The Case of the Old Friend
It’s unlikely that many of us have a lot of old friends. Those people you’ve come to rely on as a confidant, who know you and your peculiars, who you have witnessed changing over time as their personalities and lives are altered. It is a privilege to have such a person in your life. You learn quite a bit about how time makes its impact when you sample the same person over the years.
The things that recommend we take and keep and nurture old friends are the same things that recommend to wine drinkers that they buy wine by the case.
It is a spectacular and interesting thing to taste and experience a bottle of X, then 20 years later, taste and experience that same bottle of X after having followed its path through 11 earlier encounters. The changes you’ll mark, like those you’ll mark with the old friend over time, are remarkable.
It’s a shame that so few wine drinkers do buy by the case with the intent of going back, over and over, trying the same wine as the years pass and as the wine changes. There is no data as to what percent of wine drinkers buy wine by the case, but I suspect it in the single digits. Maybe five-percent.
Cindy, my oldest friend who has remained a stable and important part of my life, I first encountered nearly 30 years ago. The friendship was instant. In that time I’ve watched her mature, but not that much. She has more lines today, she is wiser, she is concerned about things today that she never thought about 30 years ago. Yet, her personality still, after all this time, exposes her as an empathetic, curious, fun-loving, self-critical, trustworthy woman. And I’ve gotten to watch all this develop in her.
The wine lover watches the same thing with a single wine. When you taste your last bottle from the case twenty years after you tasted the first, you should understand much better what it means for a wine to be “immature”. And mark my words, a fine wine 2 years out of vintage and placed in bottle just months before is entirely immature. But give that wine 5 or 6 years. All of a sudden its corners aren’t as sharp. Its single-minded fruit and oak have mellowed and something familiar but new emerges. Wait another five years and taste your 7th or 8th bottle and you’ll note a softening. Or perhaps a new more coarse character has overtaken the wine and its vibrancy has been beaten down. It becomes sour and bitter. We all go though angry periods in our lives. But then, maybe, as you reach the 12th bottle that anger has dissolved and you’ll find something new and enlightened with just a hint of what it showed in its youth.
If you’ve not yet made a purchase of a case of a single wine to experience over time, do it now, before it’s too late. It’s true that not all wine is meant to reach the 20 year mark intact. Many will have lost too many limbs and gone dark well before they reach that point. So choose wisely. Choose a red wine that is known to last. Then make that one time splurge. Maybe it’s Bordeaux or Barolo or Napa Cabernet. Maybe it’s from Rioja. The point is to journey with this wine. If you’ve got a sharp mind you may not need to keep notes as you taste this wine over the years. But I recommend it.
Here’s what I can promise you. If you do purchase that case of wine and if you do drink bottles over the course of 20 years, you will make a friend who will become an old friend. They may become sour or bitter in old age, but this unfortunate experience should be understood as part of the whole that deserves experiencing as much as youthful vigor. But maybe, if you choose your friends wisely, you’ll make a friend that becomes an intimate companion and that delivers you pleasure for many years and in many guises.