Open The Prized Bottle

Michael Austin

 

It was about as ordinary as a night could be, the night we opened the prized bottle. It was a Saturday, sure, and that ramps things up a little. But as Aristotle or somebody said, a Saturday is a Saturday. Several of my siblings were together, and that was worth something, and the reason we were together was to watch two of our nieces in a dance performance, which was worth yet another something. But even if you add Saturday plus Siblings plus Dancing Nieces, you don’t come up with Special Occasion, and unfortunately the traditional prerequisite for opening a prized bottle of wine is: Special Occasion.  

To reach a sum total of Special Occasion you would need to add Saturday plus First Meeting Of Siblings In 50 Years. Or…First Time Nieces Are Soloing With The Joffrey. That’s not to diminish the importance of Time Spent With Siblings or Niece Dances. In fact, the opposite is true. Because of the way we think—we, the people—most of our experiences are whizzed through and then swept under the rug of fuzzy memory. We are the ones who came up with the formula that determines what a special occasion is. It is a flawed formula and because of it, rivers of great wine goes undrunk until it becomes undrinkable.

We get an expensive bottle of wine as a gift, or in a charity auction, or as part of an inheritance. Or we save our pennies and buy one because we love wine and we want to have a prized bottle in our cellar. We wait and wait and wait, feasting on the hope and buzz the unopened bottle gives us whenever we need it. Unlike the dopamine hit we get when the dealer busts and we win $10 in blackjack, or the similar feeling we get when a smartphone signals the arrival of yet another inane personal message, we can control when the good feeling from the prized bottle comes. We just have to think about it, about that golden day in the future when the time is right and we can cut the foil capsule, pull the cork and experience heightened levels of hedonism.

That will be one fine day. But it’s not today. The bottle is too special, and the math doesn’t add up. Besides, we can’t just drink the wine. We need to pair it with exactly the right food, and the setting has to be perfect, and beyond all of that we need a special occasion—a reason. It’s all a lie that we tell ourselves, either because we’re afraid of living fully, right now, or because we’d rather hang on to hope, and draw on that dopamine supply that tells us someday things will be great. Someday we will celebrate. Someday we will drink the finest wine.

It’s like a savings account that never gets drawn on, and when we die, it’s just a pile of money—money that could have done so much for us, could have turned so many ordinary Saturdays into the most memorable nights of our lives. Think about those—the most memorable days and nights of your life. They’re probably not all huge events. At the big celebrations, things can slip past you in a blur of overstimulation. When you’re more relaxed and can put some fine focus on where you are and what you’re doing, the images in front of you and the sensations you are experiencing tend to burn in your memory forever.

This is why it is so important to invent your own mathematical formula for so-called special occasions. It is in your best interest to either plan and stage a special occasion—instead of waiting for one to come your way—or convince yourself that an ordinary occasion is special.

Like…you’re sitting around with your siblings on a Saturday night after a dance performance. You’ve had dinner with wine in a restaurant, and now you’re cozied up to the bar in your brother’s basement, which he tells you is actually not a basement but a “lower level.” You let that one slide, and you get into old stories and then into new concepts, like: are there alternative universes, and what is our relationship to them, and is it possible that this is all a dream, and what is consciousness, and are we even here right now, and damn this is good wine. At which point your sister-in-law says: You know what, it’s time to open the Opus One from our wedding.

And the prized gift bottle gets opened, and despite the fact that it has not been stored in perfect conditions since the newlyweds took possession of it, and more than 20 years have passed since its vintage year, it is sublime. You realize you got lucky, because too many people wait until the wine that was once great is not even worth drinking—hopes and dreams down the drain.

Everyone who was there that night would remember that wine as great. They couldn’t give detailed tasting notes but they would all agree that there were many things sybaritic and mysterious about the wine, and that the night became special as soon as the decision was made to open it.

With some distance between that night and now, it might even be clear to them, as it is to me, that it was a special occasion from the start. Remove the pricey, aged wine from the equation and you still have a family, relatively healthy, with the time and means to travel, brought together to witness the talent and immense dedication of its next generation—and lounging in a basement so finely appointed you might even consent to calling it a lower level after a few glasses of wine far inferior to Opus One.  

We need to remind ourselves of these things at the beginning of the night more often than we do. Don’t let great wine go to waste, and don’t let your time go to waste by thinking ordinary thoughts about how great life will be someday. Open that bottle tonight.