Cherished Memories


Wine can always enhance life’s celebrations. But can it bring back cherished memories

By John Harvey, Wholesale PR Liaison for Messina Hof Winery & Resort

I recently travelled to Puerto Rico for a wedding. One of my best friend’s sons was getting married. His father and I had served together in the Navy at so many commands that their family thinks of me like an uncle.

WineThere were several other former shipmates attending the wedding so it felt like a family reunion of Sailors. Naturally, I checked a couple of bottles of wine in my luggage to take to the celebration.

I knew the bride and groom liked Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots. That made their gift an easy choice. Our Private Reserve Reflections of Love is a wonderful blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot and my new best friend in dry reds – Cabernet Franc, (I just call him Franc because we’re buds now). And who could pass up a title like “Reflections of Love” for a newly married couple.

Emily in our retail center took colors from the couple’s invitation and a picture the bride sent me to make a special private label for the bottle. To package it, she recommended a gift set every new family needs that comes with a new opener, foil cutters and several other wine accessories you always wished you had at parties.

Their gift was complete, but I wanted a wine just for me and my friends to enjoy when I got to the island.WineThat was an easy choice.

The gang had served in Portugal back in the 90s and we drank a lot of port back then. But I knew they had never experienced a Messina Hof port.

I was excited to let my friends try the wine that we made right at our estate with our own Lenoir, “Black Spanish,” grapes, but which one? We make so many different kinds.

I talked to Paul V. for his opinion while he was downstairs one day in the retail center. One of the benefits of visiting the winery is that you will probably run into one of the Bonarrigos. They are very willing to engage their clientele on all things wine.

Paul is a former Navy man himself. So he knew these “Sailor reunions” can be few and far between.

He scratched his beard for a second and then wheeled around to the Admiral’s Reserve Dessert Wine.

“This is actually a personal favorite of mine,” Paul said.

What could be a better selection for a group of Sailors getting back together? Paul signed the bottle on the spot for me.

The wines and gift set made it safely through the flight (thank you American Airlines).

The night before the wedding we all met downstairs in the hotel bar. The bar tender allowed me to bring the wine in for a small corkage fee. Glasses were laid out and the wine was uncorked. I briefly explained the winery’s history and the significance of the Admiral’s Reserve.

From the first sip the reaction was vivid. For those who had not served in Portugal this was a pleasant dessert wine. But the Portugal gang shared a look with each other like they had just discovered an old friend they’d lost.

Mandi, a fellow Flag Writer, said she hadn’t tasted anything like this in years.

Al started swirling the glass. “This is beautiful,” he said.

Lulu, his wife, took a sip and was very soon asking for more. That brought laughter as everyone reminded her about the first time she had port in Portugal, thinking it was a low-alcohol table wine. The port’s higher alcohol content and her jet lag from just arriving in-country had hit her at the same time, dropping her like a stone. She learned to sip and savor port after that.

I started remembering all the tours I gave to new comers into downtown Lisbon. Every tour ended with a visit to the Port Wine Institute where you could try port by the glass from all over the country.

The group started reminiscing about all the dinners we held while we were stationed in Portugal. Every weekend we were at someone’s house or out in town, eating together as an extended family. Almost every meal was finished with a port wine. Experts believe we attach experiences to whatever aromas we encounter at the same time. Tasting this port style wine was like unlocking a memory and going back to those gatherings.

WeddingAnd yet, this wine was different. The port style wines at Messina Hof are not fortified with Sherry like traditional ports. The use of K-1 yeast allows us to initially raise alcohol levels so subsequent fortification is not necessary. The result is a smoother wine to begin with that does need to age in order to settle down from an infusion of high alcohol.

Our dessert wine exhibited characteristics of smoother ports that, frankly, many of us could not have afforded on our enlisted pay back then.

We had not been together for years and we all wanted to catch up. But that evening, for a couple of hours, we were back in Portugal sitting around a table laughing as we had done every weekend.

The bride and groom loved their gift set. They packed it in their checked bags to take to their new duty assignment.Yes, Jonathon has joined the Army and is stationed in Utah. Cassandra, his new wife, is joining him there where she will be a micro-biologist. Their bottle is meant for the two of them, but a part of me hopes they will share it with new-found friends. The memories of such good times might come back some day, simply by opening a good bottle of wine.