One of the most fascinating aspects of wine that few drinkers pause to contemplate is immortality. yes, the ability to live forever is something to which many aspire.
We can continue to live through our accomplishments, products and ideas. Think of all the scientists, artists, composers, writers and ideologists who live on through their works, words and disciples. Wine can conjure thoughts of immortality, not only for the winemaker, but also for us, as drinkers of wines that are seemingly immortal: ones that seem to age indefinitely and even defy time.
Port and Madeira, because of their fortification and method of production, certainly have the ability to age for generations. But beyond that, there is a realm of still wines whose longevity is legendary. As wines mature, they take on flavors no longer associated with fruit, but something entirely diﬀerent and even more complex. They exhibit more of the “terroir” from which they came and remind us of that link of immortality in the glass. Th e following notes are of rare wines that were at least 50 years old when I tasted them—and the amazing experience that I gleaned from each. Let me begin with two amazing Champagnes. I drank 1959 Salon with friends at Les Crayeres in the city of Reims. It was a gorgeous summer day. The weather was perfect, and it was my first time to try Champagne. When first poured, the wine still had some sparkle: still amazingly fresh with notes of poached citrus and flowers, which turned into a plethora of roasted nuts, caramel, toﬀee, hazelnut, brioche, vanilla and custard. It was light, vivacious and full of energy. The length of flavor was interminable. It was one of the greatest experiences with Champagne I have had to date. Two days later, I visited Salon Champagne and was told there were only 11 bottles of this wine remaining in their cellars. The next Champagne was 1929 Laurent-Perrier, which I had just last year at a friend’s home to celebrate another comrade’s birthday. This wine was fully mature, replete with creme brulee. Sauternes-like scents of sweet candied fruit. It was more serious and deeper flavored than the Salon, with notes of mocha, tamarind and gingersnap cookies. It is more luxurious and full in the palate, and it seemed it was hitting its stride and could last for another couple of decades.
The next three are truly legendary Bordeaux. 1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc I enjoyed at dinner at 3660 on the Rise about five years ago. All who tasted the wine were wowed. The nose was syrupy, almost cassis-like. There was a relative Zinfandel character to the fruit, being so ripe and wild. There was savory underbrush: wild blackberries and an undercurrent of wet earth and gravel. Full-bodied and rich, the wine was tremendously complex with intensity for days. The texture was velvety, approaching chocolate cake batter on the finish—amazingly delicious. The 1945 Cheteau Mouton Rothschild was from a Magnum tasted about 12 years ago at what once was Padovani’s Bistro. This wine was nothing short of magnificent. It had a strong and masculine edge with full black fruit flavors along with mocha, wet espresso grounds, an impactful core of fruit, and even an edge of cedar and vanilla from oak. The wine seemed to stain my palate with its flavors. Th e structure was still solid with tannin and acidity playing an integral role in supporting the flavors. If I tasted this wine blindly, I would have thought it half its age, maybe from the ’80s. This bottle could have aged for another 50 years. And what could be the finest of this trio, the 1961 Petrus, I actually tasted twice: once at the Presidential Suite at the former JW Marriott Ihilani, then again at a friend’s home. This might be one of the sexiest wines of Bordeaux ever. The merlot was just bursting with perfectly ripe red and black fruit essences, laced with sweet vanilla and backed by milk chocolate. As beguiling on the nose as it was on the palate, it was stunningly sumptuous. It lay like a carpet of velvet on my tongue and continued to exude the delicious flavors all the way through to a heady, almost floral, aftertaste. It was pinotesque in elegance and finesse. It was Bordeaux’s version of seduction.
I would be remiss if I did not add some great Burgundy to this fine list. 1929 Romanee-Conti could not be more memorable … almost 10 years ago at a private dinner at Chef Mavro. This wine was like a dream to me. It seemed utterly fresh, with sweet essences of pinot noir from the black cherries to the violets and sandalwood. The color was so slight that I could still read my menu through the glass. In my mouth, I remember it floating like a cloud, and then touching down with a silky, serene texture. In the palate, it tasted even more floral through notes of black cherries and cranberries caressing my taste buds. For being almost 80 years old, it seemed amazingly fresh. A baby in comparison to the 1955 Leroy Mazis-Chambertin shared at a friend’s birthday party some six years ago. This wine was completely terroir-driven with hedonistic notes of limestone and dried herbs. The fruit was still prevalent with dried strawberry and cherries galore. And on the palate, it was one of those wines that touch every spot with just the right amount of fruit, earth and structure appearing seamless.
These wines may not be immortal, but their flavors will last in many people’s palates long after the last bottle and glass are drunk. We can be reminded of the things that came before us, things we share together today and what will still be here when we are gone. This sentiment is found only in great bottles of wine.