Older Wines

By Ray Isle Posted March 22, 2007

I stopped off the other night for a drink with friends at Hearth, and was both surprised and pleased to find that Paul Grieco, co-owner (and author of one of the most engagingly written wine lists around), was pouring a 1993 Undhof Salomon Undhof Kögl Riesling by the glass ($15, if memory serves). It's a library release from the winery, with bronzy apple/pear, spice and petrol notes in the aroma, pronounced minerality, a dense texture, and firm but not harsh acidity—in other words, a perfectly aged, very appealing, fourteen-year-old Austrian Riesling that they're selling by the glass. Basically, what a cool thing to happen across.

Inspired by this (in fact, inspired even more by a second glass of it from a fresh bottle, which was just as good), I scanned through the Hearth list, which turns out to be a modest trove of nifty older wines. They're not cheap, but for what they are, they're not exorbitant either. Consider a semi-random sampling: 1993 von Schubert Maximin Grünhauser Herrenberg Riesling ($81 on the list), 1982 Château du Cayrou Cahors ($100), 1998 G. Roumier Corton-Charlemagne ($200). The latter is expensive, sure, but hey—it's Roumier Corton-Charlemagne. A Maserati is expensive, too.

Finally, I was particularly bemused to find the 1989 Château Cantemerle ($195) on the list, a wine I distinctly recall splurging on to the tune of $19.99 back when I was a grad student. I'm going to hold myself out as a test case of how wine education happens: I opened that wine in the kitchen of my crappy apartment in Palo Alto, and drank it while I made veal stock from scratch (grad students have a lot of time on their hands). I remember that it was (a) pretty damn good, and (b) that I had no tools with which to describe, even to myself, what it tasted and smelled like. I thought it smelled interesting, and different, and good; I thought it was sharper than the California wines I'd been drinking, but no less appealing somehow. Most importantly, it seemed to pique the intellect as well as the tastebuds. It made me curious. At the time I had no idea that I would ever end up in the wine world, but looking back on it now, it seems clear that that particular vintage of Cantemerle played a role, however incremental, in moving me away from the future I'd always had in mind into one I'd never for a moment anticipated. I can clearly recall sitting there in a folding chair, waiting for my stock to boil, savoring that wine. It was spring; I had student papers to grade; I thought, the hell with the papers, after this stock boils, I'm going to take a walk while it's still light. Another aspect of how good wine affects you: it's a crank that starts the motor of your appreciation of life.

Anyway, how funny and how odd to see that Cantemerle pop up again. If I had a spare $195 bucks, I'd probably even spring for it. Ah well. Maybe next time.

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