I was delivered a lucky find this week. One of my customers had found a 1995 Ch.Monbrison Cru Bourgeois from $14.97 at a local liquor store. A twenty year old bottle of wine for fifteen dollars?!? A Cru Bourgeois from Margaux for fifteen bucks?! It was too good to be true. It must be over the hill. It will have been poorly stored etc… I told myself all these things. Then, I just so happened to have to be in the neighbourhood of said liquor store, so I checked it out.
The ullage (the space between the top of the wine and the bottom of the cork) was reasonable, about what one would expect. It was only 12% alcohol. Low, but again,it was worth the gamble.
I picked up four bottles. One for a gift, one for immediate consumption and two for… whatever.
I’m of the opinion that wine has two lives. The first life begins in the vineyard. The vines grow, the grapes ripen and are harvested and pressed. Then, once the juice has fermented, it gets stored either in stainless steel, concrete tanks or oak barrels. Finally, the wine is bottled and shipped out to the world. Some bottles will be consumed and some will be held for aging, but the second life begins when the bottle is opened.
Wines are like people. Some peak early, some peak in the middle of their lives and others don’t peak until they’re older. Others peak very late in life. Ideally, we want to drink each wine at their peak. This doesn’t mean though, that something past its peak can’t be enjoyed. It has to be enjoyed for what it is.
I took one of the bottles to my brother’s place for my niece’s birthday party and opened it. I was so excited! The cork broke on the way out of the bottle (Not a good sign – it means the wine hasn’t been stored on its’ side allowing the cork to dry out. This can cause maderization or in layman’s terms, oxidation or spoilage.) My brother, being the awesome man that he is, was able to extract the tiny fragment left in the bottle without shredding it and we poured some into a glass and this lovely old wine began its’ second life.
The colour was clear, bright garnet. I expected it to be a dull orange-red and it was definitely the colour of old wine, but it was clear and bright. That’s a good sign. On the nose there were notes of tobacco and spice but it was all very faint. As time went by and the wine opened up it blossomed. Pretty notes of prune and spice danced in the glass and the wine on the palate was silky and warm with velvety, pronounced tannins. As time passed, I could see the wine beginning to thread. It was coming apart. The second life was coming to a close.
What a beautiful experience. It’s a bit like meeting a wonderful senior person and having the opportunity to talk to them about their life in the waning light of their years. I felt a deep sense of privilege. It was such a treat to share with my family, all of whom were able to appreciate what we’d had.
It wasn’t a first growth. It was not a famous wine, but it was a wine that had lived a long time and gave us all that it had in the space of a couple of hours.
I would encourage anyone, if they see something old marked down in a liquor store, to pick it up. (Get the bottle with the smallest ullage.) Let it rest for a while, open it carefully, don’t decant it! Old wine is too delicate to decant. I always say it’s like grabbing an old man, shaking him hard and then saying, “let’s dance!”. These oldsters need respect and a very little bit of time. Just like people. Be kind and generous and appreciate every single moment of the unique experience, the gem that you have found.