When I was in college, I frequented a couple of nightclubs that were “wine-oriented.” They had great wine lists, and I would take a date to these clubs after dinner for a bottle of wine and some dancing. Truth be told, I couldn’t afford both dinner and wine together at either club. I was still learning about wines, and this way I could have a different bottle each time I went out, and the bottle would last the evening, interspersed with some dancing.
One night I went to one of the clubs stag, in hopes that I might find a young lady. This was the seventies, and clubs were a great venue back then. Since I was by myself, a bottle of wine was not a good choice. I was sitting at the bar, when the owner came over to talk to me from behind the bar. I think that he understood that I was not a heavy hitter, but that I did like his wine selection. The bartender had just poured me a glass of Chevas, and I was getting ready to have my first taste for the evening. The owner grabbed my glass of scotch and unceremoniously threw it down the sink and started laughing. I was looking over the bar at my lost drink.
He looked at me and stated that I was to enjoy a glass of wine with him. My ears perked up, and my taste buds forgot about the scotch. He had grabbed a bottle from his personal stash and wanted to evaluate it. He informed me that if I could do any identification from a “blind” tasting, that there would be no charge for the scotch or another one later on. I figured I had nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
We went to a far table away from the maddening crowd. He had two large crystal goblets and a bottle in a brown paper bag. The wine bottle looked like it should be in the hands of a skid-row wino, and not in a place like this. He carefully opened the bottle, with the bag completely covering the label, and I could not even see the foil over the cap for any help. He took the cork off of the cork screw, smelled it, smiled and put it in his pocket, to keep my prying eyes off of any clue. He then decanted the bottle with the paper back tightly wrapped around so that I still couldn’t see the label, but so that he could see the neck of the bottle. He held it over a candle and began decanting into a crystal bottle. This was the first time, I had really watched a bottle decanted, as most of the wines that I could afford, did not require such pomp and circumstance. He pointed out to me that I should look at the bottle’s neck at that moment, and I saw the start of the sludge or dregs that accumulate in a well aged wine. He then looked at the crystal bottle and estimated that about a third of the bottle was lost because of the age.
He poured two generous glasses of this wine and handed one to me. I picked up the glass and held towards a light fixture and was amazed at how light the color of this red wine was. It was much paler, than any wine that I had ever tried up to that moment. I joked that this wine must be older then me, and he laughed. I then swirled it in the glass and wanted to stick my whole nose in the goblet. It had a very ethereal smell, which I had never encountered before. Then we both tasted it, at the same time. Even knowing how to truly taste a wine, I swallowed it much quicker then my host did. He was still chewing it, and making a decision on the future of this wine. After the first taste, he looked at me, and wanted to know what my decision on the wine was.
I knew it was not Bordeaux, because by that time I had tasted several of the lesser wines of the Medoc, but none of the Grand Crus. So I smiled and said that it was a Burgundy and I hoped this would suffice. It did not. He claimed that any bum off the street could have made that opinion. He goaded me to continue. My brain was fairly uncluttered at that time, as I had been reading many books about wines, so I tried to figure a section of Burgundy that had proper fame. I came up with a hallowed name and said “Richebourg.” He smiled and said that I was right. I felt like a million dollars at that moment. He then said after a couple more tastes, that for a refill, that I should come up with the year of vintage. I was thinking to my self that this was not fair, but I had no skin in the game, so I continued. I thought to myself that there were three stellar vintages of that century; 1961, 1945 and 1921. I continued my thought process and reasoned that the ‘61’s were too recent for him to want to check on, the ‘45’s were legendary and the 21’s also were legendary (but was it over-the-hill?). I told him that I was guessing, but I said 1921. He laughed pulled away the paper bag and showed me that I was right on all counts. He continued laughing and told me I was a lucky S.O.B and I agreed.
He asked me how I did it, and I told him it was just deduction and presumption on my part. Outside of knowing that it was a Burgundy, I had no proper knowledge of any of the great Burgundies, so I just guessed at a name. Then I explained my thoughts on the vintage years, and I said that presumed he had more of this wine and was checking to see if he could serve it safely to his friends that really knew their wines. He poured me another glass and told me to enjoy it, and to remember the evening. Even as he walked away to take care of his business, I was still thanking him profusely.
Years later, I splurged and bought a bottle of 1967 Richebourg and drank it way too soon. I had to know, and somewhere in the back of my brain, my brain gave me a whack and said that it was not as great as that ’21. I may never have a chance to have a legendary ’45, but I can say that I had a ’21.