The accidental cellar

A fair amount of wine got poured down the drain over here the other day, and a few tears flowed along with it.

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What caused this tragedy? Carelessness and forgetfulness, mostly.

The victims were wines from dusty bottles that had lain on their sides for far too long, neglected and forgotten on a wine rack under a library table where they slept under seasonably air-conditioned temperatures but far from the 55ºF (13ºC) that’s recommended for proper cellaring.

Most were treasures from past wine travel, memories brought back from happy vineyard visits and set aside to mature a bit, but then sadly forgotten, kept long past their best-by date. A few others were just interesting wines that I had set aside “for a while,” a while that extended into years. A couple had arrived here with us when we moved into this house 25 years ago. How did all those years go by so fast?

So it came to pass the other day that, in a flurry of early spring housecleaning, I wiped off the bottles, studied their vintage dates with growing horror, and then decided there was only one thing to do. Yes, you guessed it: I spent a long afternoon pulling dried and crumbly corks, sniffing, occasionally cautiously tasting, and then pouring out a lot of one-time treasures. (Aside: I sometimes wonder what the recycling people think of all our empty bottles, but I expect they’ve taken my measure by now.)

Unfortunately but not unexpectedly, most of the wines were long dead, whites and reds approaching in the middle at bronze or brown colors. The better ones smelled like Sherry. The rest smelled like dank mud. And one villainous wretch, an un-dated Fossi Rosso, a $4 Italian quaffer from the late 1990s, smelled, well, like an outdoor latrine on a scorching afternoon.

Don’t keep your wines too long while storing them poorly, my friends. No good can come of it.

But to my great delight, two of the wines that I had put away specifically because they needed plenty of time, had survived. In fact, they didn’t merely survive but proved so delightful that they became my impromptu choice for Valentine’s Day dinner.

What were these treasures? One was an Alain Brumont Chateau Bouscassé 1994 Madiran Vieilles Vignes, a wine from the Gascony region in Southwest France, also home to Alexandre Dumas’ d’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers, yet another legend that has worn well. Made from the Tannat grape – which as its name suggests may be the most tannic of all wine varieties – it is a wine that requires long aging (although aging in a proper cellar is strongly recommended). I had picked up a few bottles sometime around the turn of the millennium, sacrificed one every now and then, but when a tasting around 2010 proved still way too harsh and tannic, I hid the last bottle. Until now. To my amazed delight, this 25-year-old bottle was fine, still a bit tannic but now showing surprisingly well. Its rapid evolution in the glass suggests I caught it just in time, but it was beautiful to behold.

A box full of stones from the Kreydenweiss family vineyards in Alsace: Dark-gray granite, pale-tan schist, reddish sandstone.

A box full of stones from the Kreydenweiss family vineyards in Alsace, seen on a 2003 visit: Dark-gray granite, pale-tan schist, reddish sandstone.

The other was a sweet wine from Alsace, Marc Kreydenweiss 2000 Clos Rebbert Pinot Gris Selections de Grains Nobles. I had picked it up during a 2003 visit to the winery and tucked it away for years on the advice of the amiable winemaker, who told me it needed a lot of time. I’m not sure he meant this much time, but hey. It was a botrytized beauty, lush with apricot and peach aromas and an aching sweet but nicely balanced flavor. It could actually have gone for a few more years, I think. However, a pleasant but distinct hint of cream Sherry in the background suggest that oxidation might eventually begin to take its toll. (You’ll find my tasting notes on both these discoveries below.)

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The accidental cellar

So what are the lessons here for wine lovers? A couple, I think. First, when you’re getting serious about wine, don’t be too quick to reject the idea of investing in a simple but properly temperature-controlled wine cellar. I always figured I didn’t need one since my work as a wine writer drives most of my consumption toward new releases and recent bottlings. But the joy of even these two less than competently cellared wines makes me wish I had stashed a few dozen (or a few hundred) more in a proper cellar.

