Post # 77 – Tasting Great Old Wines Over the Last 18 Months

I confess to having been lazy over the last two years by only writing 6 posts in two years, much less than I would have liked. Covid-19 kept us at home most of the time and required that we cheer ourselves up, so this presented an excellent opportunity to reach into the cellar to see how well the older bottles are aging. Over the last 18 months I have tasted several great old wines, and in this blog post I will write a short report on each.

Last week my wife and I celebrated her birthday with a lovely Cahors red wine, the Chateau de Haute-Serre, a Malbec from the 2000 vintage. At 21 years of age I did expect the wine to be fully mature, especially since the 2000 vintage in the Cahors region was good, but not an outstanding vintage. The wine was an inky black color, full bodied, lots of tears down the inside of the glass, lush overripe berry flavors, and that textbook chalky texture so typical of Chateau de Haut-Serre wines. A little past it’s prime, but an elegant wine that will continue to delight for another 5 years as it ages and dries out. This wine I rated at 90 points and should be consumed now as it has passed its peak.

The second wine of the evening was a dessert wine, the 1983 Chateau Climens from the Barsac appellation. The wine was fantastic, a deep golden color, with thick, luscious looking tears slowly flowing down the inside of my glass. The nose was superb, with sweet citrus, violets, and honey. I have always preferred an old Barsac over an old Sauternes because of the way it ages and how all the flavors and fragrances are melded together into the finished product. Often many Sauternes start drying out over 30 years of age and the wine starts to fall out of balance as the fruit loses its sweetness. At this point the wine begins to taste more acidic. This does not happen to the best Sauternes like Chateau Y’Quem, but it will happen with many others, especially in weaker vintages. 1983 in Barsac was an exceptional year, and the 1983 Chateau Climens, at 38 years of age, still displayed sweetness, smoothness, body, and balance. Now fully mature, but by no means over the hill. I rated this wine at 92 points and good for another 10 years.

Anyone who reads my wine blog on a regular basis knows that I am a great fan of Alsace white wines, especially the sweet dessert wines, and the Hugel wines more than the others. Over the last 18 months I have tasted the Hugel 1976 Gewurztraminer SGN (Selection de Grains Nobles), from Fut 67 about one year ago, and from Fut 28 just recently, to celebrate “Hugel Day” on November 13th (more on that in a future wine blog). I have written about this wine twice already in my previous blog post # 6 in February 2016, and again in blog post # 17 in May 2016 (wow did I ever write a lot of articles in those days). I have been tracking the development of this wine closely, and the objective of tasting it twice in the last two years was to taste both the Fut 67 and the Fut 28, to compare them both and to note any differences between the two. While Etienne Hugel was still alive, he told me that the better wine was the Fut 28, but I must admit I was not able to detect any significant difference between the two. Both wines were sublime.

When I look back on my tasting notes from 2016 and compare them with today’s notes from 2020 and 2021, not much has changed. I found the same orange and chocolate mocha, licorice, cinnamon and roses on both the nose and palate. Also a great satin smooth viscosity, perfect balance between sweetness and acidity, and a compellingly long aftertaste that continues for at least one minute. There is some slight sign of aging over the last 5 years (the finish is a little less intense), but for a 45 year old dessert wine, this is still a beautiful wine in near perfect condition. I gave the Fut 28 94 points, and the Fut 67 93 points, since I detected a little less intensity in the aftertaste of the Fut 67. If you are lucky enough to own either of these two wines, I would be drinking them now, however do not panic as I think the Fut 67 will still be very good for the next 10 years, and the Fut 28 should last for another 15 years. There can be no doubt that the kings of the Alsace SGN dessert wine market are the Hugel family.

I have also been lucky enough to have had the chance to taste a couple of other dessert wines by the Alsace producer Zind Humbrecht. These were not Selection de Grains Nobles wines, they were however Vendange Tardive wines. The one I tasted in 2020 was the 1990 Herrenweg Turckheim Riesling Vendange Tardive, and the second one I tasted in February 2021 was the 1990 Brand Riesling Vendange Tardive. The Herrenweg was an off-dry Riesling with powerful steely dry Riesling minerality and great definition. I rated the wine at 91 points, with lots of time left on it, good for at least another 5-7 years.

The Brand was quite different, tasting of orange, honey, and citrus (lemon, lime, and grapefruit). Elegant, gentle, and sensuous. However, there was no aftertaste, it just tasted neutral, adding to the delicacy of this wine. The finish was dry without being over pronounced, not overpowering in any way. Pure essence of citrus on the palate leaving one with just the right measure of dryness on the aftertaste. There was great definition of flavors and the wine left you with this immense sense of pureness on your palate. I rated the wine at 92 points and my only concern was how much longer the delicate balance of this wine would last. When it does begin to fall apart it might decay rapidly, so owners of this wine should drink it now. At 31 years of age, both these wines are fine expressions of Vendange Tardive wines made by one of the best producers in Alsace.

