What’s the oldest wine you’ve ever tasted or drunk? I can claim a few elderly Madeiras – it is after all the most long-lived of all wines and virtually indestructible. I’ve also enjoyed a bottle of 1846 Chablis, which had never left Bouchard Père et Fils cellars in Beaune until it crossed the road to the dining table in their offices –it was extraordinary; possibly more like amontillado sherry than Chablis, but certainly very much alive. This was no tiring, oxidised wine, but a wine with life and history.
And then yesterday I got to taste, indeed to sip a tiny glass of a port from 1855 – the year of the Bordeaux classification, when Napoleon III was governing France; Queen Victoria was in the 18th year of her long reign and Palmerston became Prime Minister of England. The occasion was a tasting hosted by Adrian Bridge of Taylors, to illustrate how they blend and make a twenty year old tawny. The build up was fascinating, beginning with a three year old, then five, seven eleven, fifteen, nineteen years old wines, working up to the next twenty year old to be released. You could see the progression in colour and flavour, from youthful liquorice berry fruit to matured wood aged nutty flavours. Then we tasted the 10 year old, 20, 30 and 40 year old, which provided another fascinating progression of flavours.
And the invitation also promised the newly released pre-phylloxera port Scion. Adrian explained. Taylors keep a look out for old wines that they can use in their blends, as they cannot make these from their own vineyards alone. They were aware of an elderly lady who had a stock of old pipes and when she died,wihtou any immediate heirs, this particular wine became available for sale. They knew that it had been kept in good conditions, cellared in the basement of an old stone house north of Regua in the Douro valley. There were just four pipes available; that translates into 1400 bottles, which they are proposing to sell for a mere snip of £2500 a bottle. But it does come in a stylish wooden box and decanter, with a decorative old seal. And the wine is called Scion.
The flavour was fabulous. It was the colour of Madeira rather than tawny port, with a distinctive yellow green rim and a mahogany middle. And the nose was dense and concentrated, more like a searing dry old oloroso. And the flavour was simply intense, with acidity as well as sweetness, with length and power and a long, long lingering finish. It was simply memorable and awe-inspiring.
And I wondered if there were any really old casks of Rivesaltes lurking forgotten in a cellar, but I suspect not. I’ve racked my brains but I cannot come up with anything from the Languedoc older than the 1970s. There was simply no tradition for ageing wine, with no suitable cellars.