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Curious Old Wine
A well-known collector, who has been for years engaged in purchasing fine porcelain, pictures, drawings and other things of similar character, has now turned his attention to quite a different branch of collecting, and part of his museum is contained in two rooms in his cellar. The idea that he has adopted strikes me as being an interesting one, and some of my readers may perhaps be glad to have a few details concerning this somewhat unusual branch of collecting. He is a connoisseur of wines, has given careful attention to them, is sufficiently scrupulous to have two cellars, one for red and one for white, and has great joy in bringing together examples of special and unusual vintages, and affording his friends the satisfaction of sampling and tasting them.
In old days it used to be a fashion to study wine and to take great care concerning the vintages that one placed before one's guests. The stocking of a cellar was part of a gentleman's occupation, and needful information concerning wine was passed on from generation to generation. Nowadays, when people live in flats, and have only cupboards for their wine, the idea has passed away, and few people care to study the special features of old wines. A well-known connoisseur tells us that we drink far too much champagne nowadays; "we take it," says he, "from the oysters to the cigars; we smoke too much to appreciate fine wine; we seldom sit and enjoy a really good claret. “He goes on to add that we " gulp down our wines and do not sip them; we are sometimes shocking enough to take grape juice and malt liquor in the same night; we expect wines to taste always as good, whatever the food, the weather, the health or the temper, and we ignore altogether the fact that wine has a scent-a bouquet-as well as a flavor; that every grape was once a little flower, and that every drop of wine was once hidden within a grape. “Finally he says we too " often choose our food first of all, and then choose our drink afterwards, whereas, in many instances, the reverse should be the case, and we are too ready to drink heavy wines, in the way of fruity ports, neglecting bouquet, style and finesse, and spoiling our palate for the more exquisite of the clarets."
All this is amazingly true, and so one seldom hears of a cellar-book being carefully kept up; still more seldom of the catalogue of a wine cellar. One such catalogue lies before me, prepared for Mr.Pierpont Morgan, in a very limited edition, and issued to his friends, and it contains a wonderful list of wines, because he collected choice vintages in the same way as he did choice pictures, drawings, or miniatures.
My London friend, acting in a much smaller method, has pursued the same sort of line. In clarets, he naturally gives the principal place to what are known as the first growths, Lafite, Margaux, Latour and Haut-Brion. These are the great clarets, and every one of them is a joy to a carefully prepared palate.
Then, he knows that there are great claret years; that 1875 was the largest and finest on record ; that 1887 was very good, full and round, but also rather dry; that 1890 yielded what is known as a big vintage, and 1893 one with a fine flavour, and that 1899 was a splendid vintage; while some other years, of course, must be carefully avoided. One would not, however, confine one's attention in claret to these four great growths, because there are two or three other growths that are quite as remarkable, amongst them stands out pre-eminently the Chateau Mouton Rothschild of 1874 That year, as all claret lovers know, was a very strange, variable one. Some of the vintages were good, and some were poor, but the Chateau Mouton Rothschild of that year was extraordinary; it was a wonderfully robust wine, and my friend is lucky enough to possess some of the magnums of it, a very choice and exceptional possession. There are also some magnums of a very old claret, Lafite of 1869, some of Margaux of 1888, and a wonderful Latour of 1878,while of the smaller brands, I notice particularly some D'Issan in magnums of 1893, and he has not neglected another famous growth called Pape-Clement.
Naturally, however, he has not confined his attention to clarets. Port has been called the king of wines. Madeira has been dubbed the queen, but a person who really appreciates a fine wine, may be pardoned for putting clarets and burgundies ahead of either of them, only they must be sipped, one must not smoke, and the connoisseur must appreciate the bouquet. I would not, however, say a word against port, especially in certain respects. Taylor's 1890 is as delicate a wine as one could possibly want to drink, and has kept better in the cellar than have some of the earlier vintages, and is therefore less likely to require recorking. Taylor's 1896 is another wonderful wine, and some connoisseurs think that Martinez's 1884 is even better. 1847 was of course the magnificent year, but 1863 was really just as fine.
Of the very old ports, '34 and '47 were the great years, '53 was an excellent wine, '73 a fine wine, '78 a good wine, and '87 was equally good. '93, of course, was disastrous in every possible way, and since then, there have been one or two fair years, but nothing that has come up to '87 or '89.
Fortunately, the days of the three-bottle men are all gone. It is not a great deal of port that we drink nowadays, and it is generally either Croft's, Taylor's, Dow's, Sandeman's, Cockburn's or Offley's. Cockburn in magnums of 1887 was a very remarkable wine, so was that of 1878. Sandeman's of 1887 is very well worth collecting. Cockburn's of 1868 is another wonderful wine, but my friend is also recommending those who come after him to start the old idea again of laying down some wine for those who come after us, and he is trusting to his own judgment, and that of his wine merchant (a very remarkable man, by the way), and putting down some clarets and some ports that will be interesting and precious to his children and grandchildren.
In his white wine cellar, some of his wonderful treasures are connected with Chateau Yquem, the great Sauterne, a wine with a marvelous bouquet and exquisite flavour. It must, of course, be bottled at the Chateau, and marked with the brand of Lur Saluces, and 1861 and 1870 vintages are amazingly choice treasures, while 1893 is in some ways quite as fine, and 1890 well worth securing. Then, of course, he has got some splendid Deinhards, Berncastler, 1904, an amazingly fine wine; 1900 not quite so important, but very nearly so; 1906 quite a beautiful wine, and some Steinwein and some Steinberger Cabinet, the latter being 1890
To my own thinking, however, the grandest white wine he possesses is some Montrachet from the Me d'Or of 1911, Aine, a perfectly magnificent wine.
By the way, I suggest to him that his Moselles should be drunk without further delay, whereas his hock may go on improving for years.
Why is it, I wonder, that sherry has gone out so suddenly? It is the only wine that one can take at any time of the day; it is practically the only wine that never alters so long as it is in the decanter it is the very thing to have with a biscuit in the morning, and to degrade it by putting bitters in it, is surely a terrible thing. What can be finer, in my friend's opinion and mine, than a Bristol Cream Sherry, or than an Amontillado, especially that of 1839, and the two wonderful growths of '72 and '78?
King Edward put an enormous amount of sherry into the market because he did not care for it; it should, however, be more popular than it is, and collectors of wine will do well to get hold of some choice sherries; occasionally the 1815 Solera can be got, and one can then enjoy the delicate flavour of this wine at its best.