I have the best wife.
Now, I can see where a lot of you might be saying "Whoa there, floral-print boy, surely that's a ridiculously sweeping statement to make, so many wives out there in the world, so much variety, hard to prove bestness one way or another, must be a judgment call, yes..?"
No. Of all the 1,143,296,807 wives in the world, my wife, Lisa, is the clear winner, in terms of quality. Let me illustrate...
So last Monday night I'm at work, my wife Lisa calls me up from some restaurant where she's out with a few friends, says something along the lines of "I've picked up a few leftovers that some nice people here gave me, c'mon home, you won't be sorry."
Of course, work being work, I'm there late, and don't arrive home until almost three a.m., fully expecting my wife Lisa to be asleep. But no, here she is, fixing dinner and giving me those sly, amused looks she likes to give when she has a surprise or two up her sleeve. I'm sipping at whatever white is open in the fridge, in this case a Château d'Epiré Savennières Cuvée Spéciale 1999. Medium-pale straw-gold color. Stony-smelling, chalk with a touch of quince and wax. Tastes hard and stony, lots of rocks, very little else. Bright and young, but not very interesting. Shrug. Wets the whistle, that's about it.
So then my wife Lisa slips something from the third season of The Simpsons on the DVD player (come to think of it, it may have been 'Homer at the Bat') and asks "Are you ready for a mystery wine?"
"Bring it on," I say in best Bushian fashion, and here comes a glass full of something red.
My Wife Lisa's First Mystery Leftover Wine: Medium ruby, ambering at the rim and slightly inboard. A sniff or two, and whee, there's a party in my nose: sweetly cedared and muted blackberry-plum base underpinned with a vein of graphite, suffused with dark saddle leather, pipe tobacco and old bookspine notes. I briefly consider something off the wall (old Grange?), but then it settles and becomes more classically Pauillacish. I take a sip, yep, it's got a nice tart blackfruit intro, but it contracts rather than expands in the middle, turning graphitey and dark and finishing lingeringly, sweet cedar and leather flickering out at the last. A little less impressive in the piehole than up the nose but still very tasty. Seems fully resolved, just a shadow of tannin on the finish; Bordeaux big boy from good-but-not-great vintage, "Sixties Bordeaux..." I say, mulling my options.... I guess '66 Latour.
Lisa smiles. No, it's not the '66 Latour, but at least I'm in the right ballpark. It's really a nice Second Growth with a pretty Marc Chagall label, Château Mouton-Rothschild Pauillac 1970.
"Geez," I say, "who's giving out bottles of mature Mouton?"
"Oh, just some nice people we met at dinner; it was BYO night, everyone was sharing, lots of fun. Are you ready for another?" Once again, I accept the challenge.
My Wife Lisa's Second Mystery Leftover Wine: Medium to medium-dark ruby color, browning lightly at the rim. Smells reserved, quietly muted blackberry-plum-cassis over a rich gravelly-graphite background. Tastes richer and riper than the Mouton, meatier in texture, the firm acidity lurking in the background of dark layered fruit, intense and vivid, a wine with a deep sense of self.
The finish is long, strong and stony, the dark fruit flickering out just before the gravelly minerality. "Any guesses?" she asks.
I waffle a bit, but I've got this one pegged as a Graves, a ripe, rich one. I write "'70 La Miss?" in my notebook, but as I'm starting to say it aloud it occurs to me that the last wine was a '70 and that this must be younger, so I say "'75 La Mission Haut-Brion?"
She smiles, just a little too gleefully. She says "What year did you say? 1975?" She laughs a little laugh. I am momentarily discomfited. She pulls out the bottle, and I am startled.
No, it's not the '75 La Miss, or any La Miss, or any Graves at all. In fact, it's a Château Pétrus Pomerol 1948.
Yeep. I gotta get out to these restaurants my wife is going to.
Okay, it's astonishing that this is fifty year old wine: going back and tasting it again, it still seems like it could barely be half its age. Where the Mouton has a great nose and is a little less complex in the piehole, this one is quiet and gravelly-graphitey to smell, but rich and vibrant to sip. "It just hums," says Lisa. Exciting wine, vivid and luscious stuff, if a little aromatically reticent. I suggest she go back and pick up some more.
So now she's got another wine. I'm so ready. Yes, yes I am.
My Wife Lisa's Third Mystery Leftover Wine: Whoah, paradijum shift. This smells rich and fierce and spicy, cocoa powder and muted red berry laced with crushed brick. Hey, it's sweet and portlike. In fact, it's Port. Medium ruby color, just the faintest hint of browning at the rim. Sweetly festive cinnamon-spicy nose, muted berry and crushed brick laced with cocoa powder. Tastes smooth, supple and seamless, a calm package of light but intense flavors that turns rather surprisingly fierce in the middle when a slightly medicinal red tang emerges, then soothes and smooths again as it heads into the cocoaberry finish. Lovely stuff.
The wine seems quite young, but so did the last and I'm not getting fooled again, so I go older than I ordinarily might. My guess: '55 Dow's. Slightly better, I'm off by only ten years, as it's a Taylor-Fladgate Porto 1945.
Finally tiring of the mystery wine game, my wife Lisa says what the hell and just pours me a hit of My Wife Lisa's Leftover Château d'Yquem Sauternes 1959. Medium gold at the heart, ambering out substantially towards the rim. Whoo, smells rich and slightly exotic, honey and orange rind laced with vanilla bean are the first things that come out, then hints of toasted marshmallow, hayloft and some spicy pomander hints. Tastes quite sweet and rich, again it's the slightly candied orange rind tanginess that comes at me right off, followed by a warm sweet wave of spiced honeyness laced with pressed-flower spicy-earthy flavors. Turns toasty-orange rindy again on the finish, the muted citrus notes slowly fading, last as they were first.
Big and vivid but strikingly refined; well-seasoned all around the edges but tinklingly youthful at the heart, a Gene Kelly of a wine. It's no '59 Huet, but for a sweet sauvignon/semillon it's pretty darn nice, a real overachiever.
I'm not sure what lies at the root of my wife Lisa's extraordinary ability to arrive home from a night on the town bearing leftover bottles of wines like this, but it never fails to amaze and delight.
The best part of this was that these kinds of wines are usually only tasted at mass tastings, doled out with eyedroppers, the rank vinous equivalent of only ever seeing Picassos while stuck in crowded halls being jostled by thousands of sweaty strangers. To sit at home watching The Simpsons and drinking '48 Pˇtrus is nearing winegeek nirvana for me.
When we run out of '48 Pétrus we're still feeling that winegeek flush, so we drink the red that's in the fridge, a Three Thieves Zinfandel California 2002 that comes in a cute little jug. Simple black cherry and raspberry-jam flavors, friendly and obvious and warmly zinny. No one will mistake it for Pétrus, but it's fruity and fun and, when drunk in the company of the best wife, just perfect.