• Matt Ellingson

The greatest wines I've ever had! #10

"Matt! What's the greatest wine you've ever had?"


I can't tell you how many times I've had guests and friends ask me this question. It's an impossible question to answer really. First it's usually always changing. Wines have an impact for different reasons. A wine may be memorable to me because it represented a place and time in my life. A wine may represent a moment of growth in my understanding of wine. Or a wine may just be delicious. But when it is greatest, it represents all of them and represents something even more important in life. Time with the people you love.


Saying one wine is better than another is silly. Could I really pick one song as the greatest song ever? "Welcome to the Jungle" woke a 7th grade version of me up and gave birth to my true passion for rock music. "Something I Can Never Have" taught me that the pain and loss I was feeling was okay. "Brother" reminds me of my love for my best friend Davey and crying as I drove my packed car away, hitting the road from Orlando as I began my journey to move back to California. And "Scenario"? That's just as good as it gets. Oh yeah, and it introduced Busta Rhymes to the world.


So in the posts to follow, I thought I would share my current Top 10 wines of all time. I say current because what I know for sure is there is a wine in my future that will make its way onto this list, pushing off another, and I am giddy with anticipation to taste it.




#10 Chimney Rock, Elevage, Red Table Wine, Stag's Leap, Napa Valley 1990

Chimney Rock is a great producer of Stag’s Leap District wines. Stag’s Leap is arguably my favorite spot in Napa Valley for Cabernet Sauvignon. There is this beautiful iron rich soil that gives the wines an intense minerality that I’ve always described like if you soak some copper pennies in a great glass of cab. Am I the only one who put loose change in my mouth as a child? That is a sense memory that immediately floods back to me, transporting me to a place and a feeling from my youth. Sense memories are important. Our sense of smell is most tied to the memories that we carry and when you open yourself up to letting those memories get triggered, it makes wine so much more colorful. Even if the memory is ridiculous when said out loud, who cares? Just go with it!



I got my real hospitality start in Orlando when I opened up The Dining Room by Wolfgang Puck in Downtown Disney. We opened with the original Spago menu, Chefs that had built Spago into what it was, but due to corporate designation, the generic name was chosen. This was the place that made me who I am and my mentors truly schooled the 22 yr old version of me about what wine and service was all about. It is where I a saw professionalism, passion, reckless abandon toward pleasing guests, and where I learned lessons I still practice today.



The Elevage is Chimney Rock’s ‘Meritage’ style blend and it was on our list. I loved it! In case you're still confused on how to say the word Meritage, it's easy. It is the combination of two words...Merit & Heritage. Back in the 1980's there was an effort made to create a word of distinction that could be used on wine labels that would sound better than 'Red Table Wine'. If a wine was a blend of different grapes, and couldn't call itself Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, 'Red Table Wine' was the only other legal description.


But just as the Meritage term was being adopted and used, other wines proved that you could call it whatever you wanted! Proprietary blends like Opus One, Insignia, and Isosceles proved that a cool name was enough to gain traction in the market, even if it said 'Red Table Wine' in the fine print. No need to register with the Meritage Association of America and add another step.


Chimney Rock Winery was originally founded in 1980 by Hack and Stella Wilson of South Africa. They brought with them an obvious passion for wine as well as Cape-Dutch architecture which can still be felt at the winery today. Mots production is red with a bit of white and rose mixed in. Their single vineyard Cabernets are delicious and a great example of Stag's Leap District fruit and style. But the Elevage has always been special to me. Special because of its place in my wine growth and education. And it's like visiting an old friend that I adore.


After I had moved back to California in 2000, I found a bottle of 1990 Chimney Rock Elevage on Winebid.com. A great place to search for deals that no one is paying attention to and especially for aged wine. I took the 1990 back with me on my first trip back to Orlando and shared it with my best friend Dave. It was glorious and really was my first step toward understanding aged wine. It also was like a sign I was growing up, kind of catching up to the mentors that had set me on the right path.


To this day the Chimney Rock Elevage is ‘our’ wine. On his last trip to see me, he brought a bottle of Elevage that sits in my fridge now waiting until he returns again so we can drink it together. When I ever come across another bottle of the 1990, it shall be mine. And there is only one person that I will drink it with. It won't matter if it will be good, great, or unforgettable. What will matter is that the next time I drink it, I will be with my brother. And that is the most important thing.

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