Looking back at more than 35 years of collecting wine, I know I’ve made some mistakes. But I’ve certainly made some good decisions as well with several of my earliest purchases still alive in our cellar today.

Most are absolute treats to enjoy but others have sadly passed their prime and only represent lost opportunities. I relish the chance to open our treasures with friends and most of the time marvel at what age in the bottle can do for a great wine. Then there are those times when I shudder and ask, “Why did I wait so long?”

Of course, as with collecting anything, there’s a great difference between “collecting” and merely “hoarding” where little independent thought has gone into the nature of the collection. Each bottle I purchased along the way filled a hole or matched a need whether for long-term enjoyment or current drinking pleasure. And both categories have a place in any well structured cellar.

Whenever I go into the cellar to choose a bottle for that evening or special occasion, I often look at some of our older wines and think about a perfect time to enjoy them. This past week, Barbara and I celebrated our 50th anniversary along with her birthday. Our daughter’s family from Denver and our son’s family from Hermosa Beach joined us in Napa to celebrate these auspicious events. What a perfect excuse to pull some older corks and enjoy these very distinctive bottles.

After all, this is what collecting wine should be about, and for me, taking that first sip makes it all worthwhile. This is especially true when family and friends can share the moment.

The patio at Napa’s Celedon restaurant was the perfect setting for the dual celebration. I always enjoy working with chef Federico “Freddie” Guillen and proprietor Joel Tavizon in fashioning a delightful pairing menu while sommelier Manny Yajeya artfully opens each bottle that he then serves with his own individual style and grace.

Our dinner began with a family-style hors d’oeuvres course of marinated buratta on crostini and dungeness crab in endive leaves paired with a 1985 Salon. Salon is a unique Blanc de Blanc Champagne produced in limited quantities only from the finest vintages and the Grand Cru Le Mesnil vineyard. It is aged on the yeast in bottle for about 10 years and discorged on release. I always relish how a fine Champagne develops with age and this Salon was no exception. An ultra-fine effervescence is accompanied by maturing citrus and apple notes with complexing yeasty aromatics. A full rich wine combining the elegance of youth with the majesty of age.

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The first course was a lightly pan-grilled Patrale Sole with Meyer Lemon Buerre Blanc and a 1991 Joseph Drouhin Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche Grand Cru. This was our youngest wine of the evening and a perfect match to Chef Freddie’s presentation. The chardonnay grape reaches its epitome in the Grand Cru vineyard of Montrachet, and aging in the bottle for 25 years lent great dimension to this magnificent selection.

We chose our main courses from Celadon’s outstanding menu and enjoyed two of the five First Growths of Bordeaux — the 1982 Château Lafite Rothschild and 1982 Château Mouton Rothschild. The vintage was quite warm and the wines in their youth were a bit more on the richer California style than the traditional tighter more finely structured wines one would expect from Bordeaux. 1982 is the vintage that set the benchmark for purchasing futures in 1983 and the values continue to escalate dramatically in today’s commercial auction market.

Both drank beautifully with Mouton displaying great breadth on the palate, and Lafite exhibiting a sharply focused element but presented more forward opulence than one would expect from the more traditional Bordelaise vintages. An ideal complement of the richness of the New World and the classic depth of the Old World coming together in a unique vintage.

To pair with the absolutely delectable apple tart and chantilly cream for dessert, we savored a 1967 Château d’Yquem, perhaps the world’s greatest wine of our wedding year, that was clearly an enormous treat. With the classic deep amber color of an older Sauternes, this wine displayed everything one could wish for when aging great wines. While supple and mouth filling, the acidity was abundantly present (even after 50 years) and ably balanced the sweetness of residual sugar. Honeyed apricot and pear highlighted the palate with a touch of nuttiness and spice leading to a clean and complex finish.

The rewards of collecting are always realized when the collectible lives up to our expectations at the time of original purchase. This anniversary/birthday celebration shared with our family was all we could have hoped for and certainly whet our collective appetite in exploring other treasures in the cellar.

Share your experiences with other readers by commenting on this article at napavalleyregister.com/wine-exchange or email me at allenbalik@savorlifethroughwine.com.

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