Spring weather arrived in Northern California this week. Today the temperature will reach 70 degrees in Napa Valley, and it’s bright, clear and sunny, with no wind. While I know folks in Baltimore, Buffalo and Billings, Mont., are shivering, we’re not.
Tonight I’m heading to Sonoma for dinner with some friends, and instead of pruning my dormant roses, I’m pruning my cellar and taking a few older wines that need drinking.
One bottle I’m eyeing is the 1985 Château Margaux that I purchased several years ago in a freaky episode at Liquor Barn, the long-gone wine, beer and spirits chain that was one of California's first mass discounters. For those who need a contemporary reference point, think of Beverages & More.
I was shopping in the Napa store in 1988 and found some Margaux marked for $64.95 a bottle. When I passed through the checkout stand with three bottles of Margaux, and many other wines, I became distracted when my son, then three years old, fumbled his Nerf football. The clerk was distracted, too, apparently—he only changed me $6.49 a bottle!
I brought the mistake to his attention, but rather than ringing the bottles up again with the correct price, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “Forget it.” I guess Liquor Barn’s profit margins were sufficient enough then that they didn't have to worry about a $180 error, though they eventually went out of business ...
The last time I tried a bottle, two years ago, I had an amazing experience. The sommelier at Terra, in St. Helena, opened it and decanted it. When he showed me the cork, I was horrified. The middle third was completely moldy. But the wine wasn’t. It was excellent, elegant and stylish, still fruity, soft and delicate and it drank well for nearly two hours. (I can only guess that somehow the mold developed after the cork was in the bottle, and luckily it didn't come into contact with the wine.)
Here’s to pruning your cellar this weekend, wherever you are.