We sat down for dinner, with three wine glasses lined up at each plate. Per the suggestion of my favorite wine guru, I roasted duck and paired it with a chile rellano picadillo to accompany the 1982 Chateau Pichon Lalande. My uncle Janusz filled the wine glasses with the ’82 Bordeaux, a second Bordeaux of less auspicious background and a $10 Bordeaux-style bottle purchased from Costco.
My uncle began collecting wines in the early 1980s when he was just establishing himself in his career and finally had a few extra dollars to spend on little luxuries. Over the next 10 years he amassed a collection of over 200 cases of wine, mostly from the premium vintages in Bordeaux. All the wines in his collection are of the style that improves with age. As Janusz puts says, it takes “strength of character” to sit on this much wine and not be able to drink it while it matures in the bottle.
By now, many of the vintages are ready to drink. Whenever I visit, we go “rooting” in the cellar to find something special and interesting. Janusz will open the bottle 8 hours in advance to let it breath, tastes it throughout the day to see how the flavors open and develop, and then takes copious notes so he’ll know how to handle the same wine the next time he opens a bottle.
He would swirl, slurp and sip, discerning all the fine characteristics of the wine, comparing his thoughts with Robert Parker, the eminent source of wine ratings and reviews. I would mimic Janusz’s gestures and parrot back his sentiments. Truthfully, to me, the wines tasted dusty.
Robert Parker had given the 1982 Pichon Lalande a rating of 100, a perfect score. The second Bordeaux (which neither Janusz nor I can recall by name) scored 91, still considered a very fine ranking. The third bottle didn’t even warrant a review by Parker.
Even though my palate was not refined enough to appreciate the “100” wine, my intellect told me to drink it first while my palate was fresh. I took a sip, nodded as if to say, “Yes, of course this is a fine wine,” and then moved onto the second wine, the “91.” It was then that I realized I could indeed taste the difference. Wow! The layers of flavor, the earthiness, the fruit, the softened tannins… they were all there. The “91” seemed flat by comparison, and the “$10” was downright insipid. I felt sorry for the “91”. I know in its own right, it would have been a fine wine, and I would have been quite pleased to drink it. But it suffered shamefully standing next to the “100.”
Last night, I opened a 1985 Lafite Rothschild, a gift from dear Janusz. An idle Sunday night, perhaps, but if you wait for just the right special occasion to present itself, you may wait a very long time.
Thank you, Janusz, for making life a special occasion!
AUTHOR:T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types
DATE:1/18/2010 08:07:00 AM
What fun! Last year, I attended a Bordeaux class on my birthday, but I can't say we tried anything this good. Regardless, I am a diehard fan of Bordeaux. And I probably don't have the strength of character to restrain myself ...
(By the way, the food writing conference is Feb. 13th in NYC at the Roger Smith Hote: http://www.foodwritersconference.com/
and, the food blogger I reference is Veronica of Kitchen Musings.
DATE:1/18/2010 03:10:00 PM
Yep, there is nothing like fine wine...nothing. A aged, fine wine is truly a thing of beauty.
AUTHOR:Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)
DATE:1/18/2010 04:35:00 PM
I really wish I had a palate for wine, but thanks to a slight allergy, I can't drink it. I do love to cook with wine and to watch those who eat at my table enjoy wine with the food.
DATE:1/18/2010 06:28:00 PM
What a lovely way to convey your appreciation of the ways the wines differed.
I would love to understand the wine thing better, but alas, it seems to escape me. I can distinguish some of the characteristics you talk about, but I don't like it. I've tried probably 50 wines over time, reds and whites of varying origins and price points, and I can't honestly say I really enjoyed a single one. I drank it because it was in front of me. I'll take a cocktail any day over wine (though really, I shouldn't take either).
And you're right - any and every day can be a special occasion. :)
DATE:1/18/2010 11:01:00 PM
That sounds like such a fun evening. You're fortunate to have such a connoisseur in your family with an amazing wine collection to boot. Is your uncle looking to adopt any additional nieces?
By the way -- I posted a recipe I made with your vanilla beans. Forgot to tell you. Their flavour is amazing!