Life is Short. Drink Good Wine.
A Wine Remembrance.
Ed Young's Wine Letter April 2008
This monthís letter is a bit more personal than in the past,
but there is a wine message involved, so we ask your indulgence. One of the great aspects of wine is that it goes far beyond being just fermented grape juice in a bottle. Wine is part of our personal experience and our memories. A bottle of wine can remind you of a wedding, a courtship, an anniversary, a friendship, or something else that is significant in your life. Iíve always been intrigued by people bound together through a unique experience who have a special bottle of wine or other spirits that the last surviving member is to open, offering a toast in memory of his departed comrades. That strikes me as such a special way to complete a relationship.
My brother was never a wine drinker until several years ago. An enthusiastic friend got him interested, and knowing of my own heavy involvement in the wine world, he began to call to seek my advice. We hadnít lived close to each other in 40 years, so most of our shared experiences came in our early years. Over a period of months, as he read and tasted and experimented, he would call frequently to confer. I was pleased that he had come to appreciate something that had given me such pleasure, and was flattered that he sought my advice and gave such deference to my judgment. Many of the wines I was drinking werenít available where he lived, so comparing notes wasnít easy, but we managed to go through most of the varietals and quite a few of the blends. It was interesting to see his palate evolve, and he did develop quite a sophisticated one. I was disappointed that he drank only red wines, but had hopes of educating him on the merits of whites as well.
It occurred to me that he was calling twice a week to chat about wines. Not since our mother died had we talked as much about anything. Wine became a shared experience that brought us closer. Whenever we would get together he would bring 5 or 6 bottles and I would do the same, and we would taste them all and compare palates. Once when he and our sister-in-law visited for Christmas, he had a severe asthma attack that required hospitalization. As December 25th approached, it became obvious that he was not going to be released to come home with us. We couldnít enjoy ourselves without him, and couldnít bear to think of him spending Christmas in the hospital alone, so we poured some of his favorite wines into nalgene plastic bottles and took them to his room. We spent a memorable holiday in the hospital sipping wine and listening to carols. It might not have been the best Christmas we ever had, but it was one we wonít ever forget, and our shared love of wine made it better than it would have been otherwise.
When I had a serious illness of my own last year, my brother was unable to come for a visit because of his declining health. One night the phone rang and he told me he had just bought a bottle of Mollydooker Velvet Glove ($80 per bottle if you could find it), and that he was saving it for when we could be together to celebrate my recovery. That is another thing about wineóit can be a special gift. My brother would lament whenever a favored vintage was all gone and he couldnít find any more. Often I would have a few bottles remaining in my cellar that I would set aside for him as a special surprise. Few gifts are as appreciated as a bottle of a wine you loved that you didnít expect to ever have again.
As his health continued to decline, and his mobility became severely restricted, wine was one of the few pleasures left in his life. Finally we got the call none of us ever wants to getóthat he was in the hospital again and his condition was deteriorating and we had better come. It was an 8-hour drive there and I spent much of that time thinking about the conversations we had had and what I was going to say to him. It didnít matter. We were too late. He passed away two hours before we could get there.
That night, as we gathered in shock and grief at his house, my sister-in-law pulled out the Velvet Glove and reminded me of Jimís promise. So, instead of drinking to my recovery, we opened that special bottle and the family drank a toast to his memory. He didnít want a funeral, and didnít have one. Instead, there was a wake at the house attended by his relatives, friends and neighbors. I selected some wines from his collection that I knew he had favored. There was an abundance of food and memories, and it was just the kind of evening he would have enjoyed. He died six days short of his 66th birthday. I had brought three bottles of ďsurpriseĒ wines that I hoped we could drink together to celebrate the occasion, but I left them in his rack for another time.
Sharing good things, like wine, with people you love, while there is time on earth to enjoy them, is priceless. I didnít get to lift a final glass with my brother, or to tell him the things that were in my heart, but I will always think of him when I open wines that we enjoyed together. We hope you will have your own wine memories that are as sweet. "And I scarce know which part may greater beówhat I keep of you, or you rob from me."
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