So it’s my birthday and I decided to start celebrating a little early by opening a bottle of port wine a friend of my parents gave them to mark the annus mirabilis, and which they gave to me when they moved to Florida because some wines improve with age and this one had a recommended shelf life of at least fifty years, and there was also a hope that I’d improve with age because for a while there it seemed like I couldn’t get any worse, but that’s another story.
No one knows who first got the idea of aging wine but it’s pretty easy to reverse-engineer where the idea probably came from: someone set aside or forgot a few bottles of a particular vintage then pulled them out some time later and discovered it tasted even better, or they pulled the wine out a really long time later and that’s how vinegar was invented. There have even been some cases of people drinking really, really old wine. Jacques Cousteau, my childhood hero, because I was a weird kid, and his crew found some wine in a Greek shipwreck that dated from around 230 BC and decided to drink it because of course that’s what you do and said it was “very sweet”. And in 2010 a bunch of champagne bottles were found off the coasts of Finland and Sweden and the divers drank some of it it because of course that’s what you do and said it was “pretty good”. Scientists also found 170-year old beer in a shipwreck and tried it because why not and said it was “terrible” because beer might improve with age but not if seawater gets into it.
The port wine I had was, for many years, stored in a narrow crawlspace behind the basement wall—the sort of thing that, under other circumstances, might have been forgotten and discovered years later by the next homeowner, or lost at sea and recovered centuries later if our house had been a ship, but it was where we went during several tornadoes and where some old paint cans and I think potatoes were stored. And then I kept it in the basement where my wife and I live now and it’s a pretty small basement so I’d see it pretty regularly as the years ticked by.
Opening it was a little intimidating. It’s marking a transitional period, and I probably could have aged it longer, but I thought it was time to move on. And I also had some other beverages handy in case it turned out 1970 was a good year for salad dressing. Maybe this is a good sign, though. It was smooth and pleasantly sweet and extremely good and worth waiting almost a half century.
Maybe I’ll get another bottle for the next fifty years.