Old wine. Some think that just by being old a wine has some inherent class, some quality. Drink a five year old bottle of supermarket Merlot and this point of view is soon corrected. To last, wine needs to be of a certain quality; it needs to have the right ingredients (for red: tannin, acidity, alcohol and what I’d call “extract” or “fruit”) and these ingredients need to be in balance for the wine to develop and keep. Some vintages are of course better than others. If it pisses with rain all year then blockbuster wine is not an option. That is why it’s hard to make wine here in the UK.
The oldest wine that I have ever tasted is 1927 Taylor, a vintage Port. Which, incidentally is still as fresh as a daisy and is firmly in my top five ever, despite some pretty serious recent competition. When you open and drink something this old there is more than just the liquid in your mouth: there is, I think, something a bit more special.
There is the sunshine of 1927. The summer. The harvest. The peasant that picked the grapes. The journey down the Douro. The bottling (in 1929), and the bottlers. I think that mine was bottled by my employers (these days all vintage Port is bottled in Portugal. Pre 1975 -a very light vintage that shouldn’t really have been declared – much was bottled by UK merchants, and BBR bottlings are considered to be amongst the best). 1927 FA Cup winners: Cardiff City.
So: Christmas day drinking. 1976 Santenay Beaurepaire, Selection Nicolas Potel. This is not from his own, nor his father’s vineyards, though I understand that he trod the grapes (aged about six by my reckoning). This is enough to make the bottle special enough for me, and it was pretty good. Pinot develops a smoothness in its old age that I find to be perfection, and this did the job perfectly. And I was learning to ride my bike while this wine was born. Southampton won the FA Cup.
1993 Pichon-Lalande followed from magnum. Not the greatest of vintages but crap vintages from good domaines toss up some nice surprises. And my eldest nephew is a 1993. And I was driving a bus in 1993, unaware that it was raining in Pauillac whilst the harvest was coming in. And Crystal Palace were relegated from the Premier League. On goal difference.
To finish: 1977 Berry’s Own Selection Vintage Port. Which is actually 1977 Quarles Harris. This was just getting into its second stage of maturity, though still had plenty of fruit. I am convinced that 1977 is the new 1963, the latter vintage no longer plentiful, and joining the ranks of 1955, 1948 as rarities. I had probably learned how to ride my bike in 1977. The Porsche 928 was born, as was regular flight BA1: Concorde to New York.
In 1982 Bordeaux produced its first great vintage of the modern era, and Robert Parker made his name. I was experimenting with tabs. 1995 & 1996 were two of the best years I’ve had so far, though I was completely unaware of the brilliant crops on the right and lefts banks of Bordeaux. I’ve had a truly miserable 2009, though this drabble was born, as were outstanding wines throughout Europe. I’ll be tasting the clarets from barrel in April, and hope I live long enough to drink them when they are mature.