Fourteen years ago my wife Julie and I received a most unusual wedding present. It was a 6-liter bottle of wine, autographed by the winemaker. In the back was another inscription wishing us well, signed by the donors, Drs. Jasbir and Param Gill.
The Gills, in addition to running the largest Ob-Gyn practice in our area, also owned vineyards in Lodi. Apparently they sourced their grapes to Bogle Vineyards, a reputable winery in nearby Clarksburg, between Lodi and Sacramento.
And so it was that we came to possess an enormous bottle of Bogle Phantom, a mix of old vine Zinfandel, Petite Syrah and Mouvedre.
Oh, my, I thought, when I first noted the varietals on the label. Must be a monster.
At least it would keep well. Why, with a format the equivalent of eight regular bottles it was almost a mini-wine barrel. The larger the volume, the slower they age.
I looked up the name for such a bottle. They give Old Testament names to oversized formats, perhaps to emphasize their timeless quality. Much to my dismay I discovered that it is called an Imperial. If it were champagne, those same 6 liters would have been a Methuselah. Much loftier.
But I was glad it was not champagne, for I would have been hard pressed to open it soon. I was quite certain that the right occasion to unveil this beast would take a while to arise.
And so it sat in a closet year after year. It was too massive for my wine storage units. From time to time I asked for advice for when I should open it. Once, George Heron, a fellow physician and owner of Fine Wines of Stockton, glibly said, “how about a massive spaghetti feed?”
People laughed. I was aghast. Spaghetti?! It was a wedding gift from the Gills for Heaven’s sake! Over the years it had assumed a somewhat divine character, never mind that it was from Clarksburg.
So it sat on. Before long a decade went by. Still no occasion. I wondered how the wine was holding up in our closet, hoping that our air conditioning was good enough.
Then, a eureka moment!
Julie decided to retire from a thirty year career in nursing and last week was her last. One of her co-workers Gabull Alhadhrami decided to throw her a retirement party at Central, a nearby restaurant. It all happened suddenly. Before we knew it a Sunday brunch had been arranged for around forty to fifty guests.
The day before, a friend of mine, a wine enthusiast coming to the party sent me a text: “hope you’re bringing good wine tomorrow.”
I am not one for alcohol at lunch, or brunch. Well, except in Italy. But not at home.
Wine? What wine? And then a lightbulb went off. Wedding to retirement, two landmarks in life. Why not?
What if it was no good? That’s a risk we take with any old wine. In any case, the sheer size of the bottle, the theatricality of it all would still be memorable. It took a bit of convincing to bring Julie on board.
Sunday morning I awoke early and, after my morning routine, I uncorked the bottle at home, pouring it into two decanters. I took a tiny taste. Fruity, spicy, lots of acid. Wow! Food friendly.
I figured a couple of hours exposed to oxygen would do it good.
I drove the full decanters (in my trunk) and the open mammoth in my passenger seat to the restaurant, my right hand resting safely on the bottle. I drove slowly, like a funeral car.
The party turned out to be a great tribute to Julie’s nursing career, bringing together as it did, friends and colleagues from its various stages, ICU, case management and dialysis. There were a lot of hugs and photos, and after enough wine, emotional, teary speeches. Everyone acknowledged what a wonderful, caring nurse Julie had been, an inspirational teacher, a trustworthy colleague, a tireless advocate for patients.
In the meanwhile the 6-liter Bogle flowed through the guests, completely consumed by the end of the affair. It had mellowed in the decanters and had ripe, hot weather flavors that many enjoyed. It was a bit raisiny for my taste but who cared? It was still alive and drinkable, and a good accompaniment to the food and festivities.
When it was all over, I took the empty bottle home, for keepsake. It was no high end Bordeaux or some cult Cabernet from Napa, but it was special nonetheless. It marked not one but two milestones in our lives.
Never underestimate the power of wine to highlight the human experience.