Written by Allen R. Balik
I would be hard pressed to recall how many times I’ve heard the exclamation, “I’m saving this wine for a special occasion,” when someone spoke of a specific bottle just received as a gift or discovered while meandering around the cellar. We’ve probably all said it at some point, but what does it actually mean?
For most people, the assumption is a special occasion must involve a celebration with friends, business associates or family around an important happening. While this may be true in many circumstances, are we doing ourselves a disservice by waiting too long to savor that hoped-for memorable bottle?
Why not just take pleasure in a spontaneous dinner at home or at a local restaurant with a significant someone where “you” are actually that special occasion? An old friend often reminds me, “If not me, who, and if not now, when?”
I guess this can sound a bit hedonistic but think about it for a moment. We all have some treasured possessions or plans we are waiting to share with others to commemorate an extraordinary time in a grandiose manner. But is it always a wise idea to save that “special” bottle of wine which, after all, is a perishable entity?
Wine is a living thing that begins life with all the prettiness and cheer of a newborn maturing through adolescence to adulthood and eventually old age. The spectrum is not the same for all wines, and many factors will affect the way it shows itself along the way. The breed and heritage of the wine itself, along with storage and the simple fact that all wines are not meant to age or even improve significantly over time, are just a few of these variables.
A couple of weeks ago, I was reading an article by L. Pierce Carson in the Napa Valley Register about the Robert Mondavi Winey’s 50th anniversary celebration. Among many classic Mondavi wines Pierce referred to in the article was the 1969 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Unfiltered. My thoughts quickly switched to a memorable moment and a magnum of this superb wine I shared with Marty Petersil, a close friend and wine merchant in Southern California.
While visiting his store in the early 1990s, I spotted the magnum Marty had just acquired from a pristine cellar and purchased it on the condition that we share it together for a special occasion. Marty agreed but not finding just the right time, the magnum sat in my cellar in Southern California for eight or 10 years and ultimately made the move with me to Napa in 2001, where the wait continued.
As the years went by, Marty became very ill, and so-called special occasions were more a hope than reality. So I suggested to Marty that Barbara and I make a trip to Los Angeles just to have dinner together with Hugh Lipton, a close mutual wine loving friend, so we could all enjoy the wine. Unfortunately, that was the last dinner we had with Marty as his illness worsened. But the twinkle in Marty’s eye that night was my reward for making sure we shared that beautiful bottle as we had promised each other so many years earlier. And that was my own special occasion.
Think about the trips we plan but never take, and the dinners we talk about, but never schedule. I’m sure we’ve all had those experiences. And then there’s that special bottle sitting in the cellar — not to mention in a closet or kitchen cabinet — which may not make the journey and turn out far less special than expected when finally opened.
I can recall times when I reached for a particular bottle I was holding for a special occasion only to find I had waited too long. And then I asked myself wouldn’t this have been a better enjoyed just a few years earlier? I know others have had the same experience, and I’ve certainly read similar sad stories many times in the wine press.
So why not just open that bottle you are saving with friends and family, and let that be the special occasion on its own? Or as my old friend Burt says: “If not me, who, and if not now, when?”