Brian Cain

Rude Tasters 11-14-2018 "This Old Bottle"

Brian Cain
Rude Tasters 11-14-2018 "This Old Bottle"

Rude Tasters 11-14-2018 “This old Bottle”

In keeping with the “dead or alive” concept in my blog dated 10-14-2018, the following tasting centers mostly on whether these wines still have any redeeming qualities


Initially when I heard of a group of tasters who focus on really old wines declaring them dead or alive, it seemed pretty simple and straight forward.   But, when is a wine dead?   Well, it’s a long slow process normally, but, at some point, the wine no longer has any redeeming qualities other than alcohol.   At that point, even if it isn’t oxidized or spoiled by cork taint or some bacterial infestation, it is essentially dead if it cannot bring pleasure to the taster.   So, although none of these wines are spoiled, a few, in my opinion, are dead.


This was a very well attended tasting held by Steve and Sue Volkhardt, so we had lots of old wines to examine.   The hosts asked everyone to bring their bottle to the tasting double decanted into the original washed out bottle so we didn’t have to worry about sediment or getting out a very old crumbling cork at the tasting table.   The wines were tasted in the order shown here.   We did not tally a group score, so the ratings and comments are mine alone.   Known as a person who never met a wine he didn’t like, it was very difficult to pronounce any of them dead, but, if everything no matter how tired and thin is alive, what is the point?   Certainly rating wines that are no longer available and probably well past their prime has no value, other than a vague prediction of what condition other similar wines in one’s cellar might be like.


We started with two warm up wines from Steve and Sue’s cellar that Steve purchased decades ago from a Pieroth salesman who called on some of the wine enthusiasts in his office.




1998 Remstakellerei Sorgenbrecher Trollinger Qba Wurttemberg, Germany(11.5% ABV) This estate bottled wine grown just east of Stuttgart where the Rems flows into the Neckar River, has certainly seen better times.   Though not spoiled, there really isn’t much left.  Just a very soft touch of browning fruit and a friendly hint of acid remain.   I never tasted this wine when it was youthful, but, can imagine a typical Wurttemberg red with vibrant, fresh red fruit flavors and a softly tannic finish.  Well, that ship has sailed, so, I rated it 50 points, DEAD.

1976 Pieroth Illmitzer Trockenbeerenauslese Weisburgunder (Pinot Blanc) Burgenland, Austria (11-12%ABV)  Although starting to thin out, this 42 year old relic has held up well.   The color is a beautiful dark transparent amber with gold hints around the edges.   The nose is full of candied apricot, raisins and black walnut essences while the still sweet lightly viscous palate stays bright, fresh and elegant; still a fine wine by any measure.  90 points, ALIVE.




2007 Left Foot Charley Seventh Hill Vineyard Riesling Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan (11%ABV)  In the context of an old bottle tasting, this is hardly old, although, many wine enthusiasts don’t realize that Riesling (especially when grown on the best sites in Michigan, Oregon and, of course, Germany) will generally live longer than California Cabernet, for example.   So, with that in mind, this 11 year old isn’t even a teenager yet.  The classic Riesling nose is full of honey, citrus, stones and ripe apples.   The palate is long rich and very Rheingau-like.   100 points, ALIVE.

2003 Rivola Sardon De Duero Abadia Retuerta Estate Vineyards Castilla y Leon, Spain (13.5%ABV) The bouquet is mostly canned spinach and nut shells.   Though persistent tannin in the texture suggests life, really, as far as anything to like, there isn’t much there.  So, although not totally undrinkable, I’d have to rate it with no more than 60 points, DEAD.

1984 Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, California (13.3%ABV) Very old dusty smell comes back with a tiny bit of dried fruit and hints of burnt sugar on the palate.  This very tired old fella’ gets 70 points, just barely ALIVE.

1995 Cline Big Break Vineyard Zinfandel Contra Costa County, California (14%ABV) These grapes come from a 100+ year old block east of Berkley CA.   There is a distinct exotic eucalyptus and green pepper aroma with plenty of black fruit and ample tannin to offer a wine with structure and appeal.  I gave it 78 points, definitely ALIVE.




1987 Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1er Grand Cru Classe Pauillac, Bordeaux, France (12%ABV)  The gorgeous deep red color suggests a much more vital wine than the very thin, light wine in the glass.  The rather frail, dusty character shows class and finesse but is fading fast.  The finish is pretty much, well, finished!  Hard as it is to rate this highly acclaimed producer less than stellar, I gave it 60 points, DEAD.

2007 Donna Laura Ali Sangiovese de Toscana IGT Tuscany, Italy (13%ABV) Being that this wine is only 11 years old, the deep brick red color is no surprise.  Though quite delicate, subtle nuances of olives and cedar with ample tannin and a long balanced finish make it somewhat interesting.  Though clearly a lesser wine than, say, five years ago, I would still give it 80 points,  ALIVE.

1980 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast, California (12.5% ABV) It will be interesting to see if the current line up of Martini wines live up to this legacy.   This everyday moderately priced Cab is still showing brilliant deep brick red color and lots of compelling red fruit and forest floor scents while staying firm and fresh on the palate and into the long finish.  Though clearly not a spring chicken, I’d still give this wine an 89, very much ALIVE.

1977 David Bruce Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, California (13.6% ABV)  Though way past its prime, it was nonetheless a bit of a thrill to taste a glimpse of California wine making history here.  There was just enough left to this somewhat cooked tasting wine to bring back memories of this famed estate.   Unfortunately, cooked carrots and a tiny bit of very tired fruit isn’t enough to get more than 60 points, DEAD.




1979 Poderi Emilio Costanti Vermiglio Vino da Tavola (12.3%ABV) Though pretty pale in color, it hasn’t browned down too much; it still looks and tastes like red wine.  The fruit is in the background with some herbal and cooked berry scents in the nose.   Though pretty soft and light, it is not unlikable and just as easy to dismiss as to like.   Just hanging on by a thread, 68 points, ALIVE?

1994 Chateau de La Tour Clos-Vougeot Vielles Vignes Grand Cru Bourgogne, France (13% ABV)  Wow!  What a treat!  Here is an estate Pinot Noir from one of Burgundy’s most famous vineyards and it lives up to its exhalted reputation.   Showing no signs of senility, this very plump fruity wine is full of black cherry-like fruit, cedar, hints of toasty oak and a long rich fruit concentrated finish.   Clearly the best of the reds tasted here, I’d have to give it 100 points, obviously very ALIVE.

1978 Paul Jaboulet Aine Les Cedres Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rhone, France (13.5%ABV) The richness and concentration of this Grenache make me think of younger Cabernet based wine.   The color has a nice black red hue though fully transparent and brilliant.  There is red fruit throughout with ample tannin and a slight nuance of orange marmalade.   Hard to give this 40 year old anything less than 85 points being that it is very much ALIVE.

1977 Pieroth Bockenheimer Grafenstuck Trockenbeerenauslese Rheinpflaz, Germany (10-12% ABV) Presently with a color somewhere between prune juice and strong coffee, I can only guess that the grapes were very much botrytis affected and looking more like raisins than grapes when harvested.  There is still plenty of body and glycerol feel in the mouth with a gripping resinousness not unlike wild bee hive honey.  The complexity is mind boggeling with hints of dried apricots, cooked cherries, black walnuts, toffee and anise biscotti.  A thrill to taste, 95 points, ALIVE!


Enjoy in Good Health,

A. Brian Cain, the Michigan Vintner