"The glass of wine I remember most vividly – and that has become an excessive aspiration for me, way beyond my means – goes back a long way to a moment when I was invited to visit a château in the Pauillac region and I tasted a Lynch-Bages. I don’t recall whether it was a 1947, '48 or '49.
I had been doing some work in the archives at Bordeaux and just by accident I met a notary working on some genealogical project as a hobby. I helped him out and at the end he said, 'You know, why don’t you come and have dinner with us, and before we go to dinner, I’ll take you to meet some of my friends at Lynch-Bages.' We were very well received and tried five or six different vintages of Lynch-Bages.
I can still taste it. I can still feel the thick, mellifluous, honeyed aspect of it. I can still detect some of the residual floral notes and a counterpoint of woody ceps [mushrooms]. That was probably 35 or 40 years ago. My grand wine moments since then have all been Lynch-Bages: 1976, 1989, 2005. People who know me – especially people who have some money – when they invite me out they order a bottle of Lynch-Bages. It's way, way too expensive for me – it's skyrocketed.
At Cornell, there’s a hotel school which has a very, very substantial wine cellar. The restaurant was run by students in those days and they had several cases of Lynch-Bages. It was given by some donor and [the students] had no idea what it was. It was on the menu for $5 a bottle in the late 1970s. I would go in there three or four times a week with a friend, or my wife, or a visiting academic and we’d buy one or two bottles and sit there for hours and drink it. I remember numerous guests, including some very well-known intellectuals, shit-faced on Lynch-Bages because it was delicious and dirt cheap. That was probably the high point of my wine-consumption life. That only lasted a year, because we drank it all.
Now, if you open a wine menu in a restaurant, even in a so-so year you’re talking €250 ($309) a bottle. If you go to a wine merchant, you are still talking €150–175 ($185–$216) a bottle, so it is beyond my means but not beyond my coveting appetite. I don’t covet my neighbor’s wife, I covet my neighbor’s Lynch-Bages."
As told to Rebecca Gibb
Steven L. Kaplan is the author of, among other titles, "Good Bread Is Back: A Contemporary History of French Bread, the Way It is Made, and the People Who Make It," and "The Bakers of Paris and The Bread Question, 1770–1775," both published by Duke University Press.
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