After the sad encounter with the 1990 Fiorano Sémillon, at which my friend Mark seemed half distraught and half frustrated with his bad luck—the wine was undrinkable—it was hard to hold out much hope for the 1993 or the 1994. But I’d put them in refrigerator that night, to cool. Two days later, as I was cooking for Mark and Francesca’s last night in town, my curiosity began to get the better of me. I had two chickens roasting in the oven, and I was making a salad from Chez Panisse Vegetables that included fresh shell beans, a mixture of green beans, and chanterelles, and before I knew it I was opening the 1993 while alone in my kitchen at four o’clock in the afternoon. A 14-year-old bottle of white wine: These things just don’t happen to me, and when the 1990 turned out to be hopeless, I’d felt a sense of cosmic justice. As in: That’s right, wine miracles don’t happen in my life. They happen to other people, especially people with oodles of money and no fear of alcoholism. But then I took a sip. My palate often gets a little shocked, at first, by alcohol, but I felt immediately the promise. With a second sip the promise began to seem a reality: The wine was absolutely not spoiled, and although the fruit had quieted considerably it had a beautiful, clear, balanced quality, and indefinable traces of herb and flower. So I drank some more. And then a little more. And then I felt guilty because Mark and Francesca weren’t even there yet.
When at last they arrived, bringing other mutual friends—Nora and Tim—I was tempted to thrust a glass into Mark’s hand, but I was afraid of loading too much expectation. The truth is, I was quietly thrilled by what I had tasted. But I opened a bottle of sparkling wine instead, a Schramsberg blanc de blancs, and only when everyone had toasted and begun drinking and also dipping raw pimentón peppers into a hot anchovy sauce (the bagna cauda recipe from Lulu’s Provençal Table), did I quietly pass Mark a separate piece of stemware. Sipping along with him, and anticipating his giddy discovery that we’d hit upon one of the Ludovisi miracle bottles, I was surprised to see him indifferent. Shaking it off, I went ahead and opened the 1994. Trying it myself, first, I was less impressed by this one; I felt that I could taste the cork, and that something was out of balance, and that the fruit had entirely vanished. But Mark, to my surprise, liked that one more. And so did the others around my kitchen island, still eating that hot anchovy sauce. So I took both bottles to the table, to pass during dinner.
Then a curious thing happened: I noticed that nobody was drinking very much, except me. I was still hypnotized by the ’93, by this light, ethereal song it was singing. After a while, though, in company, that’s not enough. You want to share, and you want people to enjoy themselves. So I pulled out a bottle of Trimbach Alsace Gewürztraminer, passed it around, and saw Mark grow instantly happier. I had cheeses to offer as a next course, and there, too, I left the Fiorano behind, grabbing a Keller Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. And only then—only in savoring the good, relatively young Pinot, and feeling its match to those cheeses, did Mark seem entirely to overcome the Ludovisi frustration. And once I poured a glass of Pinot for myself, and dug into the cheeses, I began to understand. So much more fruit, so much more body and presence in the wine … so much more happiness emerging with each sip. And I began to wonder about the mysterious beauty I’d tasted earlier, as I drank the ’93 alone. Was it real? Imagined? Willed into being by my own desire? I don’t suppose I’ll ever know.