My friend Ken Neill invited Kelly & I over to his house this past holiday. Its a tradition of his to have his children & extended family over for a holiday meal & something special. Each year he opens up a selection of wines from some of his family's birth years. Now this was simply astonishing. I've been lucky enough to drink some old wines, but this was something truly exceptional. Before we got into the birth year blowout, we sipped a few aperitif wines. Ken poured me a glass of 2005 Kia Kaha Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, New Zealand. Given the age of this wine, I was curious to say the least. Sauv blanc from the new world is not built for aging. However, this tasted fresh, crisp & refreshingly delicious. Before sitting down to dinner I also had a glass of 1999 Prinsi Barbaresco from Piedmont, Italy. Readers of this blog know how obsessed I am with Italian wines so this was a nice treat, a nebbiolo with a little age on it. The color was a dusky rust tint with a dark core, aromas of rose, smoky tar & a ripe, rich texture in the mouth.
The first birth wine was a 1996 Landmark Damaris Reserve Chardonnay Sonoma County in honor of Ken's grandson JD. The color was, just as I expected, dark gold...almost amber tinted. The texture was similar to a light Madeira. It was juicy, with a soft acid that was barely detectable with a nuttiness on the finish.
Next was a 1994 Erath Reserve Pinot Noir Weber Vineyard Willamette Valley in honor of Ken's grandaughter Neill. Ken wasn't expecting too much from this bottle, but I was very excited & kept an open mind. Obviously Ken's cellar is the optimal storage facility so I had faith that the Erath would be drinking good. The wine had a dark core in the glass that gradually gave way to a ruby/brick color that dissipated towards the rim. On the nose was a wild, earthy, dried spice & fruit aroma that wafted up like smoke off a camp fire. It was still very much alive...& delicious. What a way to drink Oregon pinot noir, with a little age on it. The texture was succulent & velvety, like I imagine a silk scarf would feel like if I licked it.
Up next was a 1982 Robert Keenan Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley in honor of Evan. The color was still quite dark & the aroma had dark dried currant & leather on it. Unfortunately the palate was done for. It came on with a little fruit & spice but quickly dissipated.
Our next endeavor was a 1977 John Walker & Co Pinot Noir from Central Coast California in honor of . JW & Co is a wine merchant in San Francisco who over the years has had wineries bottle certain cuvees specifically for the store. This particular pinot was from the original Chalone Vineyard! The cork was a bitch to work with, completely disintegrated on me when I attempted opening it. Thank goodness for the decanter & filter. Its color was muddled & odd but the aroma was all earthy, mushroomy, dried clove, tea leaf....like they made this in an attempt to beat the Burgundians at their own game. Which makes sense considering back then, in the '70's, CA winemakers weren't going after the stratospheric brix levels that they are now. They were into subtlety much like their old world counterparts were. I digress. On the palate was a finely aged pinot noir. Silky, wildly textured, dried cherry & cola with a sensuality more than a flavor. Yes we had a bit to drink by now but this was a wine I felt rather than tasted.
Next was a wine I couldn't believe I was about to taste. When Ken showed me the lineup for the night it took every ounce of willpower not to scream & jump up & down. I wasn't seeing things, I was actually about to taste a 1971 Chateau Margaux. Oh......my. This rare & special wine was in honor of Ken's daughter, & my good friend, Molly. She is also pretty special & rare! The wine's color was alive, dark & without a hint of muddiness, with a gradual color transition working its way out from the core from dark ruby to pink. Aromas of sweet grass, hay, clove, dried cherry, currant, earth & leather spun out of the glass. This wine was still very much alive. Tasting it sent shockwaves of texture throughout my mouth from top to bottom & across my palate. It tasted of rocky soil, clove, vanilla with a presence that seemed to say "I may be 37 years old but I have a lot of life left." The finish continued on & on, I lost track really.
The last wine of the night was a 1966 Chateau Beau Site from the Saint Estephe district of Bordeaux. While opening this bottle to decant, Senator Steve Cohen pointed at the bottle & said "Saint Steve!" Hmmm. Our oldest wine of the night was in honor of Sherman, Molly's fiance. After the appropriate toast Marlinee stated that the was actually for her husband Max who himself was born in '66 & whose birthday was the very next day. We hoped that was going to be the only declaration she made that evening. I say that with the utmost love, Mar. Back to the vino. Its 42 years of age barely registered in the color. While there was a brick tint to it, the hue wasn't faded or thin looking. The one thing that shone through the most on the palate was the cocoa bean & coffee. It was almost immediate, very vibrant. The weight was surprisingly full for its age, it spread across my palate with a luscious texture & flavors of leather & dried cranberry.
Wow. What a night. Thank you so much Ken! I can't wait until next year!