Sunday, October 24, 2004
I just learned that the per capita consumption of wine in the U.S. is only 7.38 liters, which is just shy of ten regular 750 mL bottles. Sweet holy fuck! I've easily exceeded that in the past two months. At my background rate of consumption (at least one bottle a week), I'm somewhere around Spain (36.9 L), though with wine tastings, dinner parties, and the odd Bacchanalian feast, I might match Croatia (46.8 L--WTF?!), but I would have to work damned hard to crack the top five. (However, having spent time in Italy, if I lived there I could easily beat the #1 score. I never had wine with breakfast, but that's only because I never asked. And I never had to drive myself anywhere.)
One week ago tonight, I consumed an ungodly amount of wine at a gourmet dinner I hosted over at the Ring Bearer's place. Since then, I've had nary a drop of wne, but to be honest, wine tends to be kind of a weekend thing for me anyway. For educational purposes, I try to knock out a bottle or two each week. And tonight, because I had a couple of bottles left over from last Sunday, I figured, why not?
Back in June or July, when I attended a wine dinner with my group of friends, I brought a 1998 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon. I found a stack of these bottles in a local wine shop, marked down to a ridiculous price, and I thought it was a decent gamble. The wine went over spectacularly, the host was good friends with the vintner in Chile, and it was served along with the main course that evening. (Apologies if I'm repeating myself, I don't recall if I've blogged this story before. My social triumphs are few and far between, so I'm liable to tell the same stories over and over again.)
So I bought up the remaining two bottles on the shelf... And since then, I've been sitting on them. I was going to use them for the dinner last week, but there were enough great old reds brought by dear friends that I decided to sit on them for a while. However, recently I read an article in the New York Times about a man who was going through his father's house after his dad passed away. Among all of the usual sentimental stuff, he found a perfectly air conditioned closet in the father's otherwise un-air conditioned house. Within that closet was a bunch of wine, mostly decent stuff, but with one particular treasure: an impériale of 1986 Château Lafite-Rothschild. An impériale is a six liter bottle, the biggest in Bordeaux with a cork the width of a gas cap. The wine was awesome, a bunch of wine geeks that were friends with the son gathered to enjoy it over a proper dinner, but what I took from the story is that the dad never got to drink it.
And that's the important note. It's an oft-repeated maxim, but it bears stating again: "Don't save wine for a special occasion. Wine will make any occasion special." Obviously there are bottles that benefit from aging, but there's no reason to pin your hopes just on a single bottle or two. It may be corked. It may be oxidized. It might be slowly turning to vinegar. The epicureans had it right: "Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may be dead."
So we come to these two bottles of Concha y Toro... Tonight, with just me and no special foods, I popped open the 1998 Concha y Toro Merlot. It didn't taste all that great at first, but after a bit of breathing, was pretty good. Not as amazing as I'd hoped, but still incredible for the price. There's a bit of licorice and black pepper in the background, but otherwise, it's a standard aged red.
The main point: If I had saved this for a special or romantic occasion, I would have been disappointed. I think the cab sav will be better, but I'm not going to gamble on it either. I might go ahead and knock that one out this weekend. Or I might let it linger in the back of the cabinet while I rebuild the wine collection.
Here's an important footnote for everyone to take to heart: Not all wines age well. Those that do so only age well under ideal circumstances (50-60 degrees, not a lot of light, etc.). Most whites need to be drunk within three years of their vintage; a lot of reds need to be drunk within that same time period. Unless you're a serious collector, know your shit, and can afford to buy lots of expensive wine on a regular basis, there's no need to keep wine for years on end. There is a ton of affordable, easily accessible wine meant to be drunk *now*, or within a couple of months. Aging is like gambling--you've got to be willing to watch your investment money disappear.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't keep wine on hand--quite the contrary, it's good to always have at least two reds and two whites in reserve, and keep the whites in the fridge before the dinner. You never know when you're going to find a corked or sour wine, and it's always important to have a backup plan, preferably duplicate bottles of those you've sampled before. Last Saturday (after moving all of the good wine to the Ring Bearer's place), I was fixing a light dinner for La Principessa. First I opened a fun little pinot noir. It was corked and nasty. Then I opened a $6 bottle of an eight-year-old southern Rhone table wine I'd found recently. It was like sucking on a pickle. I poured both down the drain, and dinner went by with glasses of water. Always have backup bottles on hand.