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Hurricane Wine

Prolonged power failures are hell on wine collectors. If your wine cellar gets hot, your wine gets cooked and your investment goes down the drain. Luckily for me, there was only one bottle of wine in my little portable wine cellar that was worth anything when the power went out. It was a 1991 Far Niente Cabernet and it was given to me by my old friend John Bebout. I promised Bebout we would drink this bottle together someday. Instead, I drank it last weekend on the road. And lacking a proper corkscrew, I had to push the cork into the bottle to get it open. It sure tasted good though. Big tannins nicely mellowed with lots of acidity to showcase intense dried fruit flavors. Unfortunately, there was a lot of sediment.

I hadn’t planned to go anywhere. Last Friday, with Hurricane Ike approaching, I cooked up everything in my refrigerator and invited the neighbors over for a hurricane party. The guy who lives next door brought some dark rum and “Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane” mix. We feasted on lentil and vegetable soup, stuffed peppers, lamb curry, okra, cauliflower, saag paneer, cucumber salad, and rice. We were on our third cocktail when the power went out at precisely 7 p.m. Which seemed odd since it wasn’t raining and there was barely a breeze blowing at the time.

The full force of the storm arrived in the middle of the night. I didn’t sleep much. We lost some trees, there was water leaking from the ceiling, and we had a little damage to the outside of the house, but I am thankful it wasn’t any worse. I was prepared for the proverbial “hell or high water.” I was even prepared for the 90 degree heat the next day. What I didn’t count on was the tedium of sitting around with no contact to the outside world. How was I supposed to know what I was experiencing if I couldn’t watch television or check the internet? So with the house secure, we decided to drive to Georgetown for the rest of the weekend and stay with my mom.

On the way out the door, I grabbed the bottle of Far Niente from the wine cellar because I knew that otherwise it would get cooked in the heat. The car was packed pretty full and I kept stepping on the bottle as it rolled around on the floor of the car during the trip. I was afraid it was going to fall out the door when we stopped for gas. So I decided we better hurry up and drink it.

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First, I called John Bebout on his cell phone. He had checked into a hotel in the Galleria. I told him I was going to have to drink the wine without him. He forgave me. He said he was in the same predicament. He had a couple of bottles of vintage Veuve Clicquot champagne that he had been saving for a special occasion, and now he was going to have to drink them in his hotel room. Of course our petty travails were nothing compared to the pickle that serious wine collectors were in. What do you do? Buy a generator? Pack the collection in ice? Or just start drinking?

In October of 2005, I attended a dinner party in Oxford, Mississippi. One of the guests showed up with a case of expensive old Barolos. Some of these bottles were from the phenomenal 1999 and 2001 vintages--wines that sold for over a hundred dollars back when they were released. The guy who brought them to the party explained that he lived in New Orleans and that these wines had sat around in the heat after Katrina. They still tasted pretty good, but they were no longer worth storing. So we drank them all up. It was a dinner party I will never forget.

If you know any wine collectors, this might be a good time to invite them over for dinner. – Robb Walsh

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