A new type of tasting: wine archeology...

Yesterday I attended a dinner and wine tasting with friends and I must say that this type of tasting was a first one for me. Wine archeology…

I’ve seen similar things before, like when a friend has been buying a mixed case of wine at an auction - and every now and then you might have a bottle that is basically unknown because the label is missing completely or in part. But this friend of mine has taken it a step further. Buying regularly from a merchant in Belgium, every now and then he asks for wines who seem to be lying around and he gets them for almost free. After all, no one really knows what they are (without careful analysis) and I guess they know at least so much that it can’t be any superwine hidden there somewhere, like a forgotten DRC. Obviosly these soil-stained bottles, from odd producers and off-vintages can be a hit and miss, but sometimes I guess they hit a jackpot or at least an agreeable wine. I think the most fun part with it is really not the taste of the wine per se but the process of actually trying to uncover their origin - with at least the small probability of maybe some of them actually tasting surprisingly well, given the somewhat low odds.

It reminds me when I did my doctorate and we were laughing about the typical “science language” we had to use and when this was circuling around; useful reserach phrases and what they really mean. One example was this:
“A careful analysis of obtainable data…”

(Meaning: three pages of notes were obliterated when I knocked over a glass of beer)

Yesterday was such an evening. It was very fun to see the tools coming out just to extract the cork from the bottles. Sometimes a normal corkscrew worked (with, slow painstaking focus and patience not to destroy the cork on its way up) and sometimes we just had to give up as the cork shattered or simply had to be forced down into the bottle. The dining table looked like a battle ground after a while with the participating dinner guests leaning over various bottles with different tools in their hands, looking more like doctors doing open heart surgery on the bottles. Sometimes there were small fractions left of the label, making it look like a CSI Miami crime lab where forensic evidence were analysed just to obtain a fraction of evidence. Somtimes there wasn’t even a label but there was still possible information from the cork - hence, the careful surgery procedure when trying to extract them to give us a chance to read whatever infoirmation was imprinted on the side of the cork. Truly a remarkable scene, more resembling a group of archeologists digging out a newly discovered historical site from the Bronze age, than a wine tasting dinner…

And sure enough, there were some real hit-and-miss moments with some white wines from the 1950s, a Puligny from 1980 was quite agreeable, a 1971 Mersault not so much… Some even had quite good labels, like a Verget Valmur from 1997 - which was quite nice while a Verget Poruzot from the same vintage was a miss. Some wines I won’t even mention - they went straight down the drain. However, there were some good clarets, especially one from Graves (1959) and one from Barsac (1964) (both were lately identified) and another one from 1966, God knows from where. In this mixed stash there was a 1978 Troplong Mondot that was quite nice - your typical aged Bordeaux with animal notes, leather, pitch-black, cool fruit but the star of the red clarets was a bottle from 1964, Chateau Haut-Bailly. Simply superb, with sweet, caressing, mature tannins, moist tobacco and leather, with generous red fruit. A very fine wine indeed, as the British would say. To me, however, the wine of the evening was a mature Vintage Port. It reminds you that oh shit, it can actually become this bloody delicious when it has climbed past that initial, thick bombastic, intensely young phase. And now I know - you just need to sit on them for a while and they’ll become like this. Gorgeous, pale-red colour, delicate, true elegance with tension and intensity, despite the obvious age. Turn’s out to be the 1934 Dow’s Vintage Port. Sensationally yummy! And the extras: just thinking about what happened in the world the very same year they harvested these grapes…

Here endeth my impressions from an interesting archelogical dig-out.

Very interesting indeed. Wine mysteries, and surprise treasures. I like the whole idea.

Re. 1934 Dow’s
-The oldest and best Port I’ve ever had.
It’s My fathers birth year, and He’s a Port lover too. Great to share this stuff with Him.
Here is the empty half from the last birthday. It was a fantastic treat.
One ½ btl. left for the next big birthday.
1934 Dow's Vintage ½btl..jpg
Kind regards, Søren.

Very cool story. And a Port that is rarely seen these days makes it even better.

And as you said, to think what was going on in the world when this vintage was picked and later bottled is amazing. The Selo (that slip of paper on the neck) only started being used that same year. Though it wasn’t mandatory until 1941. By '34 the Port industry as a whole was in financial shambles. The Depression in the states, Hitler became the Fuhrer in '34, civil war in Spain in '36, and the list goes on and on. It’s amazing this even survived.