In September of 1992, in the duty-free section of ferry-boat freshly departed from Rosslare, Ireland, I bought a bottle of wine. Already buzzed from the romance and contrived sentimentality of a backpacker’s trip in Europe and excited by our arrival in France, I decided to splurge on a 1982 Chateau Dauzac Margaux. I, of course, did not know Chateau Margaux from Bartles & James. I took a stab in the vintner’s dark, chose something on the shelf second from the top, and packed it away in my Lowe Alpine backpack. I don’t remember how much I paid for it, but at the time it seemed like a lot, especially for a newly graduated high school student who hadn’t even discovered the horrors of Lucky Lager beer and peppermint schnapps. But I still suspected it was something special that I was not ready to appreciate.
To its credit, this bottle of French pride has endured hardships. Since that smiley, sunny day in Cherbourg (sans umbrellas), it has quietly experienced, without consent, three winters of harsh neglect in sub-arctic Fairbanks, Alaska, as well as the rainy dreariness of Kenai and Anchorage. It has been subjected to the dry Utah desert air, the bumps and temperature changes of many road trips in a Volkswagen Beetle, and the unacceptable heat of an Arizona summer. It’s been rained on. It has been dropped in a sink and on various floor surfaces, like linoleum and brown stain-free carpet. It’s had hot gravy spilled on it. It has been stored in a humid storage unit in Ocean Beach, California for two 1-year stints (where it lives currently, upside down, in a box). It was tossed around and nearly consumed by a group of rowdy teenagers. Simply, this French gem has lived in seven zip codes of cruel, American neglect.
Today it occurred to me that I have not had a material possession longer that this bottle of wine. All the electronics toys, books, furniture, cars, clothes, laptops, CDs, and all the other tchotchka that one collects, they have come and gone, and with the common apathy and attention deficit of a spoiled materialistic child of the 1st-world. It has survived six girlfriends, and more than a few light-hearted flings (ok, fine–just a few). It looks tired and aged.
Possibly, the lasting relationship between this bottle and me is a testament to my own appreciation for food and drink. Maybe I have been holding on to this wine as a little symbol of how I imagine my life should be, or for an evening of some romantic experience in which this bottle is part of a catharsis after a building frustration of mediocrity, or maybe I am just an indecisive idiot, afraid of committment.
Chateau Dauzac has produced wine classified as “one of eighteen Cinquièmes Crus (Fifth Growths) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855“. Our bottle of Chateau Dauzac Margaux is ranked fifth in quality in a list of five types of wine, but these wines made it through as the best of what France had to offer at the time, and the Official Classification has only changed twice since 1855. To some, this is just more evidence of the rigid, conservative French culinary attitude. But any way you slice it (or pour it, in this case), this wine is bad-ass.
The maturing age of this bottle is apparently 18 – 20 years, which makes its heyday somewhere around 2001, while I was pacing the streets of São Paulo, rushing to my next private business English class, reeling in my hanging tongue in front of the herds of beautiful Paulista women, and getting sunburned and drinking caipirinhas in Guarujá. I have always known the right time to drink this wine, and I have harbored the guilt of its neglect back deep in the place where I keep all my writing material for self-loathing and pity. I do not know enough about wine to actually anticipate what this bottle will now taste like when or if it is ever opened. I know that I will have ready, along with a bowl of raw spinach leaves, pine nuts, arugula and iceberg lettuce, the best damn bottle of olive oil I can find, just in case it has turned to vinegar.
Because I am at once a fatalistic cynic and a romantic, I have imagined the ideal scenario in which this bottle of wine should be truly enjoyed and appreciated, but don’t really believe it will ever take place. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that there are no dudes, beer pong games or chicken wings in this fantasy.
Twice I have been tempted, deep in bouts of self-pity, to open the damn thing and get it over with, cork screw in hand, like Miles in the movie Sideways, gulping his Pinot Noir out of a styrofoam cup at a fast food restaurant. But each time I came to realize, as a small epiphany, some of what is valuable and what is not. Wine is a social drink, and it doesn’t seem to taste as good when drunk alone. It is best enjoyed spontaneously, when friends suddenly appear and everyone is caught in a haze of conversation and excitement about life. And when one takes an inventory of these types of life occurrences, there are never too many; sadly there are usually not enough. I can only speak for myself, but too much of life has been eaten up in the business of living, in getting the adult chores done each day, in resting on the sofa in exhaustion from work, in sitting around and bitching about dead-end jobs or annoying people on the other end of the political spectrum.
So let’s call this expensive, never-ending bottle of wine a catalyst, a symbol in waiting, a token giving impetus to some future gathering of friends. As a piece of old-world quality, it at least deserves to be presented in an environment of smart, happy words and laughs, coming from the mouths of people who enjoy the company of one another. Here’s to hanging out and living in the moment.