What I’m drinking … a little bit of history

Every now and then in this wine life someone has an old bottle and they’ve decided it’s time to open it.

A good friend of mine moved about two years ago and his family’s wine cellar was uprooted and has been in a state of flux since. He’s been concerned about the condition in which some of the older bottles were being kept. The ideal conditions for wine is a dark place with a temperature at a constant level of 55 to 65 degrees. If you’re worried about storing wine, the best solution is to just drink it.

So before he came over to the cottage one night, he called me and said, “I don’t have any beer but I’m bringing a ’69 Robert Mondavi cab and a ’65 Louis Martini.”

“Well,” I replied, “I guess that will be OK.”

I had been hoping for a 18 pack of Bud Lite, but two bottles of premium Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from decades ago would have to suffice.

Opening older bottles is always exciting, but comes with a some risk, especially when the cellar conditions have been less than ideal. The cork on the Martini looked as if it had risen out of the bottle a little and that is always a bad sign. The Mondavi, however, looked like it was still in pretty good shape.

Just opening these old bottles requires a steady hand and some skill. Christine, always able handed with a corkscrew, carefully teased the crumbling and decayed corks out of the bottle. This takes time and patience. If you let one of these old nasty corks fall apart in to the wine it can mar some of the delicate aromas and flavors of the wine.

Easy does it. Pulling old corks takes a skilled and steady hand.

We started with the 1969 Robert Mondavi and just based on appearance and smell the wine seemed to have held it’s own. The tasters, there were six of us, all then brought our glasses up and tried our first taste of a wine that was bottled before any of us were born. At first, no one said anything. We all just stood there swirling the wine in our mouths taking discrete glances at each other, as if waiting for someone to actually say what we were all thinking.

“My God,” Christine finally said. “This is just amazing.”

And then the flood gates just opened. I couldn’t stop saying how the wine was nothing like I had ever tasted, but yet better than some of the best wines I have ever tasted. My friend Andrew raved about how the taste just lingered on the palate and coated the mouth in a rich layers of flavor that seemed to offer something new with each sip.

For someone like myself  on the lower rungs of the wine world, without the means to procure and maintain a cellar stocked with library vintages, I don’t have the tasting experience to regularly enjoy wines that have been allowed time to grow and develop. But everyone I know in the wine industry has moments of inspiration when they taste something that makes them remember why they love the simple beverage. To taste a 1969 Robert Mondavi wine in perfect shape was to taste a moment in time when Napa was emerging on the wine world. It was inspiring, it was tasting history. It was a reminder that through time wine can transcend from being just a beverage to a lasting piece of art.

Well wine can be like that.

As good as the Mondavi was, the Martini was terrible. Bitter, astringent, it had become vinegar.

Hoping for something else amazing, I ran out to barn and dug out a ’80s Bordeaux that still had a 35 Franc price sticker on it.

That was disgusting as well.

The two disappointments made us all relish the Mondavi that much more and made us appreciate drinking something that had been preserved from more than 40 years ago that had not only retained its original quality but had developed into something far more wonderful.

One Comment

  1. This wine was made by Miljenko “Mike” Grgich when he worked for Robert Mondavi. It also was the winner of the 1972 LA Times Vintner’s Tasting. Kudos to one of Mike’s earliest victories in making wine.

    Reply

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