Uncork memories with a glass or two from an old bottle

  • Beast of a drink: Neil and Maria Empson named their wine Cignale after their first vintage was entirely consumed by wild boars in 1983

    Beast of a drink: Neil and Maria Empson named their wine Cignale after their first vintage was entirely consumed by wild boars in 1983


I really enjoy opening an old bottle of wine and thinking of all that has taken place since the grapes were ripening on the vine.

For instance, I had strategically placed a double magnum of 1990 Cignale on our kitchen island before Neil and Maria Empson arrived for dinner in early December; Maria immediately spotted the label for this Super Tuscan that she had personally drawn the six different versions for.

I reminded Neil that this was the year when we first met. I asked what the life expectancy of Cignale was and he replied: “At least 40 years.”

He then went on to explain that one reason for buying this small vineyard was that he had enjoyed a 100-year-old wine from the property. I showed him our 1988 Cignale and told him that we collected it this year as this was when our youngest son was born.

Cignale is the Tuscan word for wild boar and it is so named as their first vintage, in 1983, was entirely consumed when these creatures broke through the fencing and feasted on the 90 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 10 per cent merlot planted there. We ended up having the 2005 with dinner and I was truly amazed by the youthful beauty of a 15-year-old wine.

Later in the week, while having lunch in a popular Italian restaurant, I overheard Neil telling the manager: “Michael is rather sneaky as he knows full well that we only produce 400 cases a year and he will order his allocated amount and then, later in the year, submit another order that he hopes will slip through the system.”

He added that Bermuda was quite likely getting more than any other country. In fact, we do have 2012 Cignale that is deep, dark ruby in colour and very floral and beautiful with hints of dark fruit, black currant and dried flowers, such as violets. It is full-bodied with firm and silky tannins and a fresh and bright finish. James Suckling rates it 93/100. $59.65.

Our oldest son arrived on December 18 to spend his first Christmas at home in a few years. That evening, we opened a 1986 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon for the year of his birth, but sadly it was rather tired, although still showing interesting aspects. If you wanted to try an older Napa Valley wine, I would prefer to sell you our Beringer 1995 Private Reserve cabernet sauvignon that Robert Parker feels will survive well until 2026. He rates it 96/100 and commented in 2011: “This stunning private reserve should continue to drink well for another 15 or more years.” $211.95.

The next evening, with baked ham, I opened a bottle of 1994 Chalone Vineyard pinot noir from high in the mountains of Monterey. I thought of a time when my wife and I actually owned a tiny portion of this vineyard planted by a Frenchman in the 1920s. I also thought of a small boy starting at Warwick Academy and his journey through education that has just resulted in him receiving, two days before Christmas, an offer of a tenure-track professor appointment at a highly reputed university.

We do not have any Chalone in stock, but I was pleasantly surprised by its ability to age gracefully and look forward to even older bottles that we have.

Now it is time for Christmas dinner. I select 2017 Stags’ Leap Winery chardonnay to go with the roast turkey. This chardonnay is a story of balance, a delicious intersection of richness and minerality that benefits from the classical standard of viticulture, care of the land, and winemaking that is as relevant today as it was in 1893 when Stags’ Leap Winery celebrated its first vintage. Their French winemaker garners an impressive 95/100 for this wine from James Suckling. $48.45.

My wife and our son make her traditional Christmas meat pie of buffalo, venison and duck; she wisely selects 2014 Château La Croix de Gay from Pomerol. One critic, Antonio Galloni, refers to its “gamy bouquet” and Robert Parker comments: “The 2014 La Croix de Gay has a detailed bouquet with crisp blackberry and redcurrant aromas, a little orange blossom and even baking powder emerging with time. The palate is medium-bodied with crisp tannins, very supple and quite rounded in the mouth with dark cherries, blueberry and a touch of iodine on the pretty finish that will have consumer appeal.” $69.90.

Even though the meat pie had its flavour enhanced by including a dose of 2015 Orin Swift Mercury Head Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon during cooking, it still married well with the pomerol. There are only a few bottles of this highly allocated Napa cabernet left at our store on Front Street next to The Supermart. $147.50 for this recipient of 95/100 Parker points.

And now for the steamed pudding topped with liberal amounts of hard sauce, flavoured with Mexican vanilla and the finest cognac. The accompaniment that we have chosen proves to be a perfect match. As I remove the cork from a bottle of 1948 Domaine Sainte Croix Rivesaltes, I tell my family that these grapes hung on the vine before the car graced our shores, before the arrival of Leaping Lena — said moniker bestowed by my father on his Excelsior motorcycle licence plate number 91.

Children would stare in awe as he rode by and a myriad of free running dogs would lay in wait for what my dad referred to as a “piece of shinbone soup”.

If you would like to journey back to the year before Bermuda passed the Motor Car Act of 1951, we do actually have in stock a few bottles of Domaine de Rombeau 1950 Rivesaltes Vin Doux Natural. I have bottle number 03537 in my hand and the label tells us that the Fabregue family, who founded this estate in 1659 in Roussillon, decided that the extraordinary 1950 vintage should be kept in barrel to age.

Finally, in 2001 it was deemed ready to enjoy and so it was bottled. Share with friends and think of the politicians of the day telling Bermudians that “there would never be more than a few hundred cars here as we would never give up our horses for these devices that could not, and should not, be driven home after a night on the town”. $153.25.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George (York Street, 297-0409). Visit wineonline.bm

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Published Jan 10, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 9, 2020 at 10:18 pm)

Uncork memories with a glass or two from an old bottle

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