Thursday, June 23, 2011

Among the Old Bottles

The annual Wine Media Guild, in which members cart along bottles from their personal cellars to supplement the dinner's lubricants, is always a welcome opportunity to drink wines I wouldn't normally have access to. My elders and betters in this club have been collecting since the 1970s, when good wine could still be had on a middle-class income.

We're talking mainly Bordeaux and Burgundy here, because these men and women are traditionalists. So, ninety percent of the old bottles I sampled during the three-hour-long dinner were old-school Claret. The evening began well with a 1982 Chateau Fourcas-Hosten from the Listrac section of Bordeaux. Listrac doesn't necessarily inspire excitement among wine lovers, but this house is known as a source of good value wine. The elegant 1982 bore that rep out. It was restrained and very dry, with lovely notes of dried current, cherry and rose petals.

An example of the great Chateau Figeac followed. I've long been a fan of this vaunted St.-Emilion house, and the 1986 was the oldest vintage I've tasted from them. It was elegant, yet full of plump, lively, bouncing, full fruit. Quite alive for a quarter-century old.

Next arrived a 1979 Chateau Montrose, the so-called "Latour of St. Estephe." It had a forceful, barnyard, mushroom nose. The wine itself, however, seemed past its prime, a bit thin and soft. I thought it would die imminently. Owner John Foy pointed out a tea leaves finish he didn't care for, but thought would vanish after the bottle had breathed a bit. Sure enough, an hour later the tea was gone, and the wine had revived considerably.

The wine of the evening did not hail from France, but Germany. It was 1979 riesling from Dr. Burklin Wolf. The label was barely attached, and the Pfalz wine so advanced in age that it was absolutely brown. It was the darkest riesling I've ever seen. This was a Wachenheimer Gerumpel trockenbeerenauslese, so it had plenty of sweetness to ease itself into old age. The wine was amazing, silky and rich like Madeira, tasting of ambrosia, turkish delight and raisin, with rock-solid acidity holding everything in place.

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