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Robin Garr

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Wine Advisor: The accidental cellar

by Robin Garr » Fri Feb 15, 2019 7:06 pm

(An excerpt from this week's 30 Second Wine Advisor)

The accidental cellar

A fair amount of wine got poured down the drain over here the other day, and a few tears flowed along with it.

What caused this tragedy? Carelessness and forgetfulness, mostly.

The victims were wines from dusty bottles that had lain on their sides for far too long, neglected and forgotten on a wine rack under a library table where they slept under seasonably air-conditioned temperatures but far from the 55ºF (13ºC) that's recommended for proper cellaring.

Most were treasures from past wine travel, memories brought back from happy vineyard visits and set aside to mature a bit, but then sadly forgotten, kept long past their best-by date. A few others were just interesting wines that I had set aside "for a while," a while that extended into years. A couple had arrived here with us when we moved into this house 25 years ago. How did all those years go by so fast?

So it came to pass the other day that, in a flurry of early spring housecleaning, I wiped off the bottles, studied their vintage dates with growing horror, and then decided there was only one thing to do. Yes, you guessed it: I spent a long afternoon pulling dried and crumbly corks, sniffing, occasionally cautiously tasting, and then pouring out a lot of one-time treasures. (Aside: I sometimes wonder what the recycling people think of all our empty bottles, but I expect they've taken my measure by now.)

Unfortunately but not unexpectedly, most of the wines were long dead, whites and reds approaching in the middle at bronze or brown colors. The better ones smelled like Sherry. The rest smelled like dank mud. And one villainous wretch, an un-dated Fossi Rosso, a $4 Italian quaffer from the late 1990s, smelled, well, like an outdoor latrine on a scorching afternoon.

Don't keep your wines too long while storing them poorly, my friends. No good can come of it.

But to my great delight, two of the wines that I had put away specifically because they needed plenty of time, had survived. In fact, they didn't merely survive but proved so delightful that they became my impromptu choice for Valentine's Day dinner.

What were these treasures? One was an Alain Brumont Chateau Bouscassé 1994 Madiran Vieilles Vignes, a wine from the Gascony region in Southwest France, also home to Alexandre Dumas' d'Artagnan and the Three Musketeers, yet another legend that has worn well. Made from the Tannat grape – which as its name suggests may be the most tannic of all wine varieties – it is a wine that requires long aging (although aging in a proper cellar is strongly recommended). I had picked up a few bottles sometime around the turn of the millennium, sacrificed one every now and then, but when a tasting around 2010 proved still way too harsh and tannic, I hid the last bottle. Until now. To my amazed delight, this 25-year-old bottle was fine, still a bit tannic but now showing surprisingly well. Its rapid evolution in the glass suggests I caught it just in time, but it was beautiful to behold.

The other was a sweet wine from Alsace, Marc Kreydenweiss 2000 Clos Rebbert Pinot Gris Selections de Grains Nobles. I had picked it up during a 2003 visit to the winery and tucked it away for years on the advice of the amiable winemaker, who told me it needed a lot of time. I'm not sure he meant this much time, but hey. It was a botrytized beauty, lush with apricot and peach aromas and an aching sweet but nicely balanced flavor. It could actually have gone for a few more years, I think. However, a pleasant but distinct hint of cream Sherry in the background suggest that oxidation might eventually begin to take its toll. (You'll find my tasting notes on both these discoveries in a separate WTN post here.)

So what are the lessons here for wine lovers? A couple, I think. First, when you're getting serious about wine, don't be too quick to reject the idea of investing in a simple but properly temperature-controlled wine cellar. I always figured I didn't need one since my work as a wine writer drives most of my consumption toward new releases and recent bottlings. But the joy of even these two less than competently cellared wines makes me wish I had stashed a few dozen (or a few hundred) more in a proper cellar.

Second, if you decide to lay down a few wines for later consumption, particularly if you don't have a cool cellar, consider limiting your choices to wines that can go the distance. Madiran is a relative rarity, but it's not terribly expensive, and my experience confirms its longevity. The Kreydenweiss makes a similar point: Very sweet wines tend to live longer, particularly quality genres like Tawny Port, or even Vintage Port, although the latter really benefits from proper storage.

