April 15, 2014

A long time coming but worth it

Something I love about wine is its longevity. Perhaps I just want to think I'll last as long as some wines, a hundred years or more. Really I think it's more about two things. I love that drinking old wine allows us to experience something from decades ago or more. What other food incorporate such time travel?

I also love that you can drink something you may have drunk decades before, meeting again like old friends, reconnecting.

It's true that you can even reconnect with a wine you've never really known, just seen, and a place you've only been once and people you hardly knew, but remember. The 1978 Chateau Gloria from the Bordeaux commune of St. Julien is one such wine for me.

Let's go back to fall 1992. I was a young geek, already entranced by the magic of wine. I was living in southern California at the time but traveled to New England to spend Thanksgiving with my sister and brother-in-law in Rhode Island.

Over the weekend we traveled to western Massachusetts, the Berkshires, somewhere I hadn't seen before and haven't since. It's just stayed with me, sweetly.

We stayed one night in a rustic house owned by my brother-in-law's dear uncle and godfather, deep in a birch forest that reminded me of Austria. This uncle had not so long before seen tragedy, having survived a horrible car accident that killed his wife a year or two earlier, a truck having crossed the median and hit them.

I'd met the couple at my sister's wedding a few years earlier still and they struck a chord with me. They meant so much to my brother-in-law, who in turn befriended me when I was the very young, youngest brother of his girlfriend, and they meant more to me in that moment for it.

These thoughts made our visit to the Berkshires a bit more deliberate, for me anyway, and memorable in return. The uncle wasn't there, but had invited us up and assured us to make ourselves at home. We walked in the woods, cooked food and generally got away from it all after a lovely but busy Thanksgiving holiday.

And there was wine - wine we drank and wine I just looked at and wondered about.

My brother-in-law knew I was already into wine and he shared with me before our arrival that his uncle loved wine as well. Sure enough, there was a nice if modest rack of a variety of wines, any of which I would have liked to try but one in particular that called out to me, the 1978 Ch. Gloria.

There we several bottles in fact. I thought, surely as we are making ourselves at home, surely we could open one, no? But my brother-in-law is far more disciplined than I and he telegraphed that, no, we aren't touching the uncle's collection. Beside the fact that that's horrible wine karma, these were a collection of a man and his deceased wife. There's no coming between that.

Still I've always wondered about that wine. What was it like? How did he select it and how long ago? And why? I imagined it was a special wine for them, something only they knew. The wine may be fairly common, but their connection to it would be something only they had. It was special at least for that. Someday I would find it for myself and see.

Sure enough, the wine comes up at auction not infrequently, and for a lot less than you might imagine if you've kept up with the continually soaring prices for new release Bordeaux. Not infrequently, you can find 30 year old wines for less than new releases cost, the top vintages aside. Old wines from good producers in good vintages seem to fall through the cracks.

I've bid on this wine unsuccessfully a few times, holding out for the lucky auction where I'd get it for a song. Sure enough two bottles came my way, and the other night, nearly 22 years after thinking about this wine, wondering what it would be like, I opened a bottle with dinner.

I'll admit, I didn't expect much. Perhaps I got lured into the low price, but surely the wine would be old and tired. Even in 1992 I remember thinking, hmm, 14 year old Bordeaux, maybe it's too old? Nonsense, of course, but I had a lot to learn.

I still do.

The dry cork of the 1978 Chateau Gloria broke in half as I eased it out of the bottle. I poured the wine carefully, its mature ruby color translucent and limpid. I sniffed and it was more than alive, perfumed like a mature Chinon, with tobacco, leather, gravel and plum scents. The flavors were similarly delicate but complex, medium bodied, soft and resolved with fair persistence, soft and flavory, very alive if totally mature.

I thought of the Berkshires, of autumn leaves, of the woods, of cool, earthy scents like a forest walk on a cold fall morning. And I thought of passing time and loss, and then of joy, of longevity, of the wonder of a glimpse into the past that's not the past anymore at all.

It's right here, always.