My kitchen contains two bottles of wine that I have stored at 55 degrees Fahrenheit for nine years; I will store them at 55 degrees for at least another fifteen. I will open them on that undetermined date to follow a meal with an undetermined menu for undetermined guests.
My daughters and wife will be there, certainly, and several colleagues of past and future. I’d like to draft the list now, but life doesn’t work that way. Preparing for a dinner party 15-20 years in advance is an exercise in quixotism—who knows? I could be dead myself—but that’s the appeal, I think.
I bought those two bottles of vintage port first: Quinta do Vale Meao, 2011. I had read of the excellent vintage, and when a conference in 2014 took me to Albany, I shopped at a wine warehouse during a break and found them. I have held them ever since, occasionally pulling them from the temperature control to read their labels and daydream.
In centuries past, nobility bought cask after cask of vintage port to celebrate the births of their sons. By the time the children reached adulthood, the port would be ready to drink. Being a teacher in the 21st century, I have more limited means, but I can manage two bottles for my retirement.
I have not decided on the wine for the main course, but I have prepared a trial to help me choose. My wine fridge contains a quality 2007 Barolo and 2010 Bordeaux. Both remain too young to drink, according to Robert Parker’s vintage charts, but someday soon I will have to uncork them anyway and decant for a few hours. Which aged red will I prefer? My decision must come soon so I can invest in a half case or so of something very good. If I retire when first eligible, I only have until 2038 for the wine to mature. I feel less time pressure for the first course’s wine. I live in the Finger Lakes, one of the finest Riesling regions in the world. I can lay my hands on something good just a handful of years in advance.
Once I’ve made a final decision about my retirement date, I’ll make inquiries and hire a private chef, with whom I’ll meet and share the Riesling and the red. We’ll talk about the dishes the chef favors. I will be open to possibilities, but I’d like something with goat cheese to accompany the Riesling, and I’ve thought of braised beef or roast duck for the main course. As I am Irish, there must be roasted potatoes. A dark chocolate dessert must accompany the port.
If some of my former colleagues live out of state, I’ll offer airfare and a hotel; they will be surprise guests. Local colleagues will meet me, somewhere, and a limo will arrive to carry us to the location so past and present can come together, unexpectedly, as they usually do. When the server brings the first course I will raise a glass and acknowledge those who could not join us. I do not now know the middle bit, but I’ll have notes by then. I only know the closing: “Thank you for being there. Thank you for being here. Thank you for sharing a meal with me.”