We had planned a weekend away, sampling the good stuff at wineries west of Melbourne, but a global pandemic put an end to that.
Coranavirus is a wrecking ball tearing through our normal lives with fierce and frightening force. Just the thought of it can animate the psyche, provoking dormant shadows and arousing fresh anxieties.
So our trip was cancelled and, instead, the members of my wine club elected to meet online. We each chose a bottle and, at the appointed hour, gathered at our laptops to connect by video.
This was a new and novel approach but disconcerting, too; no one could drink from the same, shared bottle. Together, we drank alone.
I found it hard to select my bottle. I felt irresolute, conflicted. Is it an extravagance to drink good wine in a time of crisis and constraint? Should I save my better wines for better days?
I thought of Miles and Maya, characters in the 2004 film, Sideways.
Miles tells Maya that he has, in his cupboard, a couple of things he’s saving for a “special occasion”, including a 1961 Cheval Blanc, a Grand Cru red wine from Bordeaux, France.
Maya replies: “The day you open a ‘61 Cheval Blanc, that’s the special occasion.”
When our wine club was formed, a decade ago, my mates and I travelled north of Melbourne for a day of tastings at Tahbilk winery.
Among the wines on offer, Tahbilk’s ‘1860 Vines’ Shiraz is produced from some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the world: from an original, half-acre planting of ungrafted, pre-phylloxera vines.
Phylloxera is the aphid-like insect that lives and feeds on the roots of grapevines. This nasty little bug wiped out most of the vineyards of Europe, in the late 19th-century.
In Australia, the bug spread north from Geelong in 1877 destroying vines across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
But Tahbilk’s original Shiraz rootstock was spared. Averse, it is thought, to sandy soils and water, the rapacious pest by-passed Tahbilk and the groundwater table on which the winery sits.
I wanted an ‘1860 Vines’ Shiraz, but could not afford it; I came home empty-handed. Three years later, on a trip to England, I found a bottle for sale in Lancashire at a third of the Australian price. Vintage? 2001.
The wine returned to Melbourne, cloaked in bubble wrap, and lay in the dark for several years, two hours south of its native soil.
Thereafter, I came to view that bottle with the kind of reverence reserved for seasoned travellers – for those who have forged a solitary path, as they make their way in the world.
On the morning that my wine club was due to meet online, I was reminded that Tahbilk celebrates its 160th anniversary this year.
That was good enough for me. I pulled the cork on my treasured wine and fired up the laptop.
Almost two decades in the bottle had settled the wine in the most fantastic ways, unifying disparate components and elevating what remained to majestic, moreish heights.
This was, for its age, a bright, clear wine of medium concentration and moderate intensity (moderate alcohol, too).
The nose was clean and enticing. I noted black cherry, blackberry, aniseed and a hint of eucalypt.
The taste? Spicy, earthy flavours beneath a veil of fading fruit, propelled along a sinuous line of fine-grained tannins. It was sublime.
I felt alert. I felt alive. I drank my share of history and felt renewed in my capacity to face the months ahead.
Is now the time to open the best wines that you own?
I’m with Maya.