It was a moment of truth for me—or at least a moment of great anticipation. My entire house still had construction paper covering the floors to protect against ongoing remodeling, I needed a haircut so bad it was getting embarrassing, I’d finally shaved my unintended beard with a pink disposable razor meant for doing touch-up on an oft-shaven leg, and I had a cross rib roast in the oven—which made me nervous. I’m not a master of these roasting joints, especially from the lean, grass-fed steers I’ve been sharing the last two years. And yet, despite all that, how could I not open one of those three bottles, the three Fiorano Sémillons brought by my friend Mark. The story of the Fiorano wine I won’t revisit here, although it’s long and wonderful and worth reading if you missed the press flurry in 2004. (Here’s a great link on the Ludovisi matter, and the eccentric old Italian prince, and the weird mold in his cellar, and the sense that these wines are mysterious miracles, at the first-rate wine blog Vinography.)

Suffice to say that Mark is a fledgling wine-and-food-lover, just finished with law school and awaiting the results of the bar exam and wracking his brain for ways to make a legal career that brings him into the food world. Suffice also to say that he knew, when he was given these bottles of Fiorano from the cellars of the reclusive Prince Ludovisi, that he had something special on his hands. And now he wanted me to open one, but I could see that he was feeling itchy about it, uncomfortable, a little frustrated. He wanted to warn me: The first bottle he tried didn’t even taste like wine. But now I’d popped the cork of a 1990 Fiorano Sémillon, and I was feeling pretty excited to be let in on this great vinous mystery tale. Pouring two glasses, I handed one to Mark, swirled one myself, we both sipped, and … it was awful. Undrinkable, acidic, vinegary … one more sip, to be sure, and I was spitting in the sink and pouring out the rest and recorking the bottle and telling Mark not to worry about it. He was a little distraught, I could tell: It’s frustrating to have your hands on wine so potentially special and to come up short, especially if you’re a person of limited resources, and world-class wines don’t flow through your home like bubbly water.

“But Mark,” I said, “look, I’ll chill the other two bottles, and we’ll try them on Saturday night.” That would be his last night in town. He and Francesca were just here for a visit, catching up with friends, and we had a big dinner already planned.

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