I’ve long been a big fan of aged wines. I think a wine that has an opportunity to age a decade or more has the opportunity to gain complexity and subsequently becomes more enjoyable and interesting to drink.
Holding a wine for 10 or more years takes a good deal of patience, and the results aren’t always spectacular.
In the past year, my thoughts on cellaring wines have changed, if only because my health hasn’t left me with the confidence that I’ll get around to enjoying the bottles I’ve patiently tucked into my cellar.
In November 2016, I suffered a fairly major stroke, one bad enough that I was in the hospital for a few months, and I’ve been mostly confined to a wheelchair since. It’s left me without much use of my left side, which makes walking and typing more than a bit difficult. Thanks to a rigorous daily therapy routine, I’m making good progress in recovering.
When I turned 40, I hatched this idea of collecting 50 bottles of wine — one from each year of my life — to open on my 50th birthday. Four years later, I had roughly two-thirds of the wines gathered when I was diagnosed with Stage-4 lymphoma. I seriously wondered if I was going to make it to 50 and maybe I should open those wines earlier. Of course, thanks to good doctors and modern medicine, I got through that crisis, and my 50th birthday was quite the memorable bacchanalia.
Having this stroke gives me some perspective. With the cancer, I went from diagnosis to No Evidence of Disease in about six months. It took about the same period of time after stroke to regain any movement in my arm.
In other words, this is a different kind of battle. The cancer took all my hair, the stroke robbed me of my dignity and my ability to walk vineyards, go where I please and even took away my car keys. I think of 2017 as my “missing vintage” because I was on the sidelines in a wheelchair and working one-handed.
Fortunately, I figured out how to write fairly effectively with one hand, and I was fortunate to have a great business partner in Eric Degerman, who could help me weather the storm.
I’m still far from recovered. I’m mostly out of the wheelchair, and I can walk some with a cane. I spend two hours a day in rehab, and I see progress on a weekly basis, thanks to a team of doctors, therapists and family members that help my brain and left side of my body begin to reconnect and work again. Stroke recovery is not an easy thing. It’s a difficult slog that requires hard work and dedication every single day. There have been good things come out of this, no doubt, too many to list here. Suffice it to say I’ll be a better person with greater empathy from this experience when I finally am able to shake off the shackles of the stroke and re-emerge from the darkness of this odyssey.
Which gets us back to aging wines.
The first lesson, I suppose, is that wine, just like us, doesn’t always age as gracefully as we would hope. A wine can have all the numbers to age and be stored correctly and still not be what be you might hope for 20 years later.
Of course, the primary lesson I’ve learned from this is that it might not always be prudent to hold onto that bottle, hoping for the day that it has peaked, and has reached that level of magical elixir we wish for. The wine just simply might not last that long.
The lesson I take away from my travails is don’t put off a wine for tomorrow that should be enjoyed while you are able. You just don’t know when you won’t be in position to enjoy it. I was fortunate that while the stroke took my ability to swallow (which I regained), I didn’t lose my ability to taste and enjoy wine. Others who suffer major strokes aren’t as fortunate as I.
So go through your cellar (something I can’t do yet because of bad balance), find those bottles that hold some meaning (as well as good wine) and find the right occasion to build a great meal around them, pull the cork (something I can’t do yet without that left hand), and lift a glass to your good fortune — and good health.
That special bottle makes the occasion special, and you just never know what is lurking around the corner.
ANDY PERDUE is the wine columnist for The Seattle Times and the founding editor of Wine Press Northwest.