A funny thing about being in retail wine sales is that one is often given the opportunity to taste wine, but it’s always what is currently available, which means it’s almost always young. A big part of being able to appreciate wine is understanding time and its affects, which can only come from experience, and experience can be scarce when one is exposed only to the youth of current releases.
For example, I was fortunate to attend a Bordeaux tasting on Wednesday that included many 2009 barrel samples, mostly reasonably priced bottlings retailing in the mid-teens to just under $100 a bottle. The samples are monstrously tannic right now, with huge plummy fruit covering up almost all other complexities. How will they turn out? I can’t really tell.
A few weeks ago, I shared a nice dinner with a group of wine guys at a suburban Italian BYO. Bruschetta, spinach soup, eggplant parmesan, and all the wine you can carry makes for a great dinner. Plus the company, of course.
Among the plethora of great wine we shared that night was one especially memorable highlight a bottle of 1975 Pichon Lalande. This was the oldest wine I can remember tasting (besides aged port and sherry) since the 1981 Montecillo Rioja I had over a year ago. The 1981 was terrible; it really showed its age.
The ’75 Pichon Lalande was a wine for reflection. It poured a healthy brick red, much more red than the brown I was expecing. Elegance on the nose, and the palate showed a surprising amount of tart red fruit, a little spice, and a lots of sturdy, drying, palate-gripping tannins on the finish. Kurt, my friend who brought the bottle, was concerned by Robert Parker’s most recent review of the wine (published in 1996) saying the wine was already past its prime, even back then. If anything, I appreciate the wine for its defiance of this sentiment I doubt it will improve much more with age, but this old wine is still alive and kicking.
So that was the oldest wine I’d tried in a while, until this morning. The new record setter? 1967 Dr Fischer Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Auslese. I’m told 1967 was not a notable year in Germany, or pretty much anywhere else. I’ll have to trust my sources; I wasn’t around.
Still, the wine was beautiful. The cork disintegrated into a hundred pieces, of course. It poured a deep gold, with a quiet nose of honey and baking spice and mustiness. The riesling was restrained and elegant, much of the expected sugar having backed off. It showed thin citrus fruit like lemon peel (maybe orange peel?). But it was the strong, fresh acidity, not quite as bracing as a dry sherry, that defined this (42+ year old!) wine and gave it focus.
Without a doubt, a big part of the experience, of the joy, of tasting these aged wines is in their scarcity. There is novelty in such a thing existing at all, and I find myself impressed simply by the specialness of the occasion. I wonder how I would have reacted if I were unaware of the vintages involved, if I were tasing these wines blindly. Would I appreciate the delicate, elegant nature of age, or would I complain at the lack of up front fruit?
So that’s my bragging, now here’s your chance to brag to me. Tell me about the oldest wine you’ve tasted recently. How was it? Do you wish you had waited longer? Acted sooner? If you have a bunch of old stuff stashed away, open it! Wine is for drinking!