true confession

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Some years ago – OK, about 20 years ago – I took a weekend trip to a secluded mountain valley in north central Washington. I was traveling with a golfing/drinking buddy, and we were staying in the home of his older brother, who was on an extended vacation. Jimmy the Fish immediately attained legendary status in my mind, simply by virtue of the furnishings (a penis lamp was particularly noteworthy) and photos of him and his wife naked in various exotic locales.

My buddy and I soon exhausted the supply of wine I had packed for the occasion, and couldn’t help but notice a small wine rack placed next to a wood-burning stove in the living room. As I poked through the bottles, a motley assortment of aged plonk, I found a hidden gem. It was a 1974 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon – a great year in Napa, and a wine I had never, up until that time, tasted.

I brought it to my friend’s attention, being careful (not too careful) to note the obvious drawbacks to any thoughts of actually drinking it. First, there was the provenance – next to a wood-burning stove for god knows how many years. Second, there was the fact that it wasn’t actually our wine. And last but not least, the damn bottle was actually inscribed. It had at one time been a gift, and clearly set aside for some future “special occasion.”

Well this was longgggg before open the bottle night. But my friend assured me that Jimmy the Fish wouldn’t miss the wine, had no idea that it was a classic, and was several thousand miles away. After a few further remarks to the effect that “no I really couldn’t” and “it wouldn’t be right” I caved in. Still doubting that a 15-year-old well-cooked bottle of Inglenook would have much lead in its pencil, I carefully pulled the cork.

Of course, the wine was liquid magic. Perfectly aged, mature, all in proportion, Bordeaux-like with some of the early-70s California raisin character. We drank it happily, toasted Jimmy the Fish, and enjoyed the rest of our weekend. In subsequent years Jimmy the Fish went on to enjoy many fine wines from my own cellar, and so the story, such as it is, has a happy ending. I never forgot the ’74 Inglenook, nor regretted drinking it, but I offer this true confession in the hopes that it will clear out any residual guilt and encourage hope among all who read it for lost wines that, no matter how carelessly stored, may still hold some power.

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