birthday bottles

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

To paraphrase an old Rod Stewart song: every bottle tells a story, don’t it? At least, the best bottles have stories to tell. And once they’ve been acquired, stored, perhaps forgotten and ultimately rediscovered, they have a power akin to a great old song that you haven’t heard in years. They take you back to a different place and time, while riveting your attention on the moment – and pleasures – at hand.

Last night’s birthday bash included a lineup of wines pulled from my cellar; each for a particular reason. The food and friends and conversation that wrapped around these wines were the real jewels in a sparkling evening, but here’s a quick look at what was opened, and why.

Charles Heidsieck 1985 Champagne Charlie. My last bottle of this elixir, deliciously toasty and rich, to celebrate the arrival (from Waitsburg) of two of our very best friends.

Taittinger 1999 Comptes de Champagne Rosé. The year I fell in love with Mrs. G. The best possible launch to the dinner party.

Pieropan 2004 ‘La Rocca’ Soave. In 1987 I visited Pieropan, stood in the epicenter of the Soave Classico region, and was indelibly stamped with a memory that will forever infuse any bottle of their wine. This was a perfect accompaniment to an appetizer of mixed cured meats and cheeses, notably a home-made duck prosciutto.

The Eyrie Vineyards 1992 Reserve Pinot Noir. In honor of my friend David Lett, who passed away in 2008. As expected, the wine was light and still in a bit of a shell. Volatile at first, it gained breadth and depth, flesh and texture as it breathed open in the glass. I should have decanted it; it was gone just as it was blossoming.

Buty 2002 Rediviva of the Stones. One of the early releases from Buty, this was essentially a Cailloux vineyard syrah, blended with 14% cabernet sauvignon. Smooth and supple, beautifully proportioned, it was for many people – myself included – the wine of the night.

With the main course – a goat cassoulet – we had three cabs. A Fielding Hills 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon proved to be still quite fruity, powerful, a bit blocky, in a bit of a transition from youth to mid-life. A long way to go still. A Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1997 ‘Cask 23’ was for me the least favorite wine of the evening. I wanted to show an excellent Napa cab with the Washington wines, but this seemed already dried out and a bit dull.

The Columbia 1992 ‘30th Anniversary’ Red Willow Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was exactly as I’d hoped – a perfect testament to the skill and palate of the late David Lake. It was lovely to sense his presence in the wine, which included 24% cabernet franc, which his back label note called “exceptionally charming.” A classic Red Willow cab, light and elegant, and so European. It was, I think, drinking at its peak.

Surprise guests – musician friends who cut their ski trip short to be with us – brought a Chateau Romer du Hayot 1988 Sauternes. No one at the table had ever heard of this wine, but it was in superb condition, still a bright gold, honeyed and exceptionally long. The final final wine – see photo – was a 60-year-old Amontillado. Interesting, unusual, and definitely the best package of the night.

3 comments:

Sean P. Sullivan said...

Paul, if there is one thing that takes the sting out of , how shall we say - another year in the bottle? - it is wines like these. Thanks for sharing the lineup with us. Here's to many more such posts!

Art said...

A belated Happy Birthday, and it sounds like you had many more hits than misses. Now for the next holiday . . . !

Your comments on the Columbia 1992 Cab are intriguing. I had a '97 a while back that was also excellent. What do you suppose it was that Lake was doing then that is so rarely (if ever) duplicated these days, at least in terms of the age-worthiness, not to mention the old-worldly elegance, of WA wines?

PaulG said...

Art, I can't pretend to know exactly how that '92 Columbia was made, but in general David Lake (and Red Willow vineyard owner Mike Sauer) seemed to pick grapes at levels of ripeness that would not necessarily be seen as optimal by today's standards. Lake was not afraid to show some of the herbal side of cabernet, as the French do. He preferred to make wines with natural structural balance, and generally avoided excessive use of new oak.

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