For a few years I have had a bottle of 1961 Ch. Palmer in my rack at home. I had picked it up for a song due to a poor level – just at the bottom of the shoulder – and the fact that it had been across the world and back at least once, and had been rejected as out of condition at least twice. Its only value was romantic, and I have to concede that I just enjoyed the idea of having a legendary bottle of wine in the rack, no matter how shot to pieces it might be.
A serious bottle in the rack is always in danger of being wasted, if only because it has the greatest chance of being the LAST bottle at home on the evening that one comes home a little tired, a little late and in need of a glass or two with the pizza. The Palmer survived this on account of its condition for quite some time.
A while back I decided I’d open it. I had a bottle of Extra Ordinary Claret in reserve, which I was almost certain that I’d be opening. I was sure that the Palmer would be as dead as Dillinger. The dish chosen to match? Sausages (albeit some pretty fine ones).
So. The corkscrew. Opening old bottles is always hit and miss, and one should always be prepared for the cork breaking in two, followed by the total disintegration of the bottom half as one digs it out. This is not schoolboy error; this is just the way it is. The rare occasions that an old cork comes out in perfect nick are down to luck, not down to any particular skill, though it is satisfying. Pulling the cork on my Palmer followed the first path.
Surprisingly, the wine was still alive. Alive in that there were no obvious faults, it wasn’t vinegar: it was still wine. The nose was clean, though it was just old claret: nice if you like that sort of thing, but unremarkable aside from its survival.
A few minutes later the genie started to emerge from the lamp. Something magical started. I had a winner, and it was coming to life.
The manager of Château Palmer tells a great story about a recorking session of the 1961 in a hotel in the Far East. A private collector had an entire cellar of the 1961, and had flown a team out from Palmer to top up and recork his stock. This took place in the cellars of a hotel, and by the end of the session the entire lobby of the hotel was alive with the bouquet of 1961 Palmer. Until I opened mine, I was always impressed with the flamboyance of the story, though now I fully understand. The bouquet of 1961 Palmer is indescribable – sweet fruit, floral, mineral, combined with the mature aroma that only very old claret gives; I’m struggling. If a lady passed you in the street wearing this perfume you would turn and follow.
In the mouth this was just as transcendental, with an almost impossibly perfect balance of sweetness, richness and gaminess wrapped up in the most beautifully silky texture. And it just got better and better. Needless to say the sausages were abandoned. I just inhaled the perfume. This really was a moment.
The bottle was gone. Finished before it started to fade though I’m satisfied that I got the best from it, partly because I can’t imagine anything better. I have to confess to eating some of the sediment. It was that good. I didn’t go back to the sausages…