I feel a little silly with an empty bottle of wine sitting right here next to the computer. I will definitely remove it the next time a client stops by to work on a book. But I like to be reminded of the remarkable taste, and more than that, the remarkable bouquet that the bottle once contained.
When you attempt to write about wine, you ought to be aware that you're exploring an experience that no one can describe and few can afford. Oh, there are plenty of decent wines available at every price point. Often wines that cost $25 aren't "twice as good" as those that cost $12.50, but it's likely they offer nuances of flavor that make them worth the extra expense from time to time. The same could be said of those $12 bottles, when compared to Trader Joe's "Reserve" Chardonnay at $6.
But the other day I had an experience from the upper end of the wine trough. I opened a bottle of Les Fort de Latour 1999 that had been sitting in increasing isolation in my basement "cellar" for years. The cellar stock has been dwindling because I gave up buying wines for aging. Why? Worthy bottles were becoming absurdly expensive and the wines themselves, when I opened them years later, were often mediocre.
My standard explanation was that I was storing the wines right next to the furnace, but if I'd really believed that I would have moved them. The more likely explanation is that when you hunt for "deals" in the upper reaches of the wine world you're likely to end up with off-years, badly handled wines, famous varietals from fly-by-night producers—in a word, clinkers.
I wouldn't say that the quest was useless. There were usually hints of great breeding, elusive wisps of remarkable complexity, though now showing a little fatigue, like the last few films of Jean Renoir or Howard Hawks. I could probably mention fifteen or twenty classed growth from Bordeaux that I've enjoyed over the years, often as a guest of my friend Tim, who maintains a more active interest in this important field of study.
In any case, this particular wine was different. It may not be the best wine I ever drank, but I can say with confidence it's the best wine I can remember drinking.
How to describe the bouquet? No point taking about melons, blackberries, or leather. It was as if a hundred feather-light purple pixies were dancing in my nose. Was it a foxtrot or a gavotte? Hard to tell. It was the olfactory equivalent of listening to the first movement of Ravel's Gaspar de la Nuit, after having drunk a bottle of wine. Diaphanous, sweet, rich, complex, and rather static, worthy of contemplation in and of itself. The act of drinking the wine came almost as an afterthought.
I will say no more about that evening of bliss. It did not commemorate a birthday, anniversary, promotion, or retirement. But it will remain memorable long after I remove the empty bottle from the desk here.
And it makes me wonder if it might be worthwhile rebuilding my stock of better-than-average wines just a little. The kind that might benefit from twenty years in the cellar. We'll be getting a nice property tax refund in the mail soon. Surdyk's is having a sale...
But twenty years is a long time to age any wine. Maybe we should shoot for ten.