Second, if you decide to lay down a few wines for later consumption, particularly if you don’t have a cool cellar, consider limiting your choices to wines that can go the distance. Madiran is a relative rarity, but it’s not terribly expensive, and my experience confirms its longevity. The Kreydenweiss makes a similar point: Very sweet wines tend to live longer, particularly quality genres like Tawny Port, or even Vintage Port, although the latter really benefits from proper storage.

If you really want a wine to lay down for your new baby’s college graduation, though, or perhaps for your own 50th anniversary, head for the wine shop and stock up on Madeira. This historic fortified wine, available in sweet and dry styles, traces its heritage to long, hot voyages across oceans in the sun-baked holds of sailing ships, and it’s made to go the distance. Maybe even without a cellar.


Today’s Tasting Reports

Alain Brumont Chateau Bouscassé 1994 Madiran Vieilles Vignes

 Chateau Bouscassé

Chateau Bouscassé

The aged cork in this 25-year-old wine broke in half while I was pulling it, but a little expert corkscrew wrangling got it all out without losing any to the wine. Much to my amazement, the wine is still more than drinkable. In fact, without planning it so, it turned into a beautiful drink for Valentine’s Day dinner. Dark purple in color, it shows a bright garnet edge with no sign of browning. The aromas are rather primary at first, black plums and an earthy hint of red clay, opening up in the glass to something much more complex: A grind of white pepper and a lovely, aromatic scent of old roses. Good acidity provides balance, and tannins still provide firm structure, but they have finally given way to a very interesting wine. Moderate 12.5% alcohol, U.S. importer: Jeffrey M. Davies Signature Selections, West Nyack, N.Y. (Feb. 14, 2019)

FOOD MATCH: What it really needs is rare lamb or beef. That would be amazing. It was mighty good too, though, with a mild shakshuka, eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce with fresh spinach and Rancho Gordo white heirloom Mogette de Vendée beans added.

WHEN TO DRINK: If you’ve been cellaring this wine properly, it probably still has miles to go before it sleeps. I’m glad I caught my improperly cellared bottle when I did.

Somewhat to my surprise, a few wine shops on list older vintages of Chateau Bouscassé Madiran Vieilles Vignes. Current vintages (without the Vieilles Vintages label go for around $20 a bottle.

Here’s a short fact sheet on the 2009 Bouscassé from Michigan-based importer Kindred Wines.

Locate vendors and check prices for Chateau Bouscassé Madiran Vieilles Vignes on


Marc Kreydenweiss 2000 Clos Rebberg Pinot Gris Selections de Grains Nobles (500ml bottle)

Marc Kreydenweiss

Another unexpected Valentine’s Day treat. This tall, slender bottle’s cork looked solid and fresh, but it, too, broke as I was pulling it, even with a two-step corkscrew lever. Fortunately, it too escaped without cork fragments in the wine. It’s clear and bright, no sign of haze, a pretty shade of gold, amber and bronze. An bold but pleasant scent of very ripe apricots and peaches lofts from the glass, a classic descriptor of botrytis cinerea (“noble rot”). The ripe fruit and botrytis character carries over on the palate, surprisingly fresh for an 18-plus-year-old wine. A firm acidic structure keeps the fruit sugars from cloying, and carries potent fresh and dried apricot into a very long finish. A hint of sweet sherry comes in after time in the glass, suggesting that age is finally setting in, but it’s pleasant and not at all a flaw. Alcohol level marked 13%. Purchased at the winery in 2003. (Feb. 14, 2019)

FOOD MATCH: Its heady fruit and intense sweetness makes it best for sipping on its own, and that’s what we happily did.

WHEN TO DRINK: It held up amazingly well, thanks I think to sugar and botrytis, but I really don’t think it would be wise to hold this any longer without good cellar conditions.

A single French wine shop is offering the 2000 Kreydenweiss Clos Rebberg Pinot Gris Selections de Grains Noblesfor approximately US$50.

The Marc Kreydenweiss website is available in French and English. Click here for the English-language home page.

Locate vendors and check prices for all the wines from Mark Kreydenweiss on


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