Drinking a Wine as Old as Me
To celebrate the fact that I've lived to the ripe old age of 30, I decided to follow a childhood dream and purchase a wine that is as old as I am; something the guy at the wine store called "birth-vintaging". My quest started a with a question posed on the snooth.com forums where I asked what wine I might be able to afford from that year that might be closer to peaking than vinegar. With no experience in wine older than 8 years, I had a lot to learn. My first lesson was that in most wine regions, 1981 wasn't a very popular vintage. Trying not to take it personally, I decided that was to my advantage, since I could afford to buy a wine from a better property (the wine I chose, for instance, costs 2 times more for a pre-order of 2009). Another lesson was that I should go for a tannic wine, like Bordeaux or Cabernet, rather than a lighter wine like Pinot Noir. The reason is that the tannins help the wine preserve itsself for a longer life, which allows it to be kept 20, 30, 60, or more years. I also learned that I would probably be better off going for a wine from Spain, but I have personal history with France and California, so I decided to keep it there.
The bottle I finally chose was a Grand Vine De Leoville du Marquis de Las Cases, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux. It stood out to me when I was browsing the K&L Wine Merchants store in Redwood City. Upon speaking to the wine expert there, it made more sense because of who cellared it. When buying a wine that was 30 years old from a slightly ill-reputed vintage, I decided that this bottle would be the least risky. It had the label of Mahler-Besse on the neck, which meant that it had been cellared by a reputable vintner in one place. I knew where it had been most of its life, and that it hadn't been moved around the world several times like I had. The foil and cork also looked to be in good condition, and the level of the wine was still high in the bottle.
On the night of my birthday dinner with a few friends and family, I got some good, hard sheeps milk cheese and prepared to open the bottle. I'd studied some youtube videos on how to do so, but I still managed to break the cork in half. It was saturated with the wine, but no wine had made it to the top of the cork (maybe it would have in 2 years). Then I carefully poured the wine into a wide decanter. I kept the neck in front of a candle, and stopped when a line of sediment started to appear. Then it sat for about 5 minutes in the decanter.
After pouring the wine, I took the first sip, and was surprised to see that the wine didn't taste like any other wine I'd tried before. There is something unique about an old wine, I guess, that you can't replicate with other wines. The best way to describe the taste is the over-used phrase "musty". What was even more interesting, however, was the speed with which the wine changed its character. It probably took me about 15 minutes to sip the glass and nibble on some cheese. During that short time I tasted and felt the wine open up to an incredibly smooth drink that sort of reminded me of a very nicely cooked Portobello mushroom. Then it sort of turned and became a bit harsh, so I hurried up with the last few sips. How it could change so drastically in such a short amount of time is beyond me, but I will say it was a very pleasent experience. I'm not sure if I'm going to play around with 30-year old wines now, but my curiosity has been piqued, and I do intend to seek out some older wines, say, from the 90's, as after browsing through wine stores they are a lot more accessible than I had thought.
Here's a short vid of me nervously pouring the bottle into the decanter . . .