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The End of Wine (August 3, 2011)

Mark the date December 21, 2012, in your diary or BlackBerry or whatever you use to remember significant events. It's a Friday. Mark it because you might not be around to read it the following day. The Mayan Calendar supposedly predicts the world will end on that date.

There are people who take this sort of thing very seriously. When I was in the Elqui Valley last January I was shown a large vineyard in the mountainous northern end of the region which was owned by a very wealthy landowner. Elqui is a very spiritual place, a shrine for New Agers who believe this beautiful valley will be the only place on earth that will survive the cataclysm. The rest of the planet will be destroyed. In preparation for the date this landowner has planted, adjacent to his vineyard, a vast acreage of beans so that he and his family would be self-sufficient when the end comes.

Let me change thoughts for a moment, but stay with me because they are related. I go fishing every year somewhere in Northern Canada with five other guys. These trips over the years have become replete with rituals. We each have a wardrobe of fishing T-shirts, the same T-shirts, that we wear in rotation on appointed days (rather like the Mayan Calendar). One of them shows two men in a boat with their lines in the water. In the hills behind them there are three mushroom clouds. One of the men says to the other, "Limit's off."

The point I'm making here is, why are you hanging on to those cherished bottles of wine waiting for an occasion grand enough to open them? If you believe the world will end as the Mayans predict, I bet a dime to a donut you're going to make sure you get into those old Bordeaux and Burgundy before it's too late.

I understand that there is a natural tendency to want to keep old wines. How often have I heard my collector friends bemoan the fact that they can't open a bottle they paid $40 for because it's now worth $1400. What are they waiting for? A dead wine that's worth nothing?

Two years ago I bought two bottles of Château Haut-Batailley 1959 at a charity auction. I had no idea of their provenance or how they had been stored, but the fill looked good in both bottles and their lead capsules seemed intact. No leakage, and the colour, from what I could see, was still deep.

The question was not when to open them but with whom? I had to make sure that the participants understood what a unique opportunity this was – to taste a wine that was 52 years old, irrespective of its possible faults. Since 1982 I have been part of a dinner group who enjoy wine, so I thought this would be the perfect venue. The cork came out of the bottle like dream; the wine smelled sensational and tasted of blackcurrants and sweet tobacco. It was amazing – the wine of the night. It could have been dried out or, worse, corked, but that's the beauty of the consuming passion wine lovers share. Expectations are sometimes rewarded, sometimes thwarted.

So why wait for the end of the world? The limit's off. A great wine doesn't have to wait for a great occasion. Drink them before they begin to fade. Maximize your enjoyment when your life needs a lift.

And by the way, how can the world end on a Friday anyway? Couldn't they at least give us the weekend?




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