Small Wonders: The king of all red-letter days

I now share more than just pasty skin and gangly posture with the British royal family. I share an anniversary.

And if I could suggest one place for William to take Kate on their honeymoon, it would be the picturesque Iberian town where I had the most profound bottle of wine I've ever had in my life — a taste still on my lips to this day.

Evora rests in the heart of the arid southern plains of Portugal — a two-hour drive from Lisbon, a day's train from Porto and centuries from the present day. Set in a sea of cork and olive groves, this walled city has seen the rule of the Romans, Moors and Muslims. It is a pristine, ancient European town with winding cobbled streets, ornate cathedrals and drying laundry hung between whitewashed homes with red-tiled roofs.

It was early May and everything — the flowers, trees, air and sky — was in bloom. We got off the train, my new bride and I, at a rustic station in the middle of nowhere; two lost, young lovers standing on the platform as their only link to this foreign land steamed away down the tracks, no taxi or hay cart in sight.

An old man in woolen shirt and lifeless brown leather shoes sat on a crate waiting for nothing. He pointed in the direction of a winding trail leading up to one of the entryways into the walled city. We put our backpacks on for the hike.

“Lua-de-mel?” he asked, pointing at us.

I fumbled through my Portuguese-English dictionary. Honeymoon.

“Si,” I responded.

“Parabéns!”

“Muito obrigado.”

Our hotel was once a monastery, and the restaurant was four-star with a wine list that read like “Don Quixote.” At dinner we asked the sommelier for something local, something red. He pointed at a few names on the list that meant nothing to me, and I selected one in our modest price range.

He agreed energetically, as if I'd picked the exact bottle he would have. But, he told us, he'd have to travel deep into the cellar to get it. I began to wonder if I'd read the price correctly.

He returned with a dusty bottle cradled in a wicker carrier, transporting it so gingerly you'd have thought he was delivering nitroglycerin. He set it gently on the table where I examined it to make sure it was the correct vintage. I gave the nod of approval, though it was orange Fanta for all I knew.

He spent the next 10 minutes carefully wresting the cork from the bottle; unwrapping the foil cap, inserting the corkscrew, turning it with aching slowness cautious not to disturb the decades of sediment inside, tenderly coaxing the cork out millimeter by millimeter. It eventually came out, not with a loud pop, but a sigh of content. He wiped the sweat from his brow and left to have a smoke and recover.

Needless to say, we were eager to taste this nectar after having witnessed the equivalent of a bomb deactivation to open it. Our sommelier returned with a decanter and released the bottle's contents into the large globe with continued wariness. He set the decanter down and left us to stare at it for another 30 minutes.

I thought about going back to our room, cracking the seal on the minibar and getting the single-servings of Two Euro Chuck.

But he returned and, perhaps an hour into this dance, finally poured us each a glass. A tear streamed his cheek, as if he'd given away the last puppy in his litter; glad it had a good home but heartbroken nonetheless.

After a toast, to us and to love, of course, we sipped.

It had the hue of sun-worn brick; subtle, earthy but strong and wise with age. Time had worked her magic here. It tasted of eagerness and temperance; of trepidation and care rewarded beyond the hopes of mortals.

Surely this wine had seen trial; plucked from the vine, it's life pressed out and stirred into submission; trapped in an earthen vessel and made to wait a lifetime for rapturous release. But its precious cargo was patient to withstand yawning days of tedium and bold enough to ignite the senses with new life.

I can't tell you the varietal, region or vintage. I don't know the winemaker, and I will never find it again. But it was, and is, the sweetest, most enjoyable, satisfying and life-affirming bottle of wine a man could ever savor. Seductive, mysterious and frustrating; resilient, comforting, adventurous, alive. And so very, very beautiful.

I hope by now you realize this isn't about wine.

It wasn't the pastoral setting, the bottle's rarity, fragility or flavor — which were all remarkable — that made this wine so fine. No. It was the lady enjoying it with me. Who is still enjoying it with me today, tomorrow and always.

Happy anniversary.

PATRICK CANEDAY is author of the book “Crooked Little Birdhouse” available at e-stores now. Check it out at www.patrickcaneday.com. He can be reached on Facebook and at patrickcaneday@gmail.com.
 
 

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