Friday was my mother's 75th birthday. To celebrate, we went to one of her new favorite restaurants, Il Buco, a homey, haute Italian joint in the East Village, with assorted friends and family. In attendance were a couple who have amassed quite the serious wine collection over the years. A dinner with them often means some pretty terrific juice to go with it (in the past we've enjoyed things like, oh, 20 year old Chateauneuf du Pape or some dessert wine from a little producer known as Chateau d'Yquem). This occasion being no exception, we happily split the corkage fee to drink the goods. In their cellar, they happened upon a forgotten bottle of Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserve Ducale Oro 1971, ("Who does that," you ask? Let's just say I was in the presence of the only 2 people on earth who hoard that kind of wine and the other shares DNA with me) which they generously brought to honor the 40th anniversary of my, ahem, birth year. And for my mother, 2 bottles of Ceretto Bricco Rocche Prapo Barolo 1979.
Starting with the Chianti, we opened and decanted each bottle throughout dinner. When the Chianti was first poured, it had this strange beef broth smell and aroma, but I could tell it wasn't corked, just weird. A few rigorous swirls and some fruit flavors surfaced, but it wasn't anything great. But everyone sipped it anyway. I left a lot in my glass and asked for the other wine to be served.
The wine from the first bottle was surprisingly thin and light colored for a Barolo that was likely born the same year as Star Wars. While it had some tart cherry and leather notes, the finish was short and it reminded me more of a young Dolcetto, or even a Freisa, certainly not the "king of wine, the wine of kings." Not that it was bad, but it disappointed. Like it graduated high school as the valedictorian and then ended up blowing the scholarship to tour with the Dead. 
The second bottle was markedly different right off the bat. The color was a royal purple (still not the deep red/rust brown one would expect) and it smelled more concentrated. The dark fruit flavors mixed with licorice, earth and spice were much more evident. While this still lacked that wonderful "Barolo-ness" we all craved and this time resembling more of a middle aged Barbera, it was delicious and matched beautifully with our main courses, which were mostly meat or mushroom-centric.
This is when Paul, who brought the wine, told us that the 2 bottles had each been stored differently. One was in a country cellar with no temperature control, the other was in a bonafide wine warehouse kept at 55 degrees. But he wasn't sure which one we opened first! (No cellar labels, unfortunately.) While convention tells us to think the second bottle was the one that had been kept "properly," this might not be the case. Both were lacking the structured flavors and tannins he had laid those bottles down for so long to achieve in the first place. But the second bottle felt heavier and fruitier, maybe that was the one that had been exposed to more heat. Being "cooked" a little might have been beneficial to a weaker wine.
There was still most of my glass of Chianti left, so I decided to take a sip. Guess what? The now hour and a half later made all the difference. Ruffino had been revived with the air and all the pretty flavors came to life, though granted, didn't linger long. I found myself very thankful I'd left some to gather its strength when no one else did. Another big surprise that doesn't add up with what we've been taught. That wine seemed totally DOA and was instead just pretending.
Three wines, all acting out of character. Luckily they were only a minor supporting cast for great food and company.