I have recently recognized a new emotion within me that must be common to most wine collectors. It has been there for a long time, but I have now experienced it repeatedly enough that I can recognize it. It happened when I opened the bottle you see in the picture, a 2005 Talley Pinot Noir from the Edna Valley.
The emotion is a certain melancholy associated with consuming the last bottle of a group stored and opened over a period of time. The last bottle! It’s like saying “good bye” to a friend knowing you’ll never see it again. Unfortunately it is an integral part of the collecting experience. Wine is not like jewelry or art; you can’t keep it forever and look at it. At some point it has to be consumed, and somewhere along the way depleted.
Generally most wines do not evoke an emotional reaction in me when I finish a certain vintage. For instance Acacia Pinot Noir is one of my “everyday drinking wines”. It’s relatively cheap. I buy it by the caseload, and guzzle it with friends and family. There is always a new vintage in wait ready to replace the one that disappears. No problem. I can name more that I have no trouble drinking out of my life: Leventraux Chablis, various Cotes du Rhone’s, Lucas Chardonnay, various Chinon’s, various New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.
The first time I experienced this “good-bye blues” was with 1993 Domaine Tempier Bandol, a label that carries cult status within our wine group. I collect this wine in both verticals and horizontals. 1993 had a special significance for me. To be sure it was a good year and it aged well. But more significantly it was the first Bandol vintage I drank in mass quantities after I joined our wine group. At the time I was in the throngs of a nasty divorce, lonely and forlorn. The wine group became a religious congregation of sorts for me, helping me heal from the angst I was experiencing in first years of my new life. During this process, among other things, ’93 Bandol entered my life. In those days it was cheap, less than $15 as I recall. And we all guzzled it. I did set some aside to age. Somewhere along the way, around 10 years after my divorce, with me fully healed and in a happy new marriage, I opened the last bottle of that ’93. Do you see why I felt sad?
A given wine does not have to be attached to such profound psychological issues to evoke the “good-bye blues”. A 1997 Brunello di Montalcino comes to my mind as an example. Everyone knows my dislike of Italian wines. 1997 was seminal year in Italy which singlehandedly changed the image of this region for many of us. I knew this, but refrained from buying anyway. Then my friend, the late John Morozumi strongly recommended that I buy a certain Brunello of this vintage. I no longer remember its name. I do remember that it was $65 per bottle, and in those days (as well as today), it was way too expensive, especially for a region I disliked. But John was our wine guru, and he rarely was so emphatic about insisting I buy something. So I did. And oh my God! Was that wine good! It gave me one of my earliest “sublime wine” moments: a moment you remember forever as you realize what an incredible experience is passing through your palate. I had only bought a few bottles. I opened the last one in Toronto in 2004 (see, I still remember the occasion!). It was at a reunion with two other couples we became friends with in Tuscany in 2002. I thought the occasion was apropos. Everyone got just a few sips, and I said good-bye to that wine quietly, oblivious to the conversation around.
The Talley pinot is the last of 6 I bought in 2007 when I went to the Pizmo Beach, Arroyo Grande area for a wedding. I have already mentioned the experience in another blog. It was to be a “dry” wedding on a Saturday afternoon. Julie’s Uncle Bob and I took off early that morning and tasted our way through the Edna Valley nearby, looking very professional, in suits and ties, and spitting everything. I have experienced innumerable tastings. This was one of the most fun and memorable. And I discovered Talley. This was a pinot which, especially in its 2005 incarnation, had the smoky, high extraction characters of a Rhone wine, with a decidedly California fruit. It seemed a good hybrid, combining France and U.S., without the features I hate about California. But ultimately it became an icon of a wonderful weekend we had in this region.
Those of you who are middle aged or older probably already know that not all melancholy is bad. There are some “blues” that are worth experiencing because the pleasures they are associated with make up for the sadness. This is yet another unique feature of the wine journey that I suppose one experiences after a certain level of maturation. Ironically the wines you feel sad about are themselves, by that time, also mature.