The question was a simple one: “Do you think that a 1964 Secco-Bertani Valpolicella Valpantena could still be good?” The answer was easy: “The only way to tell is to open it.”
Over the years I have had many older wines both red and white that according to all the vintage charts should have been way over the hill. Some were in excellent condition and others really were over the hill, but the only way to tell was to open and taste them.
Once a month or so I have lunch at SD26 with friends who are really into older wines.
The first wine that they brought was a 1974 Arneis Roero DOC Bruno Giacosa 100% Arneis. After being gently pressed the wine is vinified in temperature controlled stainless steel containers. The wine is fined and filtered before bottling. It remains in stainless steel tanks for 3 months before bottling. Giacosa might be the best producer of Arneis but this white wine is 37 years old and Arneis is not known for its aging potential, in fact it is recommended that it be drunk within the first few years. How could it still be good? The waiter poured the wine and I could not believe the color, it looked almost like a young wine. I sniffed it and could not detect even a slight hint of oxidation. There were aromas of fruit with a mineral character. It tasted ripe and fruity with good acidity, and a nice finish and aftertaste. A few days later, Travis looked on line for older vintages of this wine, but the oldest one he could find was 5 years.
The present version of this wine is a Ripasso (Valpolicella is “passed over” the lees of the Recioto or Amarone) but I did not see it on the label of the 1964. The Ripasso method was first introduced by Masi with the Campofiorin in 1958. Masi may have started in1958 but as far as I know it was not in general commerce until 1964.
Next was a 1958 Brolio-Riserva Chianti Classico Barone Ricasoli 75% Sangiovese, 12% Canaiolo, 8% Malvasia Bianco and 5% Colorino. The wine was aged for 3 years in large Slavonian oak barrels. The govern method( drying 10% of the grapes) was not used.
In his book Italy’s Noble Red Wines, the late Sheldon Wasserman called the ‘58 “a stunning wine”. Sometimes I wonder what happened to Chianti Classico over the last 20 or so years. Here is a wine 53 years old and still showing very well. It has all of the classic characteristics of old Chianti and even a touch of sunshine on the Tuscan pines on the nose. Today, producers of Chianti Classico will tell you that wines made with white grapes do not last, but once again a wine such as this has proven them wrong. The present version has Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and is aged in barriques.
Fermentation takes place in tanks for 3-4 weeks. The wine is aged in barrels for 12-15 months before being bottled. 1990 was an exceptional vintage. This wine was darker in color then most Pinot Noirs and could have used more bottle age.
1989 Chateauneuf –Du Pape “La Grappe des Papa” In some countries it is marketed under the name La Cedres Paul Jaboulet Aine. The soil in the vineyards is very stony, composed mainly of pebbles and sandy red clay. The grape blend is 65% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 5% Cinsault. (They have changed the blend a number of times.) Traditional vinification and alcoholic fermentation take place in temperature controlled tanks. Maceration is for 3 weeks and the wine is aged in oak barrels for 12-18 months prior to bottling after filtration. This is a big complex wine that needed more time.
1990 Mas de Daumas Gassac Languedoc-Roussillon made from 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Pinot and Tannat. The grapes are hand harvested and the vinification is classic Medoc with a long fermentation and no filtration. The wine is aged between 12and 15 months in oak, but no new oak is used.
I had the 1989 about a year ago and this 1990 seemed even more intense. It needs a few more years. This is a big dark, complex wine with dark fruit aromas and flavors and a hint of cherry, spice and leather. It had a long finish and a lasting aftertaste.