Thomas Cottrell is Bellevue Club’s contributing wine columnist and the owner of La Cantina Wine Merchants.
I have a theory. It’s a little wine-geeky, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. It may not be applicable to everyone, but if you’re reading this article you probably are interested enough in wine that it may be applicable to you, so I’ll share it. Every bottle of wine, indeed every glass of wine, teaches you something. Often, it teaches you something important.
Case in point: the other night my wife and I opened a bottle of 1966 Chateau Calon Ségur from the St. Estephe region of Bordeaux, and it taught us a lot of things. To begin with, it taught us how easy it is to misplace and forget about a bottle of wine. Neither of us could figure out why we hadn’t opened this bottle long ago. We couldn’t even recall how we’d acquired it, but there it was. I was a little nervous about the whole thing. Sure, 1966 was thought to be an excellent vintage, but almost every vintage chart you can find says that the wines are “on the way down.” Well, I’d like to have a whole lot more bottles in my cellar that are “on the way down” like this Calon Segur was. The first lesson learned: vintage charts are general guides only—don’t put too much faith in them. On the other hand, based upon my tasting experience, a lot of the ’66 vintage didn’t last very well. For that matter, a lot of them weren’t all that good to begin with, at least to my palate, regardless of the reputation of the vintage. Here’s another lesson that was demonstrated again—don’t let appearances fool you. The bottle didn’t look to be in the best of shape, the fill was a little low (sometimes a sign of possible oxidation), yet the wine was lovely. Open every bottle and try the wine, don’t rely on the look of the bottle.
We also learned a very good lesson after drinking it. Don’t go looking up the price of a wine in your cellar before you open it—just drink the thing, then look it up. I certainly didn’t pay $175 for that bottle, but that’s what it’s worth these days. Knowing its market value, I might have hesitated opening it and lost a wonderful experience. This leads to a bit of advice for all of you who collect wine. So often I’ve heard people say that they can’t bring themselves to open a bottle of wine because it’s become worth too much. This is heresy. Wine is meant to be
enjoyed. You bought that bottle to drink and savor, and you paid only a fraction of what it’s worth today. Open it! Savor it all by yourself or share it with your friends, but use it as it was meant to be used - in a good glass, with a tasty dish or an entire meal that pairs well with it. Here’s another important lesson: don’t make the mistake of waiting for a special occasion before opening a special bottle. You’ll never open it if you do. Make Tuesday your special occasion, or Thursday. Go online and check what happened today in history and celebrate it. It might be Robert Burns’ birthday, or something equally momentous. What better reason for having a great glass of wine? We also re-learned a bit about Chateau Calon Ségur from where the bottle came. The property takes its name in part from that of a famous owner back in the early 18th century, the Marquis de Ségur. He also owned Chateau Lafite, Chateau Latour and Chateau Mouton, along with properties that would later be known as Chateau Montrose, Chateau Phelan Segur, Chateau d’Armailhac and Chateau Pontet Canet. No wonder he was called the “prince of vines.” Yet the marquis declared that his “heart was with Calon,” leading to the heart being included on the label today. After tasting that lovely old 1966, I can understand the marquis’ sentiments. The wine was soft, smooth and sweet. The color was maturing, showing definite touches of brown and brick red, yet the core was still purple with garnet touches. The scent and the flavors also showed maturity, leather and dried herbs, along with the succulent black cherry and berry flavors of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc that make up the blend at this famous property. It had the complexity that only comes with age, a new layer of flavors in every glass and a lesson in every sip.