Opening and drinking a wine with lengthy bottle age is an adventure, full of expectation, emotional and analytic reaction, connection and closure. In opening and drinking such a wine, you are completing a pact with the winemaker who fashioned it so many years before. You are opening up a window to a landscape, and its fruit, from long ago, which has been magically poured into the present, vibrant and alive. William Faulkner’s famous line in Requiem for a Nun — “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” — is evident to anyone who has opened and drunk old wine.

In opening a special aged bottle, expectation can lead to disappointment, but not usually, even if the wine is past it’s prime. It is about the occasion as much as the wine. I once bought a bottle of vintage Bollinger Blanc de Noirs Champagne, its grapes sourced from the producer’s oldest, pre-phylloxera vines, as a milestone birthday gift to my father. When we opened it, I could taste the faded nutty edges of the slightly gone wine, but didn’t say anything (nor did my father), and nothing detracted from our family’s pleasure in the occasion, enhanced by the living history we had uncorked and toasted him with.

The 1985 Chateau Suduiraut had sat in my refrigerator since the death of my father over a year ago. My parents were now both gone, but this last bottle lived on. Made during a period of transition for this well-regarded producer of Sauternes, it was qualitatively a questionmark. And a cipher, as I had no knowledge of how my parents came to own it (they did not purchase dessert wine). I chose to open it at Thanksgiving dinner last week, where three generations, closely bonded by blood and other connection, had gathered.  After a full meal, I poured it as we ate dessert. Orange with age, rich and voluptuous, this wine conjured my parents in mind and body better than any spirit medium could. As we drank, our collective past with them was not even past.