Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Wine never tasted but enjoyed just the same

NW’s eloquent entry commenced me thinking. Wine is indeed not just a beverage but an experience; a celebration. What other liquid in a glass could possibly take you back over two decades to a night of wine tasting and crab omelets with a phenomenal white wine that still lingers in the memory of my palate? I never found the Morey St. Denis served with that dish though I looked for years. But never mind, the memory is there, and that is sufficient.

It was Atlanta, Georgia and I was a lowly medical technologist working in a veteran’s administration hospital as a blood bank technologist. One of my colleagues learned of my newly discovered fondness for wine and even though I didn’t know her well at all, she invited me and my wife over to she and her husband’s house in suburban Atlanta. Her husband was the chief “head/neck” surgeon at Emory University—a man of means and a man with an astute penchant for--what else--wine.

We were sitting in the formal living room with a glass in hand when he walked over to a hidden handle buried deep in the pile of their plush carpet. With a twist of his hand like a magician, he pulled a door out of the floor exposing a stairway down. We followed our host into a multi-chambered, arrangement of brick walls, brick archways, stunningly appointed rooms with lovely ceramic tiled floors in a humidity and temperature controlled wine cellar. Somehow “cellar” doesn’t seem a fitting descriptor. It was more, a wine paradise.

It was spacious with wall to ceiling racks containing Grand Cru Bordeaux, premier Burgundies and expensive Germans, not by the bottle, but by the case. I remember distinctly our host proudly showing me his cases of Domaine Romanee Conti “Eschezeau” with a sign that read “2000.”

He explained that this would be his millennium celebration wine. What gripped me was that we were standing in the year 1978 looking at this wine and our surgeon-host was already in reverie anticipating a wine he wouldn’t taste for another 22 years.

And 22 years later, on New Years Eve, several lifetimes and a world removed from that evening, when the clock tolled midnight, believe it or not, my thoughts were on that night in Atlanta trying to imagine what such a fine, mature Burgundy must have been like.

I’ve never had the pleasure of actually having such an expensive and aged wine as that one would have been but I tell you, just the memory of that evening and of that wine, carries a thrill all its own.

How do you know when you are growing beyond someone who likes a glass of wine with dinner every now and then and an enophile? When just walking through a row of famous bottles, reading their labels, maybe even touching them if they’re not behind lock and key is a joy unto itself, you know you’ve been smitten. If you don’t understand now, stay with it; you absolutely will.

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