Sunday, October 29, 2023

Bidding Adieu to a Longtime Friend

Lately, on the blog and IRL I’ve been opening up elderly bottles from the wine closet. Part of that stems from an analysis I did of the wines in the closet, and found that 25% of the wines in there were over 25 years old. While that might be magical words for some wine collectors, to me it caused a sense of dread on two fronts. Firstly, that old wines tend to get even older if not opened. And as we see from elderly humans, not all get old in the same way. Secondly some of those wines 25 years or older (especially from the 1990's) I remember putting them in there on release and wondering when and if they’d ever be ready.

Well, did I get a wake-up call on that! Seems that a majority of red wines 25 years and older are either ready, sick or dying. Or already dead. And it happened faster than I thought it would. So much for my glorious wine collecting aspirations from youth. These bottles are like tattoos. Some of them worked and some of them didn’t. But all of them were an oblique reference to an earlier me and my state of mind. Fortunately, an off bottle of Barolo is easier to dispose of than a faulty tattoo of Jerry Garcia.

I remember my first case I bought, in 1980, to collect and taste over the years. It was a 1976 Johnson’s Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The sommelier at the Italian restaurant I worked at, Il Sorrento, thought it was a good wine and she was selling it off the menu. I tried it and liked it and so she arranged for me to get a case. Thus started my road to wine collecting. Over the years I would open up a bottle and try it. And the years just flew by, 32 of them. And then there was only one bottle left. That already was 11 years ago, so do you kind get where this is going?

Anyway, the other day I opened up a 1980 Château-Figeac, at the time a Premier Grand Cru St. Emilion (it is now a Premier Grand Cru Classé A). 1980 was not a great year for the  area. However, when we opened the wine, it apparently had not gotten the memo, for while it was fully mature, it was shiny and bright and lasted several hours in the bottle without any signs of senility or collapse.

Which brings me to a roundabout in the road, and that would be: our human friends that we collect forms one’s community and to an extent a sense of your place on this earth.

Yesterday, I ran into the friend that gave (not gifted) me that bottle. He was buying a couple of bottles of Italian wine to have around. I thought it odd, because I was under the impression that he had stopped drinking wine. Hence why that odd bottle of St. Emilion and a few other geriatric buddies found their way into my wine closet. Anyway, I proceeded to help him find a couple of bottles, just in case.

He and I are longtime friends, someone I’ve traveled with and someone I truly love. In the past we’ve had amazing meals together (his wife is an amazing cook) matched with wines from our respected “cellars” at the time. But a few years ago, he gave wine up, because of a neurological condition, and told me to come over and fetch all his wines and take them to my home. Which I did.

What I am learning about aging, as a human, is that there comes a stage in everyone’s life when it’s time to “drink up.” Not just wines, as it happens.

Some of us age better than others, and occasionally, like the 1980 Figeac, an outlier makes it past the experts and gains the odds and turns out to be fabulous find.

Likewise, with friends, that kind of discovery can be a marvelous part of why we came here in this life to live on earth, even if for only a brief moment in time.

I dislike saying goodbye to people and places I love. But I am finding, as with my wine cellar, that in real life saying goodbye is becoming more of a regular thing. Goodbye to wines, goodbye to things like clothes and furniture and cameras and watches and money. But also good bye to living things, like plants and pets. And people.

Yesterday I was talking to my friend as he was getting into his car to go home. He mentioned that his life had been a good ride. I agreed with him. He did things I couldn’t even begin to dream about doing. But I lived, sometimes vicariously, through his adventures. We bandy about the word journey these days like it’s a common thing. But my friend has had an amazing journey on this planet. And he has darn likely seen almost every nook and cranny on earth. So, while his “drink by” date is approaching a little more rapidly than for others, like I told him, we’re are all gonna get there sooner or later. “You had a great ride, but who’s to say the ride on the other side isn’t going to be even more thrilling and breathtaking?” Hey, even that St. Emilion can’t hope for that. Its ride is now over.

That’s what I’ve been percolating over. Enjoy your wines while you got ‘em. And enjoy and love your friends even more.


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