When you open a bottle and see a cork like this, even as a wine expert, your heart sinks a little. And when the bottle in question cost a 3 figure sum from London's The Sampler in Islington,, it sinks a little further.
But, when the bottle is a 2eme Cru Classé from Saint Julien on Bordeaux's left bank, there is hope.
Buying a 1978 as a Christmas present for Mr Purple Teeth was slightly risky. Although Leoville Barton is one of his favourite chateau, it's fair to say we don't have the ideal storage facilities for fine wine, and I'd been advised by the helpful staff at The Sampler that it was drinking well now (a euphemism for "don't delay in drinking"?).
Even when encouraged to enjoy it over the festive season it was not his way to rush into this wine.
Bordeaux isn't the only area to make wines to last, but it's certainly one of the areas which specialises in wines with longevity. While young fresh styles if claret are available, most of the good wines from the are have such depth of tannin, acidity and fruit that they are actually far more delicious after 10 or even more years. Saint Julien is a village sized commune within the Medoc region which is recognised for consistently turning out exceptional wines, year after year. The family owned Barton vineyards are 48 hectares planted to 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc.
Back to our bottle. There was a real "cellar" and dank smell on opening the bottle, but after 15 minutes in the glass, the wine was vibrant and drinking well.
There's still a huge juicy acidity that makes the mouth water and a strong blackcurrant cassis bouquet that cuts through the smoky, dusty cellar smells of leather, tobacco and spice and the hallmark cedar flavours. The tannins are silky & supple rather than harsh and drying as they can be in younger wines and the intensity of fruit on the palate was staggering considering the wine is 36 years old.
Mr Purple Teeth seemed happy enough. He went into "the zone". I was allowed just a small tasting sample for analytical purposes, but otherwise was surplus to requirements for the evening as he wallowed in his bottle.
It's perhaps not how you'd measure a successful Christmas gift, but in this house, it's a very good sign indeed. And we now have something positive to remember 1978 by.
Finally, after returning from a serious wine drought during his 50th birthday trip to Galápagos and Ecuador, tonight was the night.
And what a way to return to wine drinking. 1978: If you remember it at all, you'll be thinking of Boney M, Grease, flares, the winter of discontent, the first test tube baby or the Sex Pistols last gig.
It's unlikely that my readers were drinking wine in those days, but if you were it was possibly Blue Nun, Black Tower or Mateus Rosé. Those wines would definitely not be "drinking well" now no matter how effective the cellaring.
PS - to learn more about the wines of Saint Julien, or Bordeaux there are some great books on offer below, and of course, the perfect glass makes all the difference.