I woke up early this morning and went for a long walk. That hazy hour when the sun is still fresh in the sky and the world is slowly waking up. So quiet and fleeting - I always feel privileged to witness it. As I walked along the grassy lawns and the misty woods, my mind wandered back to this weekend. What a weekend it was. Full of friends, family, laughter, and glorious food.
And a bottle of 1977 Malbec. Even this morning, two days later, the wine is still on my mind, its taste lingering like a ghost, whispering of age and earthiness.
It was given to my parents last year by a friend of the family, a wonderful woman whose gentle smile and unfailing generosity will warm you all over and bring tears to your eyes. A woman who laughs deep and cares even deeper. We are always so excited when she comes to visit. Last year she brought us this bottle. We stashed it away, waiting for the perfect moment to bring it out. That moment turned out to be Sunday evening. It was Dad’s 59th birthday.
My brother and his girlfriend (who are visiting from Africa – we are so happy to have them back home for a whole precious month!) were in the kitchen chopping, sautéing, and cooking with Mom and I, while Josh was outside keeping Dad company at the grill where a luscious rack of lamb, marinated in rosemary, garlic, and wine, was being licked by flames and grilled to perfection.
As we were setting the table out on the deck, Mom got a mischievous twinkle in her eye and headed for the wine rack in the deep corners of the bedroom closet where the resting wine bottles are protected from the light of day, and the great ones collect dust. She picked up a dusty one. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the label: 1977! And it was a Malbec. Josh’s favorite grape variety and one that I have just started discovering (and have quickly fallen in love with). But never had we seen a 1977 Malbec. Mom announced that the time had come for this wine to fulfill its destiny and so we hurried up and brought it to the kitchen while Dad was still outside, wanting to surprise him, giddy with anticipation. Mom took out our crystal wine glasses and I went upstairs to grab the crystal wine carafe I had bought in the little medieval village of Ivoire just outside of Geneva, on the outskirts of France. A wine that old needs to breathe.
I set out to open the bottle. But, after thirty-three years, the cork decided it wasn’t quite ready to come out and it broke halfway through. I stared at it, not quite believing it. I swallowed down a brief moment of panic, took a deep breath, and gently dug the wine opener into the cork still in the bottle. I knew the danger here. If I pushed too hard, the cork might fall into the gorgeous dark liquid sitting below and then we would all be spitting out little pieces of oak with every sip we took. Not to mention what the flavor of a cork that old would do to the wine. So gently, very gently, I twisted the cork screw in and slowly, oh-so-slowly, eased it out. Whew. Catastrophe avoided.
Then, all danger forgotten, I smiled with pure joy as I poured and watched the deep plum-colored liquid splash and lick the inward curves of the carafe, plunging its way to the bottom. Once full, I set it on the dresser in the guest bedroom to let it breathe for thirty minutes. On my way toward the door, I stopped for a moment…listening. I could faintly hear the wine's excited whisper as it sucked in the fresh new air. I smiled and walked out.
I got back to the kitchen and helped Mom and the others bring everything out to the table. The spread consisted of slowly sautéed potatoes in garlic and parsley, freshly steamed asparagus, grilled red peppers, and, the pièce de résistance: a perfectly grilled, melt-in-your-mouth-tender rack of lamb with hints of rosemary and garlic still clinging to it.
And then it was time. I rushed off to the guest room to grab the wine and brought it out to the deck, a big grin on my face. We presented it to Dad and watched excitedly as he took a whiff from the carafe, looked up, and said “Eh ben, ça c’est du bon vin!” (“Now, that’s good wine!”) He couldn’t get over the bottle (which Mom had brought out for him to look at), and as we were all impatient, he did the honors of filling the six crystal glasses. We sat down, raised our glasses, wished him a very happy birthday, made lots of joyful clinking noises, and took our first sips. Wow. Earthiness, spice, and age danced together on my tongue and the roof of my mouth. I swallowed, amazed. I looked around the table and everyone had the same look on their face. Awe. This was one good bottle of wine.
Laughter filled the air and candlelight danced on crystal as the night went on. The lamb was succulent, the asparagus bright green and tender, and the red peppers perfectly sweet. But the best part was the sharing, the stories, and the fact that we were all together. A beautiful night.
Joyeux anniversaire, Daddy.