My name is Adam Japko and my personal, 27 year WineZag does not inspire me to provide guidance on which wines are “the best” or “the worst” and which should sell out pre-arrival or languish in warehouses or on retail shelves. Conversely, my WineZag reflects a personality that embraces nontraditional approaches in search of quality experiences that crescendo in intensity and reward over time.
I am a media executive that fell in love with all things wine in 1986 thanks to a dedicated and devoted man with an inspiring palate and obsession. I regularly tasted and discussed fine or hard to find wines sourced from the open market or private collections with a group of 12-15 men and women in a simple cellar on Long Island, NY. Doctors, wine retailers, marketing executives, professors, chefs, students, over 50, and under 30 years of age; all falling prey to the same sensual awareness I was developing for the liquid in front of me. These tasting sessions fed a deepening infatuation with the knowledge and pleasure I was receiving from every bottle we autopsied.
In any one session, we tasted twelve wines in strict peer groups (same grape or blend, region, vintage), blind (labels were covered), in two flights of six wines at a time, and in identical proper glassware. We sipped and slurped, took copious and often legible notes, discussed what we were experiencing, and cast secret ballots for our favorites before heading home with our 6 stained glasses, a record of the group’s most and least favorite wines, and a deeper connection with each other.
Figuring out that group connection piece was as important to me as decoding the wines. I came to realize it was rooted in the confidence I was getting from knowledge and the shared sensory interpretation of the same wines, in the same context, around the same table, and at the same moment. We kept the group participants consistent and tight, and the evenings designed to bring the wines’ characteristics to light. Naturally and thankfully we:
- Invented a common language for ourselves to understand what everyone’s comments meant. When somebody said they tasted “wet rocks” in that cellar on Long Island on a Wednesday night in January of 1987, we all knew exactly what “wet rock” tasted like
- Found it imperative for learning to taste a wine alongside others in its same peer group, blind
- Identified favorite personal wine styles
- Figured out which wines to buy for our cellars and where to find them
- Decided what was best to drink now and what to lay down for later so magical things could happen with age
- Learned that there is never a reason to drink anything but great and yummy wine
- Vowed to never spend a lot of money on wine before tasting it
- Benchmarked our own personal tastes to the consistent palate of Robert Parker without adopting his personal taste
- Stood firm on presenting excellent wine in excellent glassware at the right temperature
- Proved that wine tastes better and different with people and in settings you prefer
And my life journey with wine was launched. I amassed a meaningful selection of wine and lots of friends. For the cellar, I was too late for the 1982 futures market, arguably the last great deal in wine since it defined Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate as a market maker, but I jumped heavily into 1985 Bordeaux, Northern and Southern Rhones, and California Cabernets which I am still enjoying today. My favorite wines have been some of the single vineyard Cote Roties I bought when you could pay $50 for them, not $400 like now. My cellar stayed on that path with strong veers towards Spain, Australia and other parts of France to include more varietals and appellations as the markets shifted and quality productions emerged. I tried everything I could and discriminated against nothing. I drink more $10-$20 bottles of wine today than anything else. Enough on the cellar.
I built my closest friendships because we shared a passion for experiencing fine wine together. I advanced business relationships and deals that otherwise would not have happened for those same reasons. I watched people around me react to the pleasures of the wines I shared with them. And all of us connected, sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for years, and sometimes forever around a foundation created through shared wine experiences. I became committed to wine accessibility and sharing knowledge that perpetuates wine as a natural lifestyle component for two reasons: facilitating pleasure and connection for those that are open to it. People ask me what to drink all the time…all the time. So, who knows how this will work, but I put WineZag in motion as a tool for me and my friends who always ask, and for the friends I will eventually make as we connect around the sensual pleasures of wine.