Last night for my 50th birthday, my wife and I shared a 22-year-old. I have to admit to some anxiety before the first taste, as I had been thinking about this 22-year-old for years, hoping after I had bought it that I'd taken proper care of it, that it would live up to its promise, the weight of waiting. What if I'd done something wrong and ruined it along its journey to maturity? I'd never forgive myself. But now that it was at last mine, plush and luscious in my mouth, I have to admit, it was very very good.
Wait, you might be confused...I'm talking about a bottle of 1991 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon. It was the first expensive bottle of wine I ever bought, perhaps almost $40 back in 1995 (ah, those innocent, cheaper me days), and I've been storing it ever since, assuming there'd be a right time, a right steak (come to think of it, I was a pescatarian when I bought it). I would not want to begin to count the bottles of wine I've purchased/consumed since then, as the Montelena bided its time. Perhaps it felt it was waiting for me, too.
It was a relief bringing the bottle to a restaurant for corkage, as I didn't have to do the opening honors and face the fear of the cork crumbling or the cork lifting and emitting a damp cardboard tinge that might mean taint. The cork itself pulled clean, and was well-reddened, so it seems I stored the bottle relatively well. Not a whiff of TCA, either. And now the Cab sat, an open question, drinking air from a century different than the last it had contact with. We had cocktails to start, as this was Sly's, and you don't pass on Mandy's cocktails even for a 22-year-old.
Finally it was time, and we had much to toast to as it wasn't just my birthday, but my wife had just been named Santa Barbara Poet Laureate--a glorious coincidence for the bottle to be part of. Its color carmine even to its edges--not a bit of brown even for its age. The nose was muted, although that keep changing with the night, some red berry, some leather. The taste, of all things, dignified, although again as it opened more and more it let its wild side out, more bramble in that berry. And it left your mouth better than when it began, teaching your tongue how to taste, making my medium rare Kansas City New York bone-on beef in a drizzle of Bearnaise beautiful.The bottle just kept opening, a night of possibility, growing fuller, deeper, more delicious. As if I needed another lesson in how the best things in life are worth a wait.