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!