My friends Brad and Vicky found themselves in a situation that will be familiar to many wine enthusiasts: In addition to wine for everyday drinking, their wine refrigerator contained a few odd bottles of special wines that they had been given or had otherwise acquired over the years, and which they were saving for that Special Occasion. The trouble being, of course, no occasion ever seemed quite special enough to open these oh-so-special bottles, so they continued to just sit there.
Well, I have seen this state of affairs before and know that all too often it ends unhappily. So I persuaded them that we should have a dinner, pull a few corks, and try these venerable wines. I even offered to contribute a few bottles of my own to demonstrate that my advice was not entirely motivated by self-interest, and a date was set.
As you have probably guessed, the wines were, at best, a mixed bag, but that did not prevent us from having a thoroughly convivial time. Of the three great bottles we tried that evening—Château Montrose 1989, Mouton Rothschild 1985, and Lynch-Bages 1987—only one of them, the Montrose, was in peak condition. The other two, the Mouton and Lynch-Bages, were not undrinkable; they were just flat and lifeless. This often happens to great wine that has not been stored properly, and is no reflection on the quality of these great properties.
The Château Montrose 1989 ($245 to $285 on wine-searcher.com), however, was at its absolute peak, and quite wonderful. Soft, mellow, and dusty, it still retained glowing dark berry fruit flavors along with a robust acidity. Then there were all those wonderful forest-floor elements you get in great old Bordeaux: wet leaves, leather, cinnamon, and cedar.
But the best part of the experience was watching how the wine changed and evolved with time. Each glass, each sip even, revealed new layers of nuanced, beguiling complexity.
This is the wonder of great wine for me, the combination in one glass of both sensual and intellectual pleasures.
There is also a salutary lesson here. There are some wines for which no occasion seems special enough, so follow Brad and Vicky's example, not to mention that of Miles in the 2004 oenophile cult movie Sideways, and drink them now. However, like Brad and Vicky, but unlike Miles, be sure to drink them with appreciative friends and so create your own memorable occasion.
When to Drink: Now
Breathing/Decanting: One hour's breathing
Food Pairing: Roast meats and game
Grapes: Predominantly cabernet sauvignon
Region: Medoc, Bordeaux
Availability: Very limited