There’s an old cliché that states that every bottle of wine is a story. Like any good cliché, it’s true, but sometimes that story is a single sentence: “we grew some grapes, put them in a barrel for a while, and now you’re holding it.” The bottle of 2011 Clos des Truffiers I had on Saturday, however, is a story that will take more than a few words to tell.
It starts two years ago, at a restaurant in Walla Walla, Washington. My father and I were on a road trip, exploring the iconic wine region and just doing some father-son bonding. After a long day of tasting, we went to Saffron, a Walla Walla institution. Sitting at our table, I noticed a winemaker friend of mine, Sean Boyd of Rotie Cellars, at the next table over. Given that we’d just sampled his wines that afternoon, I was planning on saying hi, but even more intriguing to me was his dinner guest, who had brought with him a single bottle of wine in a box designed to be shipped through the mail.
Something about this whole set-up struck me as noteworthy: someone obviously cared enough about this bottle of wine to ship it to Walla Walla, and wanted to drink it with one of the area’s finer winemakers. Clearly this wasn’t just any bottle. So, being a bit brazen, and perhaps emboldened by the wine we’d already had, I went over to say hello. Sean introduced me to his friend Claude, who he described as a winemaker from France. I inquired about the bottle he’d brought, and he offered a taste for my dad and I. I took a look at the bottle, which said little more than that it was the aforementioned “Clos des Truffiers,” and that it hailed from the Languedoc in the south of France. Claude mentioned that it was “mostly Syrah,” and that was about all I knew when I headed back to my table.
To that point, my experience with wines from the Languedoc is that they could certainly deliver good value, but that for the most part the region was more devoted to good if inexpensive bottlings, in relatively large quantities. Imagine our surprise then, when the wine evoked much of what makes Syrah so spectacular in the Northern Rhône: black pepper, smoked meats, and an herbal quality that lingered in the glass forever. I was stunned, and my dad went so far as to call it perhaps the finest wine he’d ever tried. We thanked Claude profusely, and set out into the night, determined to try to find this wine.
A quick Google search revealed that this was no ordinary wine from the Languedoc, and that the humble Claude was in fact Claude Gros, a famed winemaker and wine consultant who’d worked throughout France and Spain. “Clos des Truffiers,” far from an undiscovered gem, was sold for around $100 a bottle, though it was hard to find the wine in the US.
Yet the memory lingered, and it particularly haunted my dad. He became determined to get some for himself, and when he and his partner planned a trip to Europe for the following year, he embarked upon a slightly farcical quest to secure a few bottles. Eventually, he was able to make arrangements with a wine store in the town of Uzes, fairly close to where the wine was made, and succeeded in bringing four bottles back to Washington with him, after first lugging them all over Spain, much to his partner Margaret’s dismay.
From there, the question became: how do you experience such a significant wine? Clearly, a tasting of some sort would need to be arranged. My first recommendation was to taste the wine at regular intervals over the next decade or so, each time trying to compare our memories of the wine to what we had in our glass. Choosing the lucky few we wanted to share it with was a challenge as well, though we’re fortunate to have several people in our family who also love and appreciate wine. In the end, we settled on twelve guests: my dad and Margaret, myself and my girlfriend Kaitlin, my cousin Jordan (a San Francisco-based wine writer) and his wife Christie (a wine instructor at the Culinary Institute of America), my other cousin Abram (a wine salesman) and his girlfriend Adriel (a restaurant industry veteran), my aunt Emily and her partner John (long-time wine collectors and devotees), and Margaret’s friends Don (an industry veteran and wine lover) and his wife Jana.
While the Clos des Truffiers would serve as the centerpiece of the meal, each couple was tasked with bringing some special bottles to bookend the tasting. We went through several bottles of Champagne, a few older bottles of West Coast red wines, and a truly special bottle from my cellar, a 1960 Calon Ségur, which despite being thin and fragile still had something left to offer. Yet it was the Clos des Truffiers that we all anticipated.
I have to say, after several years of build-up, several hundred dollars, and more than one retelling of this whole story, I was relieved and overjoyed that the wine exceeded my expectations. Brilliantly structured, with that initial hit of smoke, pepper, and cured meats, but also an element of black licorice that I didn’t fully remember. The aromatics of the wine just endured for what felt like ages, while the finish of the wine was full and complex, with sufficient acid to keep the edges sharp. It was an exceptional glass of wine, though the gorgeous Saturday afternoon and wonderful company might have played a small role in it as well.
Most of all, it reminded me that the joy of wine is only partly in how it tastes, smells, looks, and feels. Much of it is in the experience, the story that a given bottle can tell, the way it can transport us across time and space with just a sniff and a sip. Who cares if that’s cliched?