Friday, July 18, 2008
Does a leaky capsule always indicate bad wine? A surprise from the SCM in '79
One of my favorite things about working where I do is that we buy lots of wine from private collections. The way it works is that we (rather, my co-worker Joe) will inspect a cellar's condition, check out the wares, and if there are wines of some perceived value in the marketplace that have been well stored, Joe will make an offer. As he will offer to buy entire collections, not just cherry pick the highly sought after stuff, there may be some '78 Amador zin mixed up with all of those nice '78 burgundies and napa cabs. We take it all in. Which means that every so often we come across some really interesting stuff on the shelves of the old and rare section in the shop. Sometimes, a few bottles are leakers, have low fills, and never make it to the shelf. I spied one such bottle whilst bullshitting with the great Joe Z yesterday, and asked his permission to open it. He obliged, I opened, and here's where it gets interesting....
The wine? A magnum of 1979 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Cabernet. Nearly 30 year-old wine produced from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Bates Ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. To be honest I don't recall the fill exactly, though it was at least upper shoulder (i.e. almost filling out the rounded part of the bottle, but not making its way into the narrow neck part). A decent fill for a bottle stored almost 30 years in a private cellar. However, the foil capsule and area below it was sticky with what was clearly wine which had leaked out of the bottle. Upon cutting the foil and catching a whiff of the cork, my hopes dwindled. It smelled very oxidized, port-like but sour. When I pulled the cork, or most of the cork (I needed to push down a crumbly portion into the bottle) I promptly poured a small amount into a glass. The color was still deep and did not suggest a wine well past its prime. On the nose there were notes of intense dark fruit, some spice, cedar; the wine was more than alive, it was alive, kicking, screaming, and begging for attention. When I tasted the wine, it had all the vibrancy, flavor intensity and freshness of a wine half its age. Loads of sweet dark fruits, hints of prune, and a strong cola aspect came across on the palate, which also still had some tannin structure. While the wine was not the most nuanced or complex, it certainly reminded me of a few things:
1.) Wine is sometimes as resilient as it is fragile
2.) CA Cabernet can pack a whole lot of richness and flavor, and still be under 13% alc
3.) Santa Cruz Mountain wines, when they're good, age every bit as well, and often better than, wines from Napa.
What a cool experience. I ended up pouring myself a glass to go with my lunch of leftover Bastille Day lentils and bread. After lunch I returned to the sales floor, one happy wine dude.
UPDATE: This very day, almost to the minute (ok, it was several hours earlier - David is apparently more of a morning person than I am, and he's on the east coast) David McDuff over at McDuff's Food and Wine Trail happened to post a TN on a bottle of '87 SCMV Cabernet. This just might be the most unusal wine blogging coincidence of the year.