Monday, June 28, 2010

Old, really old wines tasted recently

One of the little perks of working somewhere that purchases private cellars is that - you guessed it - occasionally you have the good fortune to taste what was in those private cellars.

We'll work backwards here and start from the mid 20th century, closing out with a couple of young, spritely madeiras from the 19th.

1954 Louis Martini Mountain Zinfandel Private Reserve

Simple, developed, spicy zin that is somehow still hanging in there. Interesting in the context of it being old wine that's still palatable and for the fact that the fruit hasn't completely faded rather than for it being truly interesting wine.

1942 Louis Martini Mountain Zinfandel Private Reserve

This has attained a rancio quality that overwhelms everything else. No longer drinkable.

1956 Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve

Nasty and sweaty, like used football or lacrosse pads. Not recommended. Unless used sweaty pads is what you're into in a glass of red wine.

1951 Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve

Best of the group, without a doubt. This had the interplay of sweet dark fruit and savory complexity that marks the best of aged California wine.

Those were interesting, but now for the real treats of last week. I have no idea which house these madeiras are from, as the labels are so worn and there are no clues that I could pick up anywhere.

1880 Madeira

I do not even know the grape varietal(s) here, though I would suspect that it is a single varietal as any vintage Madeira I have seen, either in person or listed somewhere, comes from a single varietal. Given the viscosity, sweetness level and intense spiciness of the wine, I'd guess that this was Malmsey. Rich, sweet, intense, and hella spicy. As if it were clove infused. But there was more than enough acidity to offset the other flavors and hold the wine together. A special bottle of wine.

Historical happenings in 1880 (courtesy of Wikipedia):

- In Menlo Park, New Jersey, Thomas Edison performs the first test of his electric railway.
- The University of Southern California opens its doors to 53 students and 10 faculty
- Wabash, Indiana becomes the first electrically lit city in the world.

1842 Terrantez

I love the acidity in vintage Madeira. When combined with the intensity and depth of flavors you get in these fortified wines, what you've got is something truly unique. I would argue that good vintage Madeira makes even well respected vintage port look terribly boring and one note by comparison. But that's like, just my opinion, man. Anyway, getting back to this 1842 terrantez. It was phenomenally fresh, loaded with complex aged flavors, juicy yet cutting acidity, and the velvety texture you'd expect with the 100+ years of bottle age.

Historical notes from 1842 (courtesy of brainyhistory):

- 1st illustrated weekly magazine in U.S. publishes 1st issue, New York City
- Ether was used as an anaesthetic for 1st time by Dr. Crawford Long
- Great Britain and China sign Treaty of Nanking, ends Opium war
- Seminole War ends; Indians removed from Florida to Oklahoma