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This is a great thread...

For me, the top bottle would have to be a 1990 Tenute Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva. The occasion (so true that it can enhance a great bottle of wine) is that my wife and I were on our honeymoon in Tuscany in 2001.

Let me start the story with a chapter that would include another bottle of wine that makes the list ... We go to a pizzaria in Castellina in Chianti for dinner, and the place is jammed. Host asks if he may seat us at a four-top with another American couple. We accept, and the couple turns out to be 30 years older than us, but they live in a town just 50 miles away in Florida. We peruse the wine list and make a selection. The guy in the other couple shakes his head and tells the waiter to bring us a bottle of what they're having (not on the wine list, but amazingly, the same reasonable price as what we'd picked out). It was a 1995 Castello di Verrazano, not even the Riserva, which the place had a couple cases of stashed away. It was stunningly good with our thin-crust, wood-fired Tuscan pizza.

Anyway, the four of us get to talking, and this guy is rich. We start talking wine, and he says he just sold his Bordeaux collection to an auction house for 'round about 350 grand. He's in good with the waiter because he and his wife have their second house just outside of Castellina and eat here all the time. After dinner, over grappa, they say we should stop by and enjoy a glass of wine with them, and they give us their local phone number.

Well, my wife and I are FAR from high rollers, but I must say we have great taste. We get back to where we're staying, and I start talking about calling them tomorrow about that glass of wine. My wife says, "You're really going to call them?" I say, "How many times have you been invited to someone's Italian country house? Hell yes, I'm calling them, and we're going over there." And so it happened.

So the next night, we head over and enjoy some salami and a little Santa Christina sangiovese on their stone terrace overlooking a gorgeous green valley. We begin talking about Antinori wines, and the wife of the other couple mentions that she has a connection. Someone she knew in PR at another job now works for Antinori. She picks up the phone and gets us a dinner reservation at the Badia a Passignano (the wine from this property has a label like a banknote).

Well, we get the red-carpet treatment from the staff because of her connection. The maitre d is fawning over us the whole time. The wine list arrives, and Mr. Wine from the other couple passes it to me. "Why don't you select a bottle for us to start."

Gulp -- okay. I browse a list of wines I've heard of but mostly never been able to afford. (Though the prices for these bottles here were hilariously cheap given that we were in Italy and at a property of the company that vinted most of them.) I am able to remember that 1990 was a great Chianti year, so I pick the '90 Tenute cited above. The bottle is brought and presented to me. I sip and think the wine is stunning by my standards. But what do I know compared to Mr. Wine? At any rate, this one won't embarrass my wife and me. So I nod gravely, and the wine is poured around. Everyone takes a few sips and stares at their glasses in awe. We are all swirling, tasting, moaning in ecstacy and then repeating the process. It's getting better the longer it's open, but no one is patient enough to wait very long for the next sip.

We make it through the first course before the wine is gone. Then I pass the wine list to Mr. Wine and suggest that he select the bottle to go with the main course. He spends a good 10 minutes paging through. He says that large format bottles make wine age far more gracefully than 750s (like I had ordered). Finally, he orders a 1.5 of the '93 Badia, saying that it seems only appropriate to drink a great bottle from the property on which we are now sitting.

This bottle costs about five times what the one I bought did. It arrives in a little wooden crate, and it is ceremonially pried open and poured for Mr. Wine to taste. He tries it and furrows his brow. But he nods and it's poured, and he says we may need to let it open up. We all sip it, and I realize that this isn't half the wine that we just had. Maybe not a third. The looks on everyone else's faces confirm that I'm not alone in my opinion.

Mr. Wine begins apologizing for this bottle, saying he expected it would be better. I suggest that decanting might help, mostly in a gentlemanly effort to help him save face. He gets the waiter to decant it, but by the end of the meal, the stuff still isn't touching my bottle. I say that his is really quite a nice bottle of wine. He shoots back, "Well, would you rather pay for this one than the one you ordered." I grin back at him.

After the meal, we go into the little invitation-only store, where I ask whether my bottle is available for sale, and I'm told no. I go find the maitre d, who knows Mr. Wine from frequent visits, and ask in my broken Italian if it is possible to buy another bottle of the '90. He tells me to return to the store, and "I think they'll have what you want."

I go back, and a case of the vintage is on top of the counter. "How many bottles, signore?" "Solo uno," I reply. I stuff a few thousand lire into the maitre d's hand as I walk out of the shop to Mr. Wine's VW Jetta (his Italy car that he leaves at his Italy house) clutching my trophy.

(My wife and I drank that bottle on our first anniversary during a weekend vacation. (This time, the waiter who poured it accidentally dumped five ounces onto the white tablecloth). It was still great wine, but somehow it was at its peak the first time.


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