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Thursday Thorns
How Not To Open A Bottle of Wine

By Charles Olken

Last night, Steve Eliot broke my favorite cork-puller. I have others, so please do not worry that my thirst will no longer be slaked by a rich Chardonnay or juicy, bracingly balanced Riesling or by one of the bountiful array of grand Pinot Noirs that were gracing my table at the time.

No, this story is not about thirst. It is about a sense of loss. One can have lots of favorites, but one can only have one “very favorite”. And Steve broke it. It will no longer wait patiently for me in the basket on the sideboard of our tasting room, which also happens to be my dining room. Now, when I reach for something to pull the cork on the next bottle of wine, I will have to settle for second best.

I feel the same way about my favorite bottle of wine—or to be perfectly honest, about my favorite bottles of wine. I am often asked to name my favorite wine of all time and I refuse. “I can name fifty favorites of all time, but not just one”. These are wines so grand that I shudder to open them lest, like my favorite cork-puller, they will not exist anymore.

And so it is that my cellar is populated with a bunch of “orphans”—wines that are the last of their vintage. I have kept that last bottle of 1971 Freemark Abbey Chardonnay on the shelf of my cellar for almost four decades. I can’t bear to open it. It was one of the very first great wines I collected, and I enjoyed every bottle in the case box—except that last one with which I cannot part.

In fact, I have a whole corner of my cellar devoted to old white wines that I refused to open lest I be without them. Chalone Pinot Blancs and Chenin Blancs, Stony Hill Chardonnays, Mayacamas, Spring Mountain, even Joseph Swan Chardonnay—although admittedly, it is the older Swan Zins and Pinots in the opposite corner that I can rarely bring myself to open.

I can’t really defend the practice of keeping rare and beautiful wines until then have aged into senility and are now merely trophies. It makes only slightly more sense than worshipping my favorite corkpuller, which was nothing more than one of those two-pronged things that you slide down between cork and bottle neck and twist. Sometimes they break, which is something a more regular corkscrew rarely does.

But this one was my favorite. It came with the Connoisseurs’ Guide logo handsomely inscribed on its sheath and it has been in the family now for a couple of decades. And Steve broke it. He might as well have drunk up my last bottle of 1974 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet.

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