It was 87 degrees inside my house. The doors, which we had opened in a futile effort to circulate the stagnant air, were now too swollen from the humidity to shut properly. The power had been down for about 48 hours.
"Honey, I'm opening the Mouton-Rothschild 2000. Grab a glass," I said.
I knew when I moved to New Orleans that hurricane season was a fact of life. After Katrina, my wife's parents came home to find that 3 feet of floodwater had ruined much of their ground floor.
Thankfully, Hurricane Isaac did not severely challenge New Orleans' newly strengthened levees. Neighboring parishes outside the levees suffered far more and need our help and prayers.
Still, the local utility spent days after the storm trying to bring New Orleans back to the 21st century. (We spent 60 hours without power; other neighborhoods were out for nearly five more days.) Residents could decide quickly what in the fridge needed to be eaten or tossed, but for restaurants, retailers and collectors around the city, wine was a bit of a concern. The French Quarter and the Central Business District enjoy underground power lines and never lost electricity. Commander's Palace, one of Wine Spectator's newest Grand Award winners, kept five generators running constantly to keep its cellar cool. Chef Tory MacPhail, who owns a big enough jeep to not worry about flooding or storm debris, drove over to the restaurant every 12 hours to refuel the noisy things.
Inevitably, some wine was lost. One retailer I spoke to moved his most expensive inventory to a warehouse with generators. He's asking his insurance company about the rest, since he feels he can't sell it to customers at full price. But New Orleanians have learned, out of necessity, to dust themselves off quickly after a storm and rebuild. Upperline restaurant lost part of its roof during the storm. It's scheduled to reopen today.
My tiny, humble collection of bottles was simply housed in a fridge in my office. Unsure how long they could survive the swelter, I took a few bottles I was worried about out beforehand, so I wouldn't open the fridge again once the lights went out. As our time in the dark heat dragged on, I began to pop corks and enjoy the wines with my wife. The first night we drank Black Kite's Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 2009. The winds were just picking up, and the lights went out for 20 minutes before popping back on. I was glad the Pinot Noir could be enjoyed cool.
The power went off for good at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, and later in the day, as the winds howled around my circa 1915 house, we cracked a bottle of Renato Ratti Barolo Rocche 2006. Really complex and smooth.
On Thursday, Isaac's eye had moved to the west, but we were still being hit by feeder bands, wondering how low wind speeds had to drop before Entergy crews headed out to repair power lines. We were thankful our house was OK, but it was starting to get really hot. My toddler son was restless. After he fell asleep that night, I opened the Mouton-Rothschild 2000.
It had been a gift, the first collectible wine I had ever owned, and I was not a wine writer when I received it—just a political reporter with a passion for great vino. The Mouton had not always been stored in pristine conditions—for a while, it lay on the bottom of my Brooklyn closet. And when I pulled the cork, the wine tasted a tad older than it should have. But it was still a complex, powerful creature. It was obviously a special wine. I was glad I could enjoy it with my wife and raise it to toast the home and good fortune that had kept us safe.
While I think it's important to drink wine that's had a chance to age and grow more complex in the bottle, wine should never be so precious that we fear grabbing a corkscrew and having at it. It's far worse to let a wine die inside the bottle, never to be drunk.
So what would you drink if a monster storm was coming and your neighbors decided to throw a hurricane party?
Ron Lippitt — Warwick, RI — September 13, 2012 9:08pm ET
Michael Haley — Eugene, OR — September 14, 2012 1:52am ET
Greg Flanagan — Bethel CT — September 14, 2012 9:03am ET
Jordan Monkman — Bermuda — September 14, 2012 9:48am ET
Robert Davis — Texas — September 14, 2012 10:36am ET
Peter Steinke — Woodinville, — September 14, 2012 12:32pm ET
Kimberly Musa — lemoore ca — September 15, 2012 1:42pm ET
William Matarese — Florida, USA — September 15, 2012 2:35pm ET
James Peterson — San Antonio, Texas — September 15, 2012 2:56pm ET
Do Valle Llc — Branford, CT, USA — September 17, 2012 12:39pm ET
Leonard Danna — Monte Sereno, CA — September 17, 2012 1:47pm ET
Michael Stanford — Atlanta, Ga — September 17, 2012 4:23pm ET
Mitch Frank — New Orleans — September 18, 2012 3:43pm ET
Jonathan Weinrieb — Washington, DC — September 21, 2012 1:01pm ET
Julie Mckain — Rockport, TX — September 25, 2012 8:06am ET
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