Assessing the performance of vintage wines

Oct 27, 1999 at 4:00 am
Dreamland Palace isn't the only old German I've had experience with in the past few weeks. Last month, to celebrate one of those supposedly significant chronological milestones in my life, I pulled out the elder statesmen from my modest wine cellar, including a Riesling from the renowned 1976 vintage in Germany. Here are some tasting notes, in case you like reading about old wines:

Schloss Eltz, Auslese, 1976: Deep honey-gold color, like an old Sauternes. The mountain-flower nose made me want to break into a chorus of "Edelweiss." The color was quite appropriate, as the wine tasted of honey-dipped apples with subtle hints of spice, leading to a relatively short finish. Nonetheless, if your concept of German white wines is drawn largely from liebfraumilch or young kabinetts, the depth of this wine would have amazed you.

Montrachet, Bouchard Pére et Fils, 1971: A 28-year-old dry white wine? I was quite worried that this had turned into a science project. Nonetheless, the color upon pouring was a medium gold with a touch of orange; I swear that the color lightened in the glass, but it was probably just an optical illusion caused by diminishing the total volume while drinking it. It had a full nose of pear and spice and a balanced texture in the mouth, although no really overwhelming single flavor source. What really struck me was the finish, a long-lingering citrus kiss.

Château Margaux, 1959: It's nice to have been born in a "good year." This bottle was purchased in approximately 1992 at the closing of Al Baker's, a legendary St. Louis restaurant with a walk-in three-room, climate-controlled cellar. Mid- to high-shoulder fill. Slight tearing on edges of label. Cork extracted nicely in one piece. Decanted, but sedimentation was very light, allowing for all but a few tablespoons to be poured out of the bottle. Rich garnet color, with a subtle pink-orange hue at the rim. Enchanting, powerful nose of cedar, cigar box and subtle flowers -- I wanted to just keep breathing it in for minutes at a time. The plum-and-currant fruit was delicate, almost ethereal at times, seemingly growing a little stronger in the second glass. Soft but tangible tannins -- all in all an elegant, well-balanced 40-year-old. I wish I could say the same.