Serious Grape: Preserving Your Wine History

On Fridays, Deb Harkness of Good Wine Under $20 drops by with Serious Grape. This week, a scrapbook for your wine experiences.


In January, I received an unexpected gift in the mail from my beloved aunt and godmother: a wine book, full of labels and notes, that she had kept during the1970s when she and my uncle were living in Germany.

My godparents were responsible for many important developments in my childhood. They enrolled me in book clubs and fostered my love of reading. They introduced me to curry and the concept of a gourmet pizza (my Aunt Fran's pizza was nothing short of miraculous). I learned there was nothing in life more splendid than a picnic—if you did it right and served amazing food. They also drank a lot of German wine, so I grew up knowing Riesling was a good thing.

Turns out they drank lots of other wine, too, while I was running around and not paying attention. But I get to share those bottles with them now, thanks to this record of a decade's enjoyment of wine.

There is nothing glitzy about my aunt's wine book. It started out as a ledger of some sort. She made a hand-lettered label, and taped it on the front. Inside are the real treasures, in the form of carefully removed labels from wines made all over the world.

The labels reveal that as far as my aunt and uncle were concerned, there was no grape too strange and no region that wasn't of viticultural interest. On the page pictured here, for example, there is a 1972 Bordeaux, a 1973 Bellini Chianti (drunk in Italy, the note reveals), and a 1971 Kadarka from Hungary made in the days when the wineries were operated by communist party officials.

There is a very strange label, in the form of a Pinot Nero from the Veneto bottled for German consumption as "Kronrubin." There's a bottle I wish I'd been able to taste, a 1969 Marques de Riscal Elciego from Spain, with the price ($1.80) still on the label. And, of course, right next to this Spanish Tempranillo is a label for 1971 Lancers Vin Rose with the note "Lancers is always good."

From Beaujolais to Turkey to the United States (yes, they were drinking Ingelnook's Rose made from Gamay grapes in Germany in 1972!) I was amazed and delighted to see how adventurous these two were.

And I was touched, too. On one page I found a label from a bottle my aunt and uncle shared with my parents and grandmother back in March of 1976. I don't know what the meal was, but I know that they drank a Rhone red bottle by Barton & Guestier.

If you like wine and have kids, chances are they will grow up with some interest in wine, too. Even your nieces and nephews may get turned on to the grape. So why not keep track of what you're drinking, with whom, and maybe even what meal it accompanied? It's a good way for you to record your changing experiences with wine.

The veteran wine writer and blogger Fredric Koeppel is reviewing a hundred bottles of memorable wine culled from his wine notebooks on his blog Bigger Than Your Head and it's a treat to read his reflections now on the wines he was drinking then.

To get started you don't need anything more glamorous or expensive than an unused diary. Some steam, some elbow grease, and some glue and you're set. Then, sometime during the next quarter of a century, you can hand it down to the next generation. If they're anything like me, they'll be thrilled to receive it.