Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Look Back At '89

What a great idea "Open That Bottle Night" is. Instead of waiting for a special occasion to open up those treasures you've been storing, OTBN inspires you to look at your cellar and determine whether you may be sitting on some things too long. Then, you create a special occasion around the bottle or bottles you find and open.

On Saturday, we invited our friends Tony and Kristen over to help celebrate OTBN, each of us offering up something special from the cellar. It turned out to be an exploration and celebration of the joys of the fabulous '89 vintage in France.

Trimbach Cuvee Frederic Emile Riesling (Selection de Grains Noble) '89
Tony, not surpringly, came bearing an Alsatian riesling. Tony, you see, is a first-class schlepper. Like many of us, Tony has returned from numerous trips abroad loaded down with more than a dozen bottles in carrying cases or otherwise attached to his person. I've gotten to taste a number of Alsatian treasures thanks to Tony's capacity for schlepping. Tony enjoys all the great wines, of course, but has developed a special fondness for the outstanding wines of Alsace, where his maternal roots lie.

Consequently, the Trimbach we enjoyed Saturday was not in itself a surprise, but its source was. Several years ago, Tony and Kristen were enjoying a California vacation when they decided to check out a wine shop near Pebble Beach. Inside, Tony quickly zeroed in on four bottles of the '89 Trimbach -- not easily found any longer. Being the Alsatian enthusiast that he is, Tony knew he had stumbled on a potentially great score. Just one problem -- the bottles showed all the classic signs of improper storage, notably substantial leakage.

The bottles were priced at $123 each, a fair price for perfectly stored wines but a risky investment for bottles that outwardly appeared to be tainted. Skilled at walking the wine, Tony haggled with the proprietor who appeared to know very little about Alsatian wines. All he knew was that these bottles had hung around an awfully long time unsold. End result, they agreed to open the worst looking bottle right then and there. If it was in good shape, Tony would buy the rest -- at $50 a piece. The wine turned out to be joyous, but Tony did not get all of the remaining three. The proprietor decided he had to take one home for himself.

The bottle we tasted Saturday was a rich, mouth-coating treat. It had a deep golden color that was almost honey like. The aromas were layered, with honey, peaches and apricot coming through nicely. This intense but balanced wine tasted like it was at its absolute peak. The finish wasn't just long it was epochal.

Chateau Beychevelle Saint Julien '89
Looking back, I'm so glad my wife and I got married in '89. Of course, the year is not really so important, but it sure is a nice bonus when an important year like the year of one's marriage also happens to coincide with a great vintage like '89 Bordeaux. It helped me build a small but decent wine cellar.

I first caught the wine bug after Kathy and I attended a wine dinner (still unusual in those days) at an area restaurant in 1991. Dinner was served with three different vintages of a California cab, and it was a revelation. I didn't know how smooth and complex a well-made, well-aged wine could be. The couple with whom we were seated were more experienced, and I took mental notes as they told us about their habit of buying and cellaring great Bordeaux -- especially for particularly significant years.

I started reading and researching, and a year or two later began buying as many '89 Bordeaux as I could afford so that we could make our anniversary celebrations that much more enjoyable with a great '89 wine. It has indeed added something special to our celebrations. But, just one problem. It seems like more often than not we've been traveling during our anniversary or going out to good restaurants. Consequently, I'm not using up very many '89s. OTBN seemed like a good time to dip into them.

I checked the inventory and also did a little reading of online tasting reports. With a couple of sources saying that the '89 Chateau Beychevelle is maturing fast, I decided a bottle of Beychevelle had to be my first contribution.

It was a wonderful accompanyment to the beef bourguignon. It was mature and smooth, showing lots of black fruit encased in smooth tannins. As the wine opened up more, I got hints of anise, smoked meats and coffee. It's not past its prime, but I doubt it will be more enjoyable than it is right now. No need to wait.

Cos D'Estournel Saint-Estephe '89
Of course, one bottle with dinner just wasn't going to cut it, so we also delved into a Cos D'Estournel. We clearly saved the better red for last. The '89 Cos was without a doubt intense with a longer finish than the Beychevelle. It had an earthy character with just a bit of barnyard on the nose, along with cocoa and leather. It was a real indulgence wine that should be great for years yet.

We finished off the evening with a Cuilleron Condrieu '99, a copper-colored sticky that went absolutely perfectly with Kristen's delicious pear tart.

As far as I'm concerned, OTBN has got to be up there with the three or four best holidays of the year. Any time you open up wines like these, you've got a day to remember for a long time. And, we had the added bonus of remembering and celebrating all the wonderful things that sprang from the year 1989.


Anonymous Tony said...

Thanks for hosting such a wonderful evening. This is our kind of time travel, drinking the bottled sunshine of a memorable year in a far off land. The food was great too! Duck salad, Boeuf Bourguignon, Upside-Down Carmelized Pear Tart...
What untold glories might next year's OTBN bring? You won't find out by walking the yellow brick road. You must Walk the Wine.
A votre sante!

6:50 AM  
Blogger JD said...

Amen. Thanks again for Viktor Lazlo -- I'm listening now.

8:10 PM  
Blogger Bradley Cooper, Winemaker said...

I would like to see some photos of food and wine you folks make your way through.

3:13 AM  
Anonymous Tony said...

FYI: JD is not listening to Paul Henreid. You can sample the chanteuse, Viktor Lazlo, here:

4:50 PM  

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