In March 2021 I had the opportunity to taste another Alsace wine, the 1989 Tokay Pinot Gris D’Alsace Selection de Grains Nobles by J. B. Adam in a 500 ml bottle. This wine was orange/brown in the glass, and had a tangy orange flavor on the palate, thick and creamy but short on the aftertaste, tasting like orange marmalade. The last time I tasted this wine was 10 years ago, when the wine was yellow in the glass with honey and flowers on the palate, with a smooth, creamy aftertaste of orange, and licorice. So these last 10 years have not been kind to this wine. Although this wine was quite pleasant to drink, and I rated it at 89 points, the wine was now in a state of decline typical of old age. This tasting experience illustrates how much more superior the SGN wines of the best producers like Hugel and Zind Humbrecht really are. A great effort by J. B. Adam, but not the stuff of legends!

For my wife’s birthday in May 2020, we celebrated with another dessert wine, the 1979 Gau Kongernheimer Vogelfang Ortega Trockenbeerenauslese made by Erich Meiser in the Rheinhessen district of Germany. This was my last bottle from 4 that I purchased in 1986 while on a wine tour in France and Germany. This was always a huge wine, rich, thick, and decadently sweet. This wine was a red/orange/brown color in the glass, and pure raisins on the nose. Earlier bottles were typically a creamy orange with sweet honey, but this wine had evolved into a burnt caramel and orange mixture, with raisins on both the nose and aftertaste. This was still a great glass of wine, which I rated at 89 points, but the orange of the Ortega grape had aged into an old caramel flavor instead. The wine was nearing the end of its life, and I was happy that this was my last bottle.

In December 2020, I opened a bottle of the 1968 D’Oliveiras Reserva Boal Madeira. I last tasted this wine in December 2016, and I wrote a review on this wine in my previous blog post # 39 in January 2017. I wanted to see if there was any further evolution over the 4 years since I had last tasted this wine. This wine is now 52 years of age and it has not changed in the last 4 years. This wine was aged in vats for 41 years before it was bottled in 2009. This was rated at 93 points by Robert Parker, and 96 points by The Wine Spectator both in April 2016, and I had bought the wine at the LCBO in Ontario for $42.85 in 2012. This wine today will cost roughly $300 if you can find it. Caramel, raisins, and a nutty, tangy orange are the main features of this wine. This wine will have no problems with another 25 years in the bottle, and hopefully by then the aftertaste will smoothen out and lengthen a little more. Rated 93 points again, and I won’t taste it again until 2030.

In March 2021 we opened a bottle of 1988 Moulin Touchais, a white dessert wine from the Loire Valley Anjou region of France, to celebrate my birthday. I have written extensively about Moulin Touchais wines in my previous blog post # 14 in April 2016, which I invite you to read on this site. On this occasion, I was a little disappointed in the 1988. I found it to be a good example of Moulin Touchais, but not a great one. Personally I prefer the 1985 and the 1990 over the 1988. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the classic orange peel, peach, apricot, and caramel nose and palate, nicely balanced with the perfect level of acidity to leave your palate thoroughly refreshed and ready for more. I rated this wine at 90 points, and I felt it was a little tired, meaning to me that the acidity level may be weakening, thereby affecting the balance. Still a great success, but also an early warning sign that remaining bottles should be consumed and not kept for another 10 years.

Finally, in May 2020 my wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary with a 1979 Chateau Latour. While 1979 was not known to be a great year in Bordeaux, it was an average year, and Chateau Latour was one of the best 2 or 3 wines of the vintage. I was pleased to discover that the Latour was excellent. The wine was still alive and kicking, it was soft, round, smooth, velvet, and elegant. Earthy, warm, and exotic, not powerful, but drinking nicely balanced and very pleasant. The nose and palate offered up flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg and licorice, along with that signature cedar pencil on the nose, and just the right amount of dryness on the aftertaste to complement the other sensations already on display. Pretty good for a 41 year old wine from an average vintage. I gave the wine 90 points and although I would not recommend that anyone rush out to buy this wine (it retails for about $700 CDN if you can find any), if you still have this wine in your cellar, it should be good for another 5 years if properly stored.

So these 11 wines helped keep me sane over the last 18 months of Covid-19. The youngest was 21 years old, the oldest was 52 years old. Only two bottles were over the hill and in decline, but even these were quite pleasant to drink. Clearly, if you buy quality wine to begin with, then store it properly, it will reward you with a great tasting experience. As I have said before, if you wrap special occasions around these tasting experiences, you help create some of the most lasting and pleasant memories you will ever have (more about that in a future post).

If you are still suffering from the Covid-19 blues, try planning a special stay at home meal, make it a memorable occasion by opening a bottle or two of your oldest and best wines, enjoy the wine, and create a lasting memory with the best that your cellar has to offer.