If only . . . you'd bought a plot of land at the seaside village before it was discovered; you'd sold the shares before the market slump; I'd bought the '75 bordeaux in '76. If ever one needed justification for having a wine cellar, that's it: buying at the right time. Yet, splashing out on a whole case of any one wine seems to bother some people. When will they drink all that expensive wine? On their own, that is. Obviously, the idea is not to share an expensive, cosseted wine with a quantity-before-quality guest.

So why not share it with friends who have wine cellars? They can contribute their own finer bottles. That way, everybody enjoys a variety of wines and the companionship of an informal tasting group.

Earl Stadman and Guilio Cantoni started a tasting group some 20 years ago, by co-opting a few interested colleagues from the National Institutes of Health. Members have come and gone as career and personal commitments have dictated, but the group has usually been 12 strong, "the maximum number to appreciate one bottle."

There can't be many private groups in the Washington area who have managed to hold monthly meetings--on any subject--for more than 20 years. The original purpose was to drink fine wines. Food was limited to cheeses. Later the meetings were expanded to the present format in which each couple takes turns to provide dinner. By prearrangement, each member brings a wine: a white, usually a burgundy; or a red-burgundy or bordeaux; or a dessert wine. That classic framework is evidence enough that the group started in the 1960s. It's also another lesson on the wisdom of laying down a cellar.

Theresa (Terry) Stadman has kept the cellar book, a record of wines, prices and her tasting notes. Dipping into the first page, there's a '59 Chassagne Montrachet, Clos des Ruchottes, which had cost all of $4.21; '52 Gruaud Larose; and '37 Richebourg, Alfred Rothschild, for $5. Those were the days.

Once a year the group has a Recapitulation Dinner, the annual tasting of the best wines of the previous year. In 1972, their cellars were so well stocked that they were able to hold a 10-year recapitulation, drinking the best of the first decade.

Besides their friendship and general interest in wine, what has held the group together? Unselfishness, I suspect. One member said, "We always bring the best wines we have -- even if it's the last of its kind in the cellar."

There's generosity for you. If one could guarantee an evening of special wines once a month, it would be fun to potter among the cases, mentally tasting every wine until deciding which treasure to add to the group's. On with the cellar.