I lived in California for a bit less than twenty years and, since leaving for a "six-month trip" almost six years ago, I've only been back a handful of times. Of course, I have a ton of great memories. During the last trip in March, Diana and I went with Gail and Chuck to visit Gail's long-time friend Trish and her husband, Randy.
Randy's quite the wine connoisseur and was nice enough to lead us through some of his collection. It's not often I've sat down with an expert to talk about and try various wines. One of the things that gave me a charge was how Randy (and Trish) often combine travel with his (their?) love of wine, be it in California, Europe, or some other place. We all talked about some of our favorites and why and I mentioned that one of mine when I lived in San Diego was Caretaker, which comes from Trader Joe's.
Caretaker's a Pinot Noir from California's central coast, which is the area between Los Angeles and San Francisco. From what I understand, it's made for Trader Joe's from multiple growers' grapes. For me, it's a pretty good, easy-to-drink wine.
I found it by "starting at the bottom", which I've used in both Germany and Spain with good results. Since I already know that price is, for the most part, what someone else thinks something's worth (read: "somewhat arbitrary"), I do a little basic research about local wines then start with the lowest-priced bottle for each grape/type I want to try and begin working my way "up" until I find something I really like. From there, I try a bunch of each of that type of grape/wine until I find a favorite. At that point, I have an intersection of price and (one) wine type from which I'll maybe try something like 50% more expensive - just to see if there's a difference worth the premium. I can then repeat this for each type of wine someone recommends and/or I want to try.
Now, granted, I have to work my way through some crappy wines but I learn a lot about what's grown locally and at low cost. (Don't worry, if the wine's really crap, it gets tossed out.) This is the way I found Spatebergunder while in Germany, Granatxa in Spain, and Caretaker Pinot Noir in California. And, as people who are into wine already know, they have commonalities.
During our visit that evening, someone asked me if I had Caretaker recently and if I still liked it as much now that I've tried so many others. I hadn't but, as you can see, the local Trader Joe's had it in stock so I picked up a bottle to take back to Barcelona.
Vladimir was over one afternoon and we decided to open the bottle to see what we all thought. As I transferred it to the decanter, I immediately had memories pour into my head. The smell alone reminded me of so many good times in California. Sort of like hearing an old song, truly amazing. And surprising. I also remembered that Randy said something similar; about how different wines triggered different memories for him.
So, what's the verdict?
Over the past few years, I've found wines I'm not a fan of and others I've enjoyed a bunch. There are certain characteristics I like more than others. Mostly, I've enjoyed the process and experience. The taste? Yeah, I was a bit surprised, it's still one of my favorites. But, in terms of memories-per-bottle, Caretaker wins hands down!