Old Wine, New Experiences

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It’s always been my good fortune to have friends, family, and colleagues who are wine enthusiasts.  On certain occasions, we’re lucky enough to combine rare, vintage, wines with funky cheeses and bubbly conversation. One of these instances occurred last week with the help of a lucky customer, who was given cases of old – thought to be bad – wines. This customer was generous enough to let my friends and I try some of the bottles he’d chosen. After almost a year of hibernation in the back of my fridge, we finally opened the last two of these wines.

Chateau Coutet a Barsac and Carl Jos. Hoch Beerenauslese

The wines in question

The wines were a Barsac and a Beerenauslese. Barsac is a sub-region of Bordeaux, France, much like Sauternes, known for sweet white wines with long lived acidity. Beerenauslese from Germany is another sweet white dessert wine. Both Barsac and Beerenauslese are Botrytis affected.  Botrytis Cinera – or Noble Rot – is a fungus that dehydrates the grape, leaving a higher concentration of sugar and acidity.  Both of these styles of wines are good candidates for aging because of this.

The Barsac was a 1975 Chateau Coutet a Barsac, which I worried, would be oxidized due to the dry climate of my refrigerator and the bubbles that floated to the shoulder when I moved the bottle.  I punctured the cork and started to carefully pull straight up, trying my hardest to not break the delicate cork.  Since this was an older vintage and there were no cork particles floating in the wine, we agreed not to decant.  I poured three small glasses.  One went to my husband, one to our guest (Adam Carlson – the Nino’s Clinton Township Wine Manager,) and one for me.  The wine was glistening, and deeply golden.  As sweet white wines age they become more honeyed in color and concentrated in flavor. Aromas of dried apricot, white flowers and honey abound. On the palate, cooked peaches, apricot and papaya candy were followed by a long sweet finish. Most intriguing was the great amount of acidity left in this little bottle. A true knock out. We paired the wine with a delicious blue Brie, Gorgonzola, Jules Destrooper Almond Thins and Anna’s Almond Cinnamon Cookies.  I highly recommend these cookies for white dessert wines.

Opening the second bottle, a 1978 Carl Jos. Hoch Beerenauslese was a different story.  This cork crumbled as soon as I twisted the auger into it.  A Twist Up wine opener is generally better for older corks since it slides two metal prongs down the sides of the wood, hugging it as you “twist up.”  Cork pieces did fall in to this wine, so we strained it into a glass (see picture.)  The rich mahogany color in the glass resulted in my husband passing on this wine.  Adam and I, on the other hand, ventured forth with curiosity and a sense of duty.   Sherry was the first thing that came to mind when I raised the glass to my nose.  Dried fig, and dates were present, but this wines life had definitely come to an end.

The Beerenauslese

The Beerenauslese

What went wrong? Two wines of similar ages, same sized bottles, and similarly produced but with such different endings.  I know how these wines were stored when they came into my possession, but have very little knowledge of their previous storage.  This is the adventure of wine collecting.  Sometimes investing time and care into a wines development will pay off as with the Barsac, and other times the wine will turn brown and be offensive to husbands.

Please comment on any similar wine adventures you’ve had!