If you really want a wine to lay down for your new baby's college graduation, though, or perhaps for your own 50th anniversary, head for the wine shop and stock up on Madeira. This historic fortified wine, available in sweet and dry styles, traces its heritage to long, hot voyages across oceans in the sun-baked holds of sailing ships, and it's made to go the distance. Maybe even without a cellar.
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David M. Bueker

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Re: Wine Advisor: The accidental cellar

by David M. Bueker » Fri Feb 15, 2019 9:49 pm

Ouch. Tom Hill seems to have better luck.
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Re: Wine Advisor: The accidental cellar

by Jim Grow » Fri Feb 15, 2019 10:53 pm

Robin, your post reminds me of a post here 10-15 yrs. ago called " seven wines in seven minutes" where by I opened a lot of old Bordeaux at lunch that all were poured down the drain except a Haut Brion, all of which I inheirited from a recently dead uncle.

I also have a good friend which I share his wonderful cold celler; some of whose wine is WAY past consumption (think 1982 Cal. Riesling). Oh well, he drinks a bottle or 2 a week and I drink a bottle every nite. I always marvel at his wines when I drive over (30 mi.) to pick up some of my wine. Many wonderful memories of shared purchases from D.C. back in the day, especially the LH Alsace and Sauternes that I know are still great. I guess I'd rather have a cellar on the young side than a cellar with many bottles probably over the hill.
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Re: Wine Advisor: The accidental cellar

by Rahsaan » Fri Feb 15, 2019 11:02 pm

Interesting story but amazing that a wine lover could lose bottles for several decades!
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Bill Spohn

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Re: Wine Advisor: The accidental cellar

by Bill Spohn » Sat Feb 16, 2019 3:11 pm

Hey - I've lost cases of wine for decades! Only found them when I moved and catalogued everything.

I have had very good luck with older bottles. 'Found' a half case of very modest claret, 1988 Ch. Larrouquey, and it was delightful - have been drinking it up for the last six months.

Robin, I have one bottle of that 94 Madiran left in the cellar - have been wondering how long to hold it and based on your instance of it enduring unwitting abuse, I may want to hold it a bit longer - what do you think?
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Re: Wine Advisor: The accidental cellar

by Robin Garr » Sat Feb 16, 2019 5:19 pm

Bill Spohn wrote:Robin, I have one bottle of that 94 Madiran left in the cellar - have been wondering how long to hold it and based on your instance of it enduring unwitting abuse, I may want to hold it a bit longer - what do you think?

With the caveat that past a certain age bottles start to vary, as you know, I think it's probably got 10 years left. We actually popped the cork back in the leftovers and it was still good the next day. :shock:
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Re: Wine Advisor: The accidental cellar

by Bill Spohn » Sat Feb 16, 2019 5:24 pm

Madirans can take forever to come around - always nice to have a few bottles so you can 'bracket' taste and home in on the best time.
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Tim York

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Re: Wine Advisor: The accidental cellar

by Tim York » Sat Feb 16, 2019 5:46 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
Bill Spohn wrote:Robin, I have one bottle of that 94 Madiran left in the cellar - have been wondering how long to hold it and based on your instance of it enduring unwitting abuse, I may want to hold it a bit longer - what do you think?

With the caveat that past a certain age bottles start to vary, as you know, I think it's probably got 10 years left. We actually popped the cork back in the leftovers and it was still good the next day. :shock:


I was less lucky with a recent bottle of Montus Prestige 1997. Its brett flavours exceeded my usually very tolerant ceiling. I have one remaining bottle which I hope will be prove less infected.
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Re: Wine Advisor: The accidental cellar

by Bill Spohn » Sat Feb 16, 2019 6:08 pm

I have a 2002 Montus, Tim. Wondering when to pop that one. There is brett and then there is BRETT (as any Rhone lover can attest).
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Re: Wine Advisor: The accidental cellar

by Robin Garr » Sat Feb 16, 2019 11:02 pm

Bill Spohn wrote:There is brett and then there is BRETT (as any Rhone lover can attest).

Perzackly! For what it's worth, though, I perceived no brett whatsoever in the '94 Vieilles Vignes. It was surprisingly clean of both brett and oxidative character.
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Re: Wine Advisor: The accidental cellar

by Tim York » Sun Feb 17, 2019 11:30 am

Bill Spohn wrote:I have a 2002 Montus, Tim. Wondering when to pop that one. There is brett and then there is BRETT (as any Rhone lover can attest).


I tasted the Brumont 2002s a couple of times over 10 years ago but I don't think I ever owned one. Here is a note from that 2008 tasting which is interesting because it refers to a style change at Brumont. I can confirm that from having recently found Bouscassé and Montus 2008-2010 surprisingly approachable but a bit short of what I regard as Madiran typicity.

