of two bottles. First, the 1989 Haut-Brion that I had with my mentor and friend Greg Harrington about ten years ago in Chicago. It was the first time I ever had Haut-Brion and it was a casual setting where he was teaching me about wine via drinking one of the best wines in the world. The other was a 1999 Roumier Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses that I drank out of red solo cups with the first true love in my life on one of our first dates." — Laura Maniec (Corkbuzz Wine Studio)

Way, Way Back
Way, Way Back

"The one that sticks with me most was a Madeira from 1780...not because of the flavors of burnt toffee and vanilla, but because I was filled with wonder thinking of what the world was like when the wine was first made. The thought that I was connected to that moment was magic in a glass." — John Toigo (Fiola)

It's Always with Mark Bright [of Saison]
It's Always with Mark Bright [of Saison]

"One of my favorite wines was one I got to drink at a bowling alley. It was Mark Bright's 30th birthday, and Rajat Parr brought in a bottle of Produttori del Barbaresco’s 1982 Asili from magnum. Something about that wine—its impeccable aging, the bright fruit, a structure you could build a house on—I can still taste it. I wanted all wines to have that finesse and longevity. Come to think about it, almost every 'best bottle I’ve ever tried' has been with Mark Bright." — Cara Patricia (Hakkasan San Francisco)

1945 Bordeaux Head-to-Head
1945 Bordeaux Head-to-Head

"I had a guest call me a few days before his dinner reservation and tell me he had a 1945 Mouton he was bringing in; could I get him a 1945 Lafite to pour side-by-side with it. I did, and the Lafite was glorious, outshining the Mouton. That evening enables me to make the following statement: 'Sure, I’ve had the ‘45 Mouton, but it wasn’t the best wine I had that night.'" — Chris Bradford (Culina)