WineInk: What I love about wine

A time to give thanks

Kelly J. Hayes
Kelly J. Hayes

If you will allow me a Thanksgiving indulgence, I wanted to, in this 747th WineInk column and the first in the newly resurrected post-COVID, stand-alone Aspen Times Weekly, talk a little bit about wine. In a personal sense.

When I was in the second grade at Webster Elementary School in Malibu, California, my teacher, Mrs. Tishnor, instructed the class to write an essay titled “What I love about …!” We could write about anything that caught our 7-year-old fancy. And while I’m not sure what exactly the subject was that I picked at the time (likely surfing or football), I am now, five-plus decades on, still completing the assignment. That is to say, on a weekly basis, I pen a piece about something that I love: Wine.

I thought about this last week on a picture-perfect November afternoon, when I took a right turn off Highway 29 in the Napa Valley onto Zinfandel Lane. On both sides of the road there were recently harvested Cabernet Sauvignon vines whose leaves had turned magnificent shades of orange and red, the colors of late fall. A truck parked ahead of me had a crew of vineyard workers who were digging into burritos on their lunch break. Behind me, a horn honked from a Bentley that had made the turn onto Zin Lane behind me with a driver, clearly in a hurry, who was in no mood to wait as I slowed to take pictures.

This combination of the natural beauty, the cadre of agricultural workers and the ostentatious wealth, melded together in a single moment, made me once again consider Mrs. Tishnor’s original assignment of “What I love about … !”

(Kelly J. Hayes)

Yes, wine is a beverage — an indulgence, if you will. But more than just something to drink, something to enjoy, something to savor, it is a product of the land, labor and creativity. The people, places and things that go into the production of wine and its role as an historic entity captivates me. Quite simply, wine is part and parcel of many things that make life interesting. And that is something to give thanks for. Especially at Thanksgiving.

One could not conjure a holiday more conducive to drinking great wine than Thanksgiving. Everything about the holiday is tailor-made for those who love wine. Add food and family. Put ’em together, throw in a little football (all right, a lot of football) and you have the most wonderful day of the year. The only question is “What should you drink?”

As Thanksgiving is a time of celebration, I always recommend that you drink your good stuff first. That’s right, go to your cellar or wine rack or closet, and pull out those bottles that you have been saving for “a special occasion.” The ones you simply wouldn’t think of opening on an average Tuesday. If you have a great bottle of Burgundy that you bought when you were feeling flush, or a busty Barolo that you keep because it was the wine that you poured at your wedding, or a bottle of vintage Champagne living in your fridge just waiting for a reason to be uncorked, now is the time for those bottles. The first rule of Thanksgiving is that it is the night when you open the best bottles you have to share with family and friends on this, the most special of occasions.

The second rule of Thanksgiving, at least in my house, is that if you are going to go out and buy a case or more of wines to supplement your feast, you should buy American. I know, I just suggested you pour the Burgundy and Barolo with your bird, and you should.

But if you start from scratch, let’s show our domestic wine industry a little love. Thanksgiving is, after all, the most American of holidays.

It is the day the Native Americans first sat down with the ersatz Americans and celebrated their mutual good fortune. They both enjoyed a meal that no doubt featured fermented juices to help the two parties come together. Get back to the lands that make this country great. Be it the wines of Colorado’s Grand Mesa, the Texas Hill Country, Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, the sandy soils of Long Island’s North Fork or, yes, Napa and Sonoma. Drink wines from the places you love. Buy American.

Finally, while I abhor wine rules in general, a final scripture should read “pour no bad wines.” In this day and age, there is little excuse for buying and serving a bad bottle of wine. Our local wine shops (most are open on the holiday) will be happy to take you through the aisles and point out the wines they are passionate about. With any luck, each bottle you open will have a little story that you can use to regale your family and guests.

(Kelly J. Hayes)

And that, after all, is the point. My story, beginning in second grade, applies to this day. The world of wine is full of information from the sciences. Geology and chemistry, geography and history all apply. You need not know how to describe the flavor components to talk about and feel the history of the wine you are drinking. Pick a place, California, pick a grape, Merlot, pick a producer, Duckhorn, and buy a bottle. When you open it, consider who made it, where it came from and what the grape is before you take a sip. Then put your nose in the glass and take a big sniff. It will tell a story just by the way it smells.

The return of the Aspen Times Weekly to its original standing is a moment of celebration for those of us who play a role in producing it each week. It marks a moment where we, as a community, can raise a glass to note the next chapter in a paper with a history that extends beyond a century. I look forward to continuing my second-grade journey.

Pour some wine and think about the things that you love this Thanksgiving holiday. It will do you good.


Courtesy Kelly J. Hayes

Edge Hill 2014 Mixed Blacks Field Blend St. Helena Estate

“Sadly, this is the last bottle that I have, and they are not making any more,” said Kelli White, director of wine education at the Meadowood Wine Center, as she poured me a taste of this wine that had been produced at a winery owned by the late Leslie Rudd, who had a long history in Aspen. The wine was a revelation for me. Rugged, a little ragged and wild, it was made from a combination of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignane, and Alicante Bouschet that had been planted in a vineyard that Rudd had owned in St. Helena.

Hardly a wine of the pedigree found in the cult Cabs that Napa is so famous for, this blend was dark and inky, with spices and toffee and chocolate and figs and stone and soil … and a whole bunch of other flavors. All I could think of was that I wanted a smoky rack of beef ribs to eat alongside this gem. Occasionally you taste a wine that strikes you as a revelation. One that is different from anything you have tasted before. This “Mixed Blacks,” the one that is no longer made, was that for me. That was just another chapter in my “What I love about … wine!” story.