Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Very Happy Surprise

I probably should expect the unexpected more often. Especially when an extended trip north brought my daughter and I to Aunt Pammy and Uncle Charles' house. They live here:

a gorgeous, tucked-away, passively solar, quiet masterpiece. It was designed by my Uncle Andrew, a not so mad genius, who is no longer with us. His legacy remains (in more places than this) but it was my distinct pleasure to visit this spot again for the first time in twenty years.
I knew there would be some happy exploration for my daughter because my aunt has immersed herself in art, poetry, family lore and whimsy...she also teaches yoga. My Uncle Charles is a lover of life with an amazing depth of intelligence, a quick wit and seems closer to being at one with the planet than most anyone I've ever met. Perhaps it's because he's a woodworker, creating art like this. Or this. Or, maybe my favorite, which reminds me of something simple and pedestrian like a doughnut and also something complex and ethereal, requiring a Neil deGrasse Tyson explanation for us ordinary folks. Charles also rollerblades.
I felt fortunate to get some real connection time with them. Being able to spend a day in and around this amazing house, exploring, playing, learning, sleeping, eating and drinking was a lovely bonus. But let's get to the last of those, since that's what really prompted me to write this.
Roast chicken was on the menu for dinner and I stopped at their local wine shop to look for an appropriate bottle that would pair well if we opened it or age well for a few years if we didn't. I selected a St. Innocent Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, one of my favorite producers and one of my favorite vineyards from a vintage that is for lovers of finesse and balance and wines that showcase the place they're grown. We opened that and it was fairly tough right out the bottle but 30 minutes let it open up and begin to strut its stuff.
As always with Mark Vlossak's wines I found structure and suppleness. He somehow manages to find richness and intensity without ever sacrificing the inherent nature of the grape itself. His Pinots taste like Pinot, not Syrah. Although the wines are accessible in their youth, they are among the most age-worthy Oregon Pinots (see some of my earlier posts about some 2006s and 1998s and another 1998). The Shea 2011 was brilliant but paled in comparison to the unexpected surprise that came next.
Uncle Andrew was a collector of wine and hunted around regularly to find some overlooked gems. Many of his treasures remain, some cellared by my Uncle Jim (need a program to tell the players?). We pulled out a few, including a 1969 Romanee-Conti Echezaux that had a very low fill (and isn't from a great vintage to begin with). Then Charles pulled out something that made his eyes light up. A moment later mine did too.
Wow, is the only word. 1955 Chateau Latour! With a good fill (above the neck, almost like it had been re-corked at some point)!! A nearly 60 year old First!!!
The cork was covered in mold and dirt and I managed to break the it in half even using an Ah-So, which is great for older corks. It usually extracts brittle closures brilliantly, wedging down the sides and slowly moving them up and out without the inevitable crumbling cork caused by the intrusion of a corkscrew worm. At least we didn't have lots of floating cork pieces.
The color was impeccable,

and we got very excited about this wine. The core of red was only slightly faded on the edge. It had certainly lightened over the years but was not washed out or oxidized in the least. The aroma was subtle but perfectly previewed what appeared on the palate. The fruit was sweet and juicy, not sugary but in a ripe fruit way. There were fine tannins on the back end that stood out a bit but then the finish washed over them nicely. Some earth notes, like a clean cellar, appeared in the middle and the finish echoed the sweet entry and also added some brown sugar notes. Again, this was not sweet and sugary but, to my palate, was an unmistakable brown sugar note. The wine still retained bright acidity and the finish was long, long, long! It lasted for minutes. It worked well with chicken and even broccoli - stems and tops.
What an impressive wine, amazing to see such an old wine perform so wonderfully and I would have been lucky to share it with anyone but with the family assembled, it became a very happy surprise that I will remember always.

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