What is the correlation? Well, the fact is that people have varying life spans as do wines. Most people understand their aging process, but very few people understand the aging process of wines. In reality, most people could care less about how wines age. This creates a tremendous opportunity for those of us who love wines and understand their aging process. But, the fact is that only a small percentage of all the wine made throughout the world has an ability to improve with age. However, those wines that do improve with age are the most extraordinary wines in the world. For me, the best are some old California Cabernets, Red Burgundies, Red Bordeaux, and a few Red Spanish wines. Also, to a lesser extent, I would include White Burgundy, Champagne, Sauternes, and some late harvest German Rieslings. Of course this is not a comprehensive list and there are others, but these are the wines where I have had the most experience with great old wines.
And, once you spend all the time, effort, and money in buying wines to cellar for long term aging, then the question becomes when to drink them? For me this is a large part of the challenge and reward of aging wines. One of my favorite ways to drink old wines is to match the age of wines with anniversaries and birthdays. This can be done in two ways. The first is to match the year the wine was made with the year of the birthday or anniversary. For my wife and me, that is 1944 and 1967. The other is to match the year the wine was made with the person’s age or the anniversary year. For us, this year, that would be 1972 and 1949. And, in the case of the latter match up, this changes each year and does not always work too well. But, it is something to fall back on if your birthday or anniversary happens to be from a not so good vintage year.
Recently my beloved mother-in-law, Bette, had her 90th birthday. Over the years we have had several wines celebrating her birthday. And this year my family and I celebrated her birthday with 2 bottles of 1990 and 1 bottle of 1926. This year both Bette’s birth year and her age were in sync with some really good wines. For the celebration, we chose a steak house in her home town of Fresno, CA. The steakhouse is Flemings, which is a national chain. We have had other celebrations here as well and the food and service at this Flemings in Fresno has been consistently excellent. We started with appetizers followed by perfectly prepared prime steaks (for me, my favorite, rare bone in rib eye) with several side dishes. Here is the line-up of wines I chose from our cellar:
All were excellent. The 1990 Pol Roger was rich and full, with great flavors and at a peak of perfection. The 1990 Ridge Monte Bello was a real tour-de-force. It was rich, intense, and complex with great balance. And, although absolutely delicious now, the wine will certainly enjoy a very long life ahead. But, the real story was the 1926 Château Calon Ségur. Château Calon Ségur is a third growth Bordeaux from Saint-Estèphe. The old Calon Ségurs have been consistently great for all the years I have been drinking wine. Here I am talking about the 1926, 1928, 1929, 1937, 1945, 1947, and 1949. All of these wines can be included in the top wines from these vintages and they can still be remarkable today.
Speaking of the 1926 Bordeaux vintage, it is in the shadow of the 1928 and 1929 vintages. The 1929s were for sure some of the best wines of the 20th century, but are chancy now. The 1928s share the same distinction with the difference being that the 1928s took a very long time to come around. But when they did, there were some really remarkable wines that held up beautifully. These include the 1928 Château Calon Ségur. I have both the 1928 and 1929 Calon Ségur still in my cellar and have had great bottles in recent years.
Although not as well known, the 1926 Bordeaux vintage has also produced great wines that can be still great today. A 1926 Lafite Rothschild served a number of years ago at another of Bette’s birthdays was simply fabulous, and I still have another bottle. The 1926 Calon Ségur has also been a great bottle. But with really old wines you never know for sure until you pull the cork. All of my really old Bordeaux’s were purchased many years ago and mostly in the 1970s from England. I have consumed countless bottles that have been memorable. This 1926 Calon Ségur was a bottle with a high-shoulder fill. Today many American collectors regard this as a bad sign. But, that is not necessarily so. More important than the fill is the provenance and storage (to read about this click here ). Also, if the provenance and storage are perfect, the bottles are likely to be in great condition even if the fills are far below the neck (to read an amazing story on this subject click here ).
So armed with this information, I pulled the cork on the 1926 Calon Ségur as we were finishing our Champagne. Most of the cork came out intact, but there was about ¼ of the cork that broke into pieces. I was able to get most of the pieces out, and I poured the wine through a strainer into a glass. The color was deep, with a light orange amber tone and amber at the edge. It had a cedary perfume and very nice complex flavors with the fruit still very much in evidence. We all smelled and tasted the wine, and I poured the wine directly into all the glasses through the strainer. Our food arrived, and we began to enjoy the wine. But I had also opened the 1990 Ridge Monte Bello and decided to taste it. It was at a peak of perfection, so I decided to pour it into our glasses and told everyone to save some of the 1926 Calon Ségur until after the 1990 Ridge Monte Bello was mostly gone. This was based on the fact that the Calon Ségur was holding up nicely in the glass and was showing signs of improvement. With old wines sometimes they are bad when opened, and sometimes they are good or great. If they are good, sometimes they will improve with some air, and sometimes they will deteriorate. In the case of this 1926, the evolution was simply amazing. After nearly an hour in the glass, the wine really blossomed. The perfume was intense with a decided rose petal quality and hints of cedar and spice. On the palate the wine was like silk and very complex with lovely fruit accented by cedar and a distinct exotic floral quality. And the length was amazing. In short, this 1926 Calon Ségur was an absolutely phenomenal wine that I will always remember.
People and wine aging together – this is the story. I hope all of you who have never had this type of experience will find a way to make it happen soon. For me, my family, and many of my friends, this is certainly one of life’s greatest pleasures.
In Vino Veritas,