In the early 1980s, when I was first learning about wine, I attended a Wine Spectator’s Wine Experience event in San Francisco. I didn’t know what to expect as this was the first event of its type I had ever attended. And I was unsure how to navigate my way through all the seminars and Grand Tastings where countless (at least that’s how it seemed to me) wineries from all over the world were pouring wines I had only read about.

While at the Grand Tasting on the first night, I happened by the Jordan table where André Tchelistcheff (the famed “godfather of California wine” and then consulting winemaker for Jordan) was standing. Feeling a bit intimidated, I introduced myself to Mr. Tchelistcheff and asked his thoughts on the wine.

His response was simple and expressed a feeling sometimes lost on others and especially by many considering themselves as “experts” in wine. Mr. Tchelistcheff poured me a taste of the cabernet and politely said, “My opinion is not important, so please tell me what you think of the wine.”

His message was simple and opened my eyes to a very important aspect of tasting and enjoying wine. Make the experience your own and don’t be overly influenced by others.

Of course, it’s always a great benefit to have wine- knowledgeable friends as well as industry professionals and educators guide us to great wines and the intricacies of the tasting experience. But the ultimate impression of the wine is yours to determine regardless of price or the often meaningless scores a particular wine may have garnered.

A great lesson learned from one of the legendary masters in winemaking history. And one I’ve not forgotten or neglected to pass on to others.

Unfortunately, wine is often perceived by some as a libation to revere rather than just simply enjoy. However, the history of wine dates centuries and millennia where it was always an integral part of mealtime enjoyment and experienced simply as a congenial addition to the time friends and family spent together around the dinner table and in celebration of important passages in their lives.

Wine professionals almost always try evaluating a wine as being true to the varietal (or blend of varietals), place of origin and vintage characteristics when determining its overall quality and compatibility with similar wines and selected dishes for pairing. And I must admit I do this regularly (and often subconsciously) with most wines I’m tasting.

But is all that necessary when you’re just looking for something to enjoy? Most wines today will pass the “taste test” when pretense is cast aside and you’re just looking for something that pleases the palate and fits the moment. Thankfully, our choices in today’s market are many and varied, so there’s really no reason not to explore beyond what others may consider the “correct” choice to discover what you like.

Paraphrasing what Mr. Tchelistcheff said to me many years ago, “It’s your opinion that counts, and it’s up to you to create your own experience.”

My Oct. 13 column “Coming home to Paradise” elicited many more comments (with very few questions) than any other column I’ve written. Far too many to list here. The various comments came from people living in wine country and elsewhere, and certainly expressed their caring and love for this beautiful valley we call home. Thank you for all your kind thoughts and good wishes!

Jacky—Thanks so much for your perspective that is sorely needed right now. I feel so lucky to be a part of the Napa Valley.

Ken—Thank you for this view and we’re sure it was greatly appreciated. We’re thinking of you, and all those devastated in Napa and Sonoma. It’s sad day when Eden becomes the Inferno.

DawnMarie—A beautifully written article, Allen. I especially appreciate your acknowledgment of the camaraderie that exists between the winemakers and community of the Napa Valley — something I’ve long admired.

Helen—I was moved by your eloquent words about Napa and its beauty. It was hopeful and inspirational and should lessen the pain of those who’ve been affected by the fires and will help to focus on the bigger picture that I know will endure.

Anna—What you’ve said is why we live in Napa and hopefully we can all get there again.

Share your experiences with other readers by commenting on this article at or email me at

Allen Balik, a Napa resident, has been a wine collector, consultant, author, fundraiser and enthusiast for more than 35 years.