Every once in a while a bottle of wine falls through the cracks. The more wine you have, the easier it is to lose one in the mix of racking and case boxes. Annually I go through my wines to try to find these sneaky bottles and get them back to where they belong.
Sometimes I am highly disappointed when I find a nice bottle of wine and realize it has been lost too long, and is probably too old to enjoy. This is a bigger problem with white wines that generally have a much shorter shelf life.
Two years ago I came upon a bottle of Spanish Rioja from Marques de Caceres while organizing my racks. It was a "Riserva" bottling from 1987. I remember purchasing this while in Spain with my wife in 1992. These wines are generally released late, after cellaring at the estate from 3-5 years.
I probably spent $20 on this bottle in 1994. At that time, this was the upper range of what I was willing to spend on a wine, and an indulgence. I thought it would be a nice bottle to open a few years later to remember the great time we had in Spain.
Well, the wine was put on racks when we got back to Annapolis waiting for the appropriate occasion. In 2000, my family an I moved to Potomac, Maryland - and all of the wines got packed in mixed boxes for the move. Once we got into the new home, the boxes (About 50 boxes) sat against the basement wall.
As they say - Best laid plans......the boxes stayed against the basement wall until I build my wine cellar 3 years ago. At that time all of the wines were racked, catalogued, and organized to a degree so I could find the wines I was looking for. This poor Rioja popped out of a box - already 17 years old.
I put this wine and about 20 other bottles on a rack outside of the wine cellar to make vinegar. (Like I have time to make vinegar). There they have sat for 3 years - lonely, dusty and neglected.
Last week I invited some good friends over for wine, food and fun. While trekking down to the cellar for some more wine, my friend Fernando saw the neglected bottle of Rioja on the Vinegar shelf. When I told him the story, he wisely said "Why don't we open it?". Worst case would be it was bad, and we could dump it out. What a fabulous idea!
With much fanfare we opened the bottle. After carefully removing the cork (Which was in remarkable condition), a quick sniff led me to believe we may have gotten lucky. I poured the wine - a little darker then a normal Rioja - but this was older then a normal Rioja. I smelled dark fruit and a touch of prune on the nose. The wine tasted great. The fruit was still there - blackberry, currant and red bramble fruit mixed with leather and a bit of sherry. The wine was certainly beyond its prime. It was very thin and not near as supple as a peak Rioja should be. For 20 years old, it was a winner.
So what is the lesson in all of this? First of all, never assume a wine is bad. It is always worth giving it a try. My friend Fernanado and I now have a good story to share regarding a great night with friends, and a fabulous Rioja that was long left for dead. Depending upon how a wine is stored, you can sometimes get longer life then expected from a wine. If you have a strong vintage, the tannins in a wine may preserve it for much longer then you expect. Once in a while, there is no explanation. Even after sitting for 3 years on the Vinegar shelf, this humble Rioja had its 15 minutes of fame.