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Daily Glass: Unexpectedly Stunning

December 16, 2022 3 comments

Expect the unexpected.

When people hear that beaten up “expect the unexpected”, I’m sure in at least 80% of the cases, the expectations are negative. “Expect the unexpected” generally implies that one should always be prepared to deal with seemingly unexpected and often hostile circumstances.

In the wine world, we might want to adjust the “expect the unexpected” ever so slightly. By its nature, wine is always unexpected. Bottle variations, spoiled wine (think corked, for example), serving temperature, ambiance, food, company – everything affects the taste of wine – and I’m not even talking about root and flower days. Every bottle is a mystery – even if you had that same wine from the same producer and the same vintage 100 times before, when you are looking for pleasure you should open the bottle with trepidation. Every bottle is a mystery, and you never know what you will find inside.

I already had this exact wine before. 1998 d’Arenberg Cabernet Sauvignon High Trellis McLaren Vale was number 16 on my top 20 wines of 2020 list. 1998 is one of the special years in my book, so I’m always on the lookout for affordable 1998 wines. I came across this specific wine at the Benchmark Wine Group wine store, and at $19 per bottle, it was well worth the risk. Of course, d’Arenberg is an excellent producer and I trust their wines – but aging the wine changes a lot of things and nobody can truly predict what would happen with wine as the result of the aging.

When it comes to aged wines, when everything works well, the expectations are resembling the bell curve. In the optimal case, we expect the wine to gradually improve, then stay at its peak, and then gradually decline. But every bottle has its own bell curve associated with it – how long will it take for the wine to reach the top of the peak, for how long the wine will stay at the peak, when the wine will start declining – every bottle has its own story, and nobody can predict how a particular bottle of wine would behave. This makes drinking aged wines great fun – you never know what you will find behind the cork. This also makes drinking the aged wines a source of frustration – until you successfully pull the cork out, take a sip, and smile happily, the frustration lingers.

You are unquestionably doubling this frustration when you are opening the aged wine you already enjoyed before. In general, before you open the wine, you base your expectations on the reputation of the producer, the region, the winery, and maybe on the vintage. Once you tasted the wine, you acquire the frame of reference, so when you will be opening the bottle of the same wine as you already had, your expectations are based on your prior experience – “ahh, I liked it before, I hope the wine will be as good as it was the last time”.

The last Sunday, we had a good reason to open a bottle from the 1998 vintage, so this was the bottle I decided on – for no particular reason, the decision formed in the head by itself. I used the ah-so to gently extract the cork, only to find out that I had no reason to worry, and the regular corkscrew would do just fine – the cork was in very good shape.

Once in the glass, the color increased the hopes for the enjoyable experience – dark ruby, not a hint of brickish color which old reds might acquire. And the first whiff from the glass put absolutely all the worries away. Ripe cassis, eucalyptus, a touch of sweet oak – the aroma was beautifully enticing, seducing you only as the Cabernet Sauvignon can. And the palate… The palate completed this mesmerizing experience, offering ripe dark fruit, cassis, still fresh and firm structure, a beautiful herbal bouquet, and a perfect balance. Not to try to take anything from the Australian wines, this was a Napa Cab-like experience. (Drinkability: 8+/9-).

I pumped the air out and couldn’t get to the wine for the next two days. On the third day, I poured a glass, this time expecting that the wine is gone. To my total surprise, the wine closed up, now more resembling the young Brunello, perfectly firm, dense, and cherry-forward. The fact that the wine was perfectly fine 3 days after being opened gives me hope that the wine will be good at least for another 15 years – and this time around yes, I have another bottle.

Here is my story of the sudden pleasure. Do you like aged wines? Are you intimidated by aged wines? Do you also expect the unexpected? Let me know what you think.

Until the next time – cheers!

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