What I Drank on my 50th Birthday…or How Good is a $3000 Bottle of Wine Supposed to Be?

Well, I did it! As promoted in last week’s blog, it was my 50th birthday this week and I had made the decision to drink a real “trophy” wine from my cellar — the 1982 Chateau Margaux. Both Parker and the Wine Spectator had rated it 98 – 100 points on a regular basis, so even though my taste for Bordeaux had changed over the past twenty years, it should be great, right?

Well, let me take you through the process, step by step. I bet you figure out the answer before I even describe the wine itself!

I took the bottle out of my cellar on Sunday to let it stand up for couple of days. At almost 30 years old, it was the last of my original wine cellar purchase of 1986. As it sat on the bureau, I took a closer look. The fill was pretty good for 30 year old wine — a little low, but still in the neck. No outward signs of leakage or anything, so that was a good sign.

As I got the decanter ready, I decided to double check the last rating from the Wine Advocate. And that’s when I saw the current price — a range from $760 to (gulp!) $3350!!!

I stopped for a second, cork screw in hand. Should I really drink this wine? Maybe sell it instead? No, that isn’t why I collect wine, so that was dismissed right away.

But how good could it possible be? What is $3350 supposed to taste like?

I took a deep breath and then slowly started to take the capsule off. That’s when the first danger sign showed up.

Underneath the red fil coating, there were stains on the outside of the bottle! A sure sign that there had been some leakage!

Well, no stopping now. I put the corkscrew in — the cork was soft, but not brittle — and started to turn. I made sure it went in deep, as it was a very long cork. And then as I started to pull — more bad news! Red stains down one side of the cork. There had been some leakage!

But then the cork came out with a pop, and completely intact. Slowly I tilted the wine over the decanter and began to pour. The medium red liquid came slowly out, and there wasn’t very much sediment at all, a third bad sign. At 30 years old, there should have been a lot!

I finished decanting and looked at the finished product. A little sediment had accumulated at the end, but that was it. My wife joined me as I poured us a couple of glasses, just enough to smell and taste.

My first impression was — at least its not corked or oxidized! That’s a relief!

But the nose was quite muted. Not much fruit, mostly cedar, wood, a little earth. I took another deep breath and tipped the wine into my mouth.

Smooth, elegant, with mostly cedary/woody flavours, but still a hint of dried cherries in the back. Ironically, it was like so many other Bordeaux I had tried. Not bad, but just not a lot of fruit.

My wife and I looked at each other. She pointed out that it was very elegant, and that was true. Maybe that was what 30 year old wine tasted like? We drank the bottle with our pate de fois gras and duck confit…it went very well with the meal. And then it was gone.

Afterwards, I tried to figure out how I felt about it. Not devestated, for sure. Disappointed — perhaps. Relieved that it hadn’t been “off”? Definitely. Something I would always remember? Yes, but necessarily because it was a great wine!

So any lessons here for others in a similar situation? Nothing profound, I’m afraid. Maybe don’t be afraid to drink your supposedly “best” wines (regardless of how much they have appreciated in price), but also don’t get your hopes too high…and enjoy the overall occasion…it was a great event, after all! And always have a backup wine in case you need it!




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