After the incredible first and intimate tasting on October 2018 at Allen’s new apartment we decided to extend the experience to a broader audience. Since the vast majority of the wines were French, we invited some of my French work peers to gather their experienced comments.
Participants from right to left: Nicolas Nordmann, Diana Burton, Ray Belczyk, Sally Nava, Jim Gorton, Ricardo Llovet, Ellen Ormond, Gretchen van Hoesen, Allen Baum, Erin Nordmann, Miguel Palazuelos, Hélène Chini, Anne Delmotte, Laurent Houssay, Marguerite Le Garrec and Jean Dominique Le Garrec.
Our honorary second Sommelier, Nicolas, graciously offered to take care of the pictures and the compilation of the tasting notes. Without him this report would have been impossible.
We combined it with an assortment of cheeses from the usual suspects: France, Italy, Switzerland and Spain, and some up and coming US ones.
An observation about the cheeses: Do you remember what California did about wine in the 80s? And what every state in the Union is doing about beers? I remember when I first came, in 1984 the beer stage was desolating. I had to resort to drink Canadian beers like Molson and Moosehead. And look now! We are re-exporting the microbrewery concept to the old continent. Well, the next revolution, it is here now, is cheese.
And going back to the wine tasting, since we expected the participants to ask about the origin of such old wines, we shared 4 wait wait don’t tell me type stories. Given my proverbial credibility, my story was selected first (wrong). Then Allen’s who really looked honest (wrong). Then Sally’s (wrong). The story that Ellen, the gracious and generous owner of the wines, became the only one left.
We started with a sparkling wine from Touraine. Surprisingly it was in good condition and had probably half of its original fizz in there.
We continued with a German white wine. The cork came out too easily and had a green hue on the sides. We hesitated, but we smelled it and noticed that the alcohol was still there. Then we decided to try it. We are still alive.
And we started with the red wines. We tasted from left to right 1, 2, 5, 6, 8 and 9. We left the remaining 3 for another occasion.
Opening the corks was not an easy endeavor, but I applied the lessons learned in the prior tasting and it went better. The corks helped because, unlike in the prior tasting, most wines were in a decent to good condition. There was only one wine that some participants dumped in the sink, and there were a couple in a real excellent stage.
And, finally, these were Nicolas’ notes and some market prices researched by Allen:
1. Beauvolage Brut - Touraine – 1989
· The cork was wet and did not break.
· The wine was still sparkling. The color was still yellow, about normal (i.e., not oxidized/darker), which was unexpected given the age of the wine — along with the fact that there are still bubbles…although they dissipated more quickly than normal. Sparkling wines are usually not meant to be kept that long.
· The taste was still aromatic with some fruit flavor, hint of olives, currants and, above all, dry (fino) sherry evidencing some degree of oxidation. Not as lively as champagne, maybe a little a musty.
· The wine tasted like an older wine, i.e. not a new bottle of champagne, but was still very good.
· Overall in excellent condition for an older white sparkling wine!
2. A Rheinhessen (Germany) - 1991
· The cork had a green hue.
· The wine did not have much aroma.
· The first sip had a sweet taste, but then there was an acidic aftertaste. It had a slight musty flavor; sweet and a little acidic. There were hints of apple and pear preserve still in it.
· It was in relatively good condition overall, given that it is a white wine, although nothing outstanding.
3. Chateau Haut-Bages Averous - Pauillac – 1986; $140
· This wine was a second growth from a more popular wine. This brand name no longer exists, hence the above price is very approximate.
· The cork was very dark. The wine was dark too, but not brown (i.e. not deteriorated / oxidized).
· We tasted hints of red berries, raspberry, and cocoa. However, several participants noted that a “mushroom” aftertaste and a slight acidic aftertaste as well.
· There are a little bit of tannins left although not much bouquet.
· There were no sediments in the bottle.
4. Chateau La Haute Graviѐre - Graves – 1969; Doesn’t exist currently for pricing
· The cork broke, which did not happen for the prior wines.
· The color of the wine was brown and cloudy.
· The nose and bouquet were not very good. Some characterized it the aroma as “burnt tire” smell, and others as “cough syrup”.
· Many people did not like it (acidic/tart/sour), and, led by Jim, dumped it in the sink. Ricardo found the aromas intriguing and characterized them as secondary. You would not find them in young or mid-age wines. Although imperfect, that made it interesting.
· In the prior wine tasting we had this one and it did not fare well them either.
5. Chateau Meyney - Saint Estephe - 1961 (magnum) 164x2 *****
· The oldest wine in the trial. The shape of the magnum was unusual.
· A lot of the wine was gone. See liquid level in the picture.
· The cork completely disintegrated in pieces, and was crumbling. We had to use a strainer.
· The color was cloudy, slightly chocolaty.
· With all the above, we were certain, and would have bid our homestead, that the wine would be undrinkable., However, the wine was surprisingly good and everybody liked it much. Mysteries of nature!
· This wine had a deep aroma, with hints of raspberry jam, and maybe a little peppery. Nicolas and Ricardo noticed a slightly acidic aftertaste, which was expected given the condition of the cork having let air in, but it was not oxidized (not brown) and with a great structure. It was light in alcohol, as it could have been expected from the evaporation.
· Perhaps, this Bordeaux, had evolved into a lighter style with reminiscence of a burgundy style. After one to two hours having left the bottle open, we tasted it again. It had improved! Nicolas and Ricardo noticed that it no longer had the slight acidic aftertaste and seemed even smoother. It then became a favorite, tied with the next wine (preference varied upon individuals).
6. Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou - Saint Julien – 1983; $175 *****
· The cork was in perfect like-new condition at the top, although it broke half way. The bottom was of very dark in color.
· The wine had a dense dark ruby color, it was not brown at all. Lots of legs on the glass.
· It had very aromatic nose, and an excellent taste. It did not taste like an old wine that is over-aged. We noted hints of raspberry and cherry. It was very fragrant, with tannins left, and some spicy notes.
· This was Ricardo’s and Nicolas’ favorite wine, and most other people also rank it as #1 and managed to convince some of the others with their enthusiasm, but Allen and Erin who preferred the Chateau Meyney aligned some others on their side.
· We are qualifying this one as “a jewel”.
7. Caves de la Reine Pedauque - Chateauneuf du Pape – 1979; Last available at $95
· The cork broke.
· It had a very cloudy color.
· The nose was fruity, with strawberry, red cherry, and a slight smokiness. We noted, or imagined, the smell of the dry herbs from “la Garrigue”.
· This wine was acidic, but drinkable. It fared slightly better than the other bottle we had had in the prior wine tasting.
8. Dow's Vintage Port - 1970 (magnum); $130x2 *****
· The cork was in good condition, dry and dark at the bottom.
· It was excellent, in outstanding condition. It is very smooth, flavorful, and does not taste like an old wine. All participants said it was delicious, with caramel and molasses notes, some coffee taste. There was some vanilla flavor and buckwheat honey/molasses.
· Very sweet and very smooth.