She told me her stories. She talked about her childhood, about the lies the adults told to the children and the pain the little girl experienced after she learned the truth. We drove back and forth across the country. Most of the time it was west to east and east to west but there were good stretches of north to south and south to north, too. She talked about little dogs, sheep wagons, irrigation ditches, red rocks, and mining claims. She talked about her father’s pipe. Her brothers and their schemes. Her mother’s hopes and disappointments. We drove through her stories the way we drove across the rivers and through the fields. I loved her eyes and her skin and her voice but I fell in love with her by listening to her stories.
People said, “It’s such a long drive. Why don’t you fly?” We told them we liked the peace and quiet of the road. We never admitted that driving was our way of postponing the inevitable, of denying each other’s mortality. As long as we were on the highway, with the dogs in the back seat and the horizon in front of us, we could go on believing that we’d never have to say goodbye.
In 1994, we bought an Australian shepherd from a breeder in Longmont. She was female blue merle with copper points and brown eyes—“chocolate eyes” our children called them. We named her Marie Galante. She was the kind of dog that breaks your heart as a puppy and then goes on breaking it every day for the rest of your life. On walks, people would stop and ask us if they could take her picture. She had a thing about socks. If she heard thunder, she’d run into the bathroom, open the hamper with her nose, grab a sock, bring it to you, and drop it at your feet.
Marie lived with us for twelve years, nine months, twenty-seven days, eight hours, and ten minutes. In September of 1994, a month after we got her, I decided the reason I was put on earth was to make her feel happy and safe. Forget about art. Or wine, money, or beauty. Marie was some kind of an angel, looking out at me through her old eyes and her blue merle face. My purpose was to feed her, take her for walks, and make sure she knew how much we loved her.
Late in 2006, maybe six months before she died, Marie started doing this thing with the chairs at the kitchen table. I’d be sitting at the table, watching a game or talking on the phone. Marie would walk into the kitchen. With some effort, she’d use her nose to push back a chair from the table. Then she’d climb onto the chair, sit there, and stare at me from across the table. Her eyes were tired—“the old eyes of love,” as John Ashbery used to say. The expression on her face was simultaneously relaxed and urgent. Come on, her eyes would say. Call the vet. She’ll be here in an hour. We’ll all sit on the couch. She’ll give me the shot. The pain will be gone. By the time I die in your arms, I won’t feel anything but love.
Of course I never called the vet. And I don’t regret my selfish decision not to make the call, either. We had another winter and most of a spring with Marie before she died, on April 27, 2007. That morning, we took her outside and sat on the ground with her in our arms. When you love somebody that much, with your whole heart, it helps to be outside. As long as it’s not raining, outside is the best place to say goodbye.
Which brings us to the 1985 Château Cheval Blanc.
In the glass, the 1985 Cheval Blanc is a layered garnet. Maybe it’s my imagination but each time I drink this wine I see waves of garnet flowing back and forth in the glass. The bouquet is an elegant secret. On the palate, the wine blurs the line between time and eternity. You taste its youth as much as its age. The finish manages to be an ancient evening without turning into a memory. If you love your life—if your heart has survived the sorrows life has placed at your feet—you’ll be grateful for the finish of the 1985 Cheval Blanc. If you have the courage to concentrate, don’t be afraid to thank yourself—and the wine—for the way it says goodbye.
In the wine world, there are hello wines and there are goodbye wines. The 1985 Cheval Blanc is the undisputed Queen of the Goodbye Wines. (The Queen of the Hello Wines is probably the 1982 Cheval Blanc, but that’s another story.) Don’t drink this wine with people you dislike. Your good intentions will backfire. If you’re lucky enough to drink the 1985 Cheval Blanc with someone you love, there will be a moment when the lines appear. These are the lines that connect you to the person you love, and that connect the two of you to the wine. No, I’m not speaking figuratively. Yes, you can see the lines. Make sure to look at them before you say goodbye.
One Bottle is dedicated to good wines and good times, one bottle at a time.