Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Accidental Adventures in Cellaring

I was already thinking of writing this when I came across Alfonso Cevola’s post on the foibles and fleeting romanticism of inadvertently keeping wine past its time. Thus inspired, I simply must. My wine concerned was not as upsetting to me as Alfonso’s may have been to him. It doesn’t involve a wine nearly as old or something of which I had only a single bottle or had never before tasted. In fact, I look at my experience as positive, even comforting. That last thought makes the following story a perfect tie in to this month's edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, which focuses on comfort wines, hosted by Joel at Wine Life Today.

The wine in question was the 1997 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano from Fattoria di Palazzo Vecchio ($18 on release, 13.5% alcohol, natural cork, formerly imported by Petit Pois). After enjoying several bottles of Palazzo Vecchio’s beautiful 1996 back in 2000, I picked up a case of the 1997 when it was released in the fall of that year. I figured I’d give a few bottles away to friends around the holidays, drink a few bottles myself and sock the rest away in the cellar. Here’s my tasting note, culled from the archives, from December 21, 2000:

A wine of immaculate structure and finesse, with a perfect harmony between fruit, acid and tannin. The 97 Vino Nobile is still very much in its youth, exhibiting copious quantities of round yet dusty tannins. When first opened, earthiness and cigar box aromas are prevalent on the nose and the palate is actually quite closed. With time in the glass though, this wine blossoms into a true beauty -- full of dark plum and dried cherry flavors with a hint of licorice on the long finish. This is built for the long haul and will almost certainly improve with age. If drinking now, I would recommend decanting this wine at least 30 minutes before serving. Or take the time to savor its evolution in your glass.

I still remember the next-to-last bottle – though I didn’t write a formal note – served at a casual dinner with a few friends about two or three years ago. The Vino Nobile was then showing the full plumage of healthy maturity – a touch of bricking around the rim, a deposit of fine, silty sediment and lovely, mellowed texture.

My last bottle of the 1997 was drunk and considered just a few nights ago, popped open to accompany Sunday dinner and provide a little comfort at the end of a busy, tiring weekend. As soon as I poured I knew I may have pushed this one a bit too far, having half forgotten about it socked away in the back row of my double-deep storage unit. Its color had gone from brickish around the rim to garnet/brick through and through. Aromas were completely tertiary; the scent of red fruits having subsided into more subtly perfumed cherry wood and leather. On the palate, too, restrained spice and rosemary elements remained but the dark brambly fruit of the wine’s earlier years was no more.

Astoundingly, all this considered, the second half of the bottle held up pretty well into a second day. The aromatic character on day two made me think of Madeira; there was an oxidative note yet without the negative traits associated with oxidation. It was as if the wine had developed resistance to oxidation through the slightly oxidative nature of long, gentle cellaring. The wine’s tannins had become more narrow than when last tasted but were still very fine, reminding me of the feel and scent of teak.

As I write this, I realize the wine wasn’t dead; it hadn’t gone that far to the dark side. It wasn’t half bad. In fact, it was quite good or, at the very least, interesting – a solid example of a wine, metaphorically speaking, moved beyond maturity into its full octogenarian glory. I realize that one of the inevitable things about keeping a cellar, however modest, is that you’ll let the occasional bottle get away. I realize that sometimes, if you catch it just in time, it can be a good thing, a learning experience and a perfect impetus to reflect back on earlier impressions. I realize that such experiences serve to strengthen one’s knowledge for the future. And that's a comforting thought.


Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Nice post - it reminds me that I should open that bottle of 1994 Torre Oria Grand Reserve from Utiel-Requena. I suspect it is entering it's octogenarian phase as well...

David McDuff said...

Good to see you 'round these parts again, hunter. When in doubt, drink up I say. In general, it's always better to err on the early side. However, as was my point in the posting, it can be educational to intentionally keep something beyond its likely prime. There's always the risk of disappointment but even that can be an important part of anyone's learning process.

Marcus said...

Excellent! Comforting thoughts for my Barbi 97 Brunello di Montalcino

David McDuff said...

Good to hear from you, Marcus. It's been too long.

At least in theory, your Montalcino should be longer lived than was my Montepulciano. Fattoria dei Barbi is a fairly traditional producer with a solid rep. That said, my experience with all but a few '97 Tuscans is that they've been developing more quickly than wines from higher acid vintages like 1996 and 1999.

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