The adage goes something like there’s no teacher like experience, but I’d have to amend it. I’d say there’s no teacher like heartbreak, especially the heartbreak of drinking a lovely bottle of wine that has been ruined by heat. Such was my experience at Christmas dinner.
I live in a small, cramped Manhattan apartment. I don’t have room, nor do I, a single woman, have much call for a wine fridge. I rarely have more than five bottles on hand. For these reasons, my “cellar” is an Ikea bag that I keep under my bed. For most of the year, this storage is fine. I keep my windows open, my heat off and my apartment cool. However, in the summer months, I don’t blast the air conditioning, and so for some unspecified period of time, my bedroom gets warm. This warmth is how I pretty much killed a bottle of 2006 Il Palazzone Brunello.
I had been saving this benchmark-vintage bottle for a special occasion. I had received it about a year ago as a thank-you gift from Dick Parsons, the head of Il Palazzone himself; thus this bottle held personal, professional and wine-world significance. Moreover, the estate is managed by my dear friend Laura Gray, and every bottle emblazoned with the estate’s brightly colored coat-of-arms logo gives my heart a smile. It’s a whole big emotional thing, and I wanted to open this 2006 for a special meal.
My parents were in town for Christmas, which is rare for them. We’d chosen a standing rib roast from Eataly to cook for dinner, a piece of meat whose hideous price was matched only by its flawless beauty. I pulled the bottle of Brunello from beneath my bed and opened it several hours before dinner was to begin, wanting to give this admittedly young wine a bit of time to open. Finally the moment came, the rib roast splayed across the platter like carnivore’s porn, the side dishes martialled in glistening array, the gravy a viscous bowl of liquid delight, and the Yorkshire pudding tempting and lofty.
I poured the wine, we toasted, I sipped. Sadness ensued.
I am fortunate to know Brunello pretty well and this Brunello even better. I know what it smells like, what it tastes like. One sniff, and I can see poppies waving their heavy heads over the sea of grass, spiky chestnuts kicked and rolling, the vertiginous drop of Montalcino vineyards. I can smell the air and feel the autumn wood smoke. I am, in short, transported.
This wine tasted almost exactly unlike Brunello, to highjack a phrase used to describe tea from Douglass Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It had the color, the weight, the appearance of Brunello, but it was lifeless. Flattened. Acidic and dank. It was not the fault of the wine—I’ve enjoyed this vintage of Il Palazzone before and found it vibrant, velvety, complex and thrilling—it was my fault. The fault of my Ikea bag and the fault of my hot bedroom. It was the fault of heat.
Heat killed my beautiful Brunello, and I have learned my lesson. Space restrictions be damned, I’m buying a wine fridge. I’ll figure out a place to put it, even if I have to move things out of my closet to do so. Experience is a hard mistress; heartbreak is harder. As Bacchus is my witness, I’ll never drink heat-damaged wine again, not at least if I can help it.