Domaine Alain Brumont, Madiran
This estate is a regular here and the 1999 and 2002 vintages shown from Montus and Bouscassé had already been on show last year. At the previous day’s tasting, another Madiran exhibitor regaled me with a tale that the Brumont estate is now under bankers’ control following a bankruptcy. I couldn’t help thinking about this as the friendly and articulate presenter, who enjoyed the unusual job title “Sommelier Commercial”, showed the rather populist entry level wines and talked about Montus and Bouscassé now being made in a style for earlier drinking without sacrificing ageing potential. It is therefore a pity that they were not shown in more recent vintages.

Reds
Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne Tannat-Merlot 2005 (€6) was soft, fruity and just saved from sogginess by some tang; 13.5/20.
Madiran “Torus” 2006 (€9) is designed for early drinking and was surprisingly soft for Tannat with an attractive ivy tang; 14.5/20.
Château Bouscassé - Madiran 2002 (€ 8) has opened up since last year and shows complexity and roundness with a touch of liqueur, meat and plum notes and good structure; 16/20 and also a good QPR bargain at its discounted price.
An extra dimension, depth, complexity and length was apparent on Château Bouscassé - Madiran Vieilles Vignes 1999 (€15) which has also opened up since last year with a floral touch emerging as well as leather; 17/20
Montus - Madiran 2002 (€12) is fruity and round, jammier and more supple than Bouscassé, whose frankness I prefer; 15.5/20.
Montus - Madiran Cuvée Prestige 1999 (€18) showed dense and attractive fruit, “sweeter” and more fragrant and perhaps more complex than Bouscassé, with tar hints and a wood patina better integrated than before; 16.5/20. Although I prefer the lesser sophistication of Bouscassé, these are fine wines.

From the above, I would guess that the basic Montus 2002 should be drunk soon. Another observation is that the prices have doubled in the last 10 years. I saw a recent Montus on sale at €24 yesterday.

That was definitely BRETT on the 1997 Montus Prestige. A particularly unpleasant mix of barnyard and antiseptic :( .
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Re: Wine Advisor: The accidental cellar

by Jenise » Sun Feb 17, 2019 4:22 pm

Bill Spohn wrote:Madirans can take forever to come around - always nice to have a few bottles so you can 'bracket' taste and home in on the best time.


And yours will show better than Robin's. Robin's street level room in a Louisville Kentucky home is no match for your former Vancouver basement.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Wine Advisor: The accidental cellar

by Bill Spohn » Sun Feb 17, 2019 4:28 pm

yeah, the old basement, largely under ground, was usually around 60-65 F, maybe a tad higher in summer.

My current cellar is down to 51 deg. right now - the cooling unit hasn't come on in three months but the slightly below freezing outside temps slowly get through the insulation. That's about as far under the normal 55 deg. it ever gets.
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Re: Wine Advisor: The accidental cellar

by ChaimShraga » Sun Feb 17, 2019 5:14 pm

I don't understand where time went, either. My kids are supposed to be in diapers, not running around in South Asia or wherever. I don't even want to open their birthyear bottles if I could just push the time genie back into its bottle.
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Re: Wine Advisor: The accidental cellar

by Jenise » Sun Feb 17, 2019 6:22 pm

Bill Spohn wrote:yeah, the old basement, largely under ground, was usually around 60-65 F, maybe a tad higher in summer.

My current cellar is down to 51 deg. right now - the cooling unit hasn't come on in three months but the slightly below freezing outside temps slowly get through the insulation. That's about as far under the normal 55 deg. it ever gets.


Ours is happily passive at the moment. Bob hasn't installed the new cooler yet. Need to do that soon, the garage actually gets a bit warm because the furnace runs so much in this weather. I have a bunch of neat stuff to put away too. Krugs, a slew of Bevans, Reynvaan Stonessences, all $75+ stuff.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Wine Advisor: The accidental cellar

by Paul Winalski » Sun Feb 17, 2019 6:27 pm

Vintage Madeira is practically immortal. As is red Sherry.

My accidental cellar story fortunately has a happy ending. I routinely buy 6 bottles of each vintage of Saintsbury's Carneros pinot noir and start opening them 8 years past the vintage. I was surprised to discover in my cellar 3 bottles that were over 15 years old. When I tried one of them I was pleasantly surprised to find it was a dead ringer for a fully mature Nuits-Saint-Georges. I'll be keeping my Saintsbury Carneros a bit longer from now on.

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