On the occasion of our last dinner in Canada with some great friends I decided it was the appropriate time to open one of the oldest and most prestigious bottles of wine in my collection. I had purchased a 1975 Mouton Rothschild several years ago from a wine store in St. Louis that was liquidating an old collector’s cellar for him. I can’t tell you the price of the wine because my wife reads this, but suffice to say I only bought one bottle. This was the night to open this wine.
A great wine deserves great food and the proper handling of the wine. It should be properly uncorked, decanted and accompanied by the appropriate stemware. The Old Mill in Ancaster has been serving great food for several years and they have recently added a professional sommelier to their staff making this a complete first class establishment. He recognized immediately the special nature of the wine and was prepared to handle it with the respect it deserved.
The cork was difficult, breaking in two as it was opened. Our sommelier was a professional and knew how to handle this type of potential disaster, and wrestled the cork without any tragic consequences. Next he decanted the wine using a candle just under the neck of the bottle to look for sediment, and to know when to stop pouring. He brought out new Riedel stemware and at the appropriate time poured the wine for us to taste. Older wines will open up quickly and should not breathe too long, as they can sometimes lose their taste within less than an hour.
After thirty years in the bottle the wine was amazing and near perfect. I have learned that the hallmark of great Bordeaux is the balance and complexity the wine maker achieves with the wine. The Mouton had all the classic qualities of a great Bordeaux – oak, cherry cassis, florals, hay, cigar box – layered in perfect balance so that no one element was dominant. The wine became silky smooth as it opened up and lingered on the pallet. It was truly a remarkable wine that gives credence to why Mouton is a first growth. You can still find this wine on auction and it is worth every penny.
At the same dinner we opened a 1989 Chateau Palmer and a 1989 Chateau Pichon-Longueville. Nineteen eighty-nine was a fantastic year in Bordeaux and these two wines were quintessential examples of what great winemakers do in great vintages.
The Palmer is a benchmark of the vintage. The wine was stunning immediately out of the bottle, and became layered, complex and balanced as it had time to breathe. It was elegant, big, dense and classic in every sense of the word. It became more interesting as it opened up and the long finish lingered on our pallets for quite some time. Palmer is one of the finest Chateau in Bordeaux and they make wonderful wines in every vintage. In great vintages they make fantastic wines and the ’89 is simply amazing. It is the kind of wine you don’t want to finish, and you savor every drop in your glass.
We did not do justice to the Pichon – tasting it after the Mouton – and I should have done a better job of placing the wines in the right order because this is a fabulous wine that is complex and dense. While the Palmer was very approachable now, the Pichon could easily use another five to ten years in the bottle. We let this wine breath for at least an hour, and it was still a little tight. The great Bordeaux wines take a long time to reach their peak and when they do they become the standard by which all other wine is judged. This wine will reach that standard with more time in the bottle.
As part of our going-away ritual I also opened up a bottle of 1979 Chateau Haut Sarpe. I bought this wine in St. Emilion – splitting the cost with a friend – in 1999. After twenty-five years in the bottle I was a little nervous about the condition of the wine. We were not disappointed as the wine was simply amazing. It was not as complex or smooth as the Mouton, and not as dense as the Palmer or Pichon, but it was fantastic nonetheless. It had all the classic Bordeaux traits of barnyard, hay, oak, mushrooms and cedar and spread across your pallet, lingering on and on. We didn’t want to finish this bottle as it was another example of what happens to great Bordeaux when they are given enough time to really age. This is another wine you can still find by searching for it on the internet. The site I use is www.wine-searcher.com .
Again reaching into my cellar in preparation for our move I opened an American wine from a producer I’ve recommended here before. Chateau St. Michelle, Canoe Ridge in the Columbia Valley of Washington State makes a huge fruit bomb that is fantastic in good years. We had the 1998 Canoe Ridge single vineyard Cabernet and absolutely loved it. You want to sip this for every drop and I can’t imagine a better bargain at $28. This competes with much more expensive California cabernets without missing a beat.
The last wine to recommend this month is an unbeatable 2003 Mouton Cadet Bordeaux for $7. The ’03 vintage is proving to be a strong vintage, which means that even the less expensive wines will be quite drinkable, but it’s been a long time since I’ve tasted a wine that is this good at this price. Don’t get me wrong. This is not a great wine by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a great choice for a table wine to have as your everyday “avoid-the-heart-attack-by-drinking-a-glass-of-wine-a-day” wine. I found this at Total Wine in Delaware, and it is a great bargain.