You Shouldn’t Have

Ivor is an old, old friend; we met in the eighth grade, by my recollection, and we became pals in high school, and we stayed close through our 20s. Marriage and kids made it harder to see each other, and in the last few years we haven’t done better than a lunch once in a long while, but he and his wife, Alison, still mean the world to me, as do their children. So I felt mostly gratitude when they arrived at my front door to join my belated 40th birthday party.

They didn’t have to come—they live 40 minutes away without traffic—and yet, there they were, giving my life the kind of context that only comes from truly old friends. Better still, they’d brought a bottle: a 1998 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon. I’d just recently tasted my first Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, in order to write it up for a new book to be called 1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die (I’m just one of many contributors), and I was, as a result, smitten by the role of Chateau Montelena in the history of new-world winemaking: Its Chardonnay, after all, was the white wine that took first place at the legendary 1976 Judgment of Paris, where California dominated France’s finest, and forever changed the world’s wine-drinking landscape. Although that Chardonnay remains dazzling—a nonmalolactic effort that gives a steely quality to plush California fruit—Chateau Montelena’s Cabernets have become even better known. So I was primed to be thrilled by what Ivor had to offer.

Ivor’s brother owns a restaurant in Oregon, and the bottle had come from there; Ivor didn’t want me to get the wrong idea about the level of his splurge. I didn’t care one way or another—but I would’ve divulged the same thing. Nobody wants more gratitude than he deserves; nobody wants to feel he’s left out a key detail. Ivor also said that he hadn’t kept the bottle properly cellared, implying that I should further modulate my thanks until I’d popped the cork. But it hardly mattered, because this was a wine I’d never have bought myself, and would always have wanted to try—if only to share in a sense of history—and the gift demonstrated that my dear old friend, as out of touch as we’d become, was apparently paying close attention, reading my present-tense cares with his old-time acuity, and making a gesture that was unmistakably healing, thrusting out a handshake that instantly closed whatever gulf had opened through sheer dint of separation. And the moment I wake up tomorrow, I’m going to start thinking about the steak that wine will wash down.

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