An Enjoyable Relic

Posted by | Posted in Wine History | Posted on 12-29-2010

There are a lot of cute sayings that lead one to believe time is kind to many a material item. While wine with some age on it can be an eye-opening experience, it can also be an extreme letdown. In order to broaden my palate and hopefully discover some bottles that fit in to the former category, this past summer I resolved to try some aged Bordeaux.

The first stone I overturned was the aged Bordeaux list on the website of my favorite Washington, DC retailer, Schneider’s. Among the three figure and up offerings of various first and second growths, I stumbled across a name I recognized and a price I couldn’t believe. It was a half-bottle of 1952 Chateau Gruaud Larose for $40!

I quickly got in touch with David White as he knows far more about Bordeaux than me. David confirmed that this was a very intriguing offering, and at the very least a gamble worth taking. Gruaud Larose is an estate situated in the southern-most part of the left-bank St. Julien appellation, which is sandwiched between Pauillac to the north and Margaux to the south. While St. Julien estates were shut out of the first-growth classification of 1855, the region boasts an impressive five second growths, including Gruaud Larose.

After a quick call to Schneider’s to check on the condition of the bottles (they had four, I believe), we arranged to purchase the bottle that was in the best shape. We picked up the bottle and let it “relax” for a couple days before pulling the cork on a Saturday afternoon at David’s.

The cork came out relatively easy. The color was a gorgeous light brown, and the wine offered initial hints of fruit that faded to a wonderful aroma of prunes and sweet toffee. We both remarked that, once the fruit faded, the nose could be mistaken for that of a tawny port. In the mouth, the wine was filled with smokiness and toast. Incredibly, there were tannins still present, as well as wonderfully complementary acidity. The finish was at least a minute long, giving up hints of the caramel and toffee present in the nose.

This was one of the most enjoyable glasses of wine I’ve ever had. It wasn’t the best wine, it wasn’t the best setting, and it certainly wasn’t the best company (kidding, David), but it was probably my most memorable experience drinking wine. I was entranced by the idea that this wine was in a bottle longer than my parents have been alive. This wine was a relic, as evidenced by what we read as we perused the label. We noticed that the wine was actually bottled in London as opposed to at the estate, which David informed me was a common practice at that time. While we didn’t purchase the remaining bottles at Schneider’s as we both had our limited budgets allocated to other finds, I will certainly seek out similar bargains in the future in the hopes that I have an experience that comes close to the ’52 Gruaud Larose.

I’d love to hear about your most memorable wine-drinking experience in the comments section!

Comments (8)

  1. I wouldn’t say the following is my most merorable but it certainly sets up with the most interesting. I happened upon a small wineshop in Cos Cob, CT and noticed he had 3 bottles of 2001 Boxler Eidelzwicker. I don’t know a ton about Boxler except that the importer is a legendary figure, for better or worse and that the wines are first rate. I gathered that the Edelzwicker was a field blend of a few grapes and is most suitable within a few years of bottling. This was 2010 so it was a fun gamble. At first whiff it was madierized and a little funky. Dried fruit and some zip. After about a half hour it was perfection. Briney, citrus zest and ripping minetality. Nice weight and oddly perfect. Im not so sure I could drink buckets of this paricular wine but it did have a sweet spot that day.

  2. Nice find, Bob. To me there’s nothing better than that moment when you pull the cork of a bottle and aren’t sure what to expect. It’s really a win-win. If the wine isn’t great, you’ve learned something new, and if it’s enjoyable, well, you’ve learned something and the wine is an added bonus!

  3. Just recently had a Scanavino 1964 Barolo. Still quite alive. Tar and roses floral with a big wack of tannins. Finally understand what older Barolos were designed to be. One of my best all time wines

  4. Tonight I’ll be sampling a Carruades de Lafite (Pauillac) from 1996. This is a 2nd wine, so nothing compared to its more august cousin, the Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, but reputed to be a superb Bordeaux blend. It’s not super old, but 15 years I thought justified inclusion as a comment. It’s breathing in a decanter now and smells incredible: leather, tobacco, blackberries. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  5. While visiting wine country over New Year’s I had the chance to taste barrel taste many wonderful wines. Though it was fun to taste such young wines, by the end of the day I was ready to enjoy something softer and better integrated.

  6. So…. as much as I would love to brag about how amazing the Lafite was, it wasn’t. The diners I was with said they enjoyed it, perhaps being polite or perhaps they genuinely loved it; however, I found the body to be thin the taste to be excessively tart. I like dry wines with a lot of tannin and structure, this was really more just, well, sour. Needless to say, I was devastated. Do not recommend.

  7. If you like a lot of tannin, drink younger wines! They’ll have a heavier mouthfeel and have much stronger tannins. Tannins literally drop from a wine as it ages.

  8. [...] Greg Golec recently wrote about the joys of tasting wines with some age on them and the effect of age on taste. Similarly, [...]