Perhaps you know this story, about the reclusive Italian prince Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, who became obsessed with winemaking and developed eccentric theories about particular molds encasing his bottles, made beautiful wines, and then, one day in 1995, ordered nearly all of his vineyards torn up. He gave the last 14,000 bottles in his cellar to an Italian journalist, on the condition that the journalist see to it that they were sold abroad by the right people.

Well, three bottles of that wine found their way to me just a few days ago, after a circuitous—and, for all I know, poorly temperature-controlled—journey through a wealthy doctor, the wealthy doctor’s daughter, the wealthy doctor’s daughter’s friend Francesca, and, finally, Francesca’s husband, Mark. Mark chose to bring those bottles to a dinner at my home, I suspect, because he wanted to make a serious offering, to share something he knew I would find thrilling. He was also honest enough to tell me that the one bottle he’d already opened was awful.

But still, this was as rare a wine as anyone was likely to give me for a long time, and it was a delightful way to say that our dinners together, in times past, had mattered to him. After all, he and Francesca were barely an item when they first moved into the apartment downstairs, several years ago, but they were married—and dear friends of ours—by the time they moved out. Along the way, Mark had become a go-to food-and-wine tasting partner for me, always willing to be pulled away from his legal studies to sample four Zinfandels or eight Chardonnays. We’d jointly developed a passion for humanely and organically raised meats and poultry and dairy products, we’d done a huge amount of eating together, and on his very last night in town, before Mark and Francesca moved off to Chicago, Mark gave me a gallon of McEvoy extra-virgin olive oil, a seriously expensive and fabulous present. So now he and Francesca were back in town for a visit, he knew I was thrilled to be cooking for him again, and he wanted to offer something even more special. So out they came, those bottles wrapped in mystery and a great old story: Sémillon, all three of them, with their vintages written by hand in black marker: 1990, 1993, and 1994. We chilled the oldest first. I’ll describe its taste, and the taste of the other two bottles, in my next posts.

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