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“…my life, this wine is corked…”

December 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Quoted from The Fortune of War by Patrick O’Brian, page 206.

A delicate distraction, that between true spirit on the one hand and boldness and confidence on the other: he was pursuing this line of thought when a fresh decanter appeared and Diana, visibly irritated by an indiscretion on the part of Johnson and Louisa, cried, ‘God’s my life, this wine is corked. Really, Johnson, you might give your guests something they can drink.’

"Success to the enterprize" Wine Glasses, 1760-1780, from National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

‘….Surely not, my dear: it seems quite sound to me.  Take a glass to Dr Maturin, What do you say to it, sir?’

‘I am no great judge of wine,’ said Stephen.  ‘But I have heard that very occasionally the mouthful just round the cork may have an ill taste, while the rest of the bottle is excellent.  Perhaps that is the case here.’

It was a poor shift, but enough for minds willing to avoid an eclat; the decanter was replaced and the conversation became more general.

Image of Wine Glasses from National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Jacobs Collection.

Categories: Books, Image

“…they shared a bottle of Hermitage…”

November 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Quoted from The Letter of Marque by Patrick O’Brian, Page 189.

The 'Royal George" at Deptford Showing the Launch of "The Cambridge', John Clevely, 1757, Image from the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Then came the toasted cheese, and with it they shared a bottle of Hermitage; they were both very fond of wine and they both knew that this might be the last bottle they would drink.  If that should prove the case, then at least it would be a noble close, for it was a fine great generous wine in the prime of life, one that could stand being tossed about at sea: they drank it slowly, not saying much but sitting there in a companionable silence in the candle-light while the ship moved steadily inshore.

Categories: Books, Image

“…a most remarkable ancient wine…”

November 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Quoted from Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian.

The Sloop HMS Speedy, from Bruce Trinque's Jack Aubrey website

Jack pulled the bell, and through the various ship-noises, all muted in this calm, he heard the quick pittering of his steward.  ‘Killick,’ he said, ‘bring me a couple of bottles of that Madeira with the yellow seal, and some of Lewis’ biscuits.  I can’t get him to make a decent seed-cake, he explained to Stephen, ‘but these petty fours go down tolerably well and give the wine a relievo.  Now this wine,’ he said, looking attentively through his glass, ‘was given me in Mahon by our agent, and it was bottled the year Eclipse was foaled.  I produce it as a sin-offering, conscious of my offence.  Your very good health, sir.’

‘Yours, my dear.  It is a most remarkable ancient wine.  Dry, yet unctuous.  Prime.’

Eclipse was a racehorse born in 1764 and named after the great eclipse of that year. See The Patrick O’Brian Muster Book by Anthony Gary Brown and Colin White.  Master and Command is set in 1800 so this Madeira was 36 years old when Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin drank it.

Categories: Books, Image

Bottles Purchased from Reid Wines, Bristol

Reid Wines was started by Charles Reid and joined by the great Bill Baker in 1980.    During the early 1990s the firm went into receivership because Charles spent 100 days per year shooting.  Charles was let go and David Boobbyer came on as a partner.  The firm changed its name to Reid Wines (1992) and subsequently won Wine Magazine’s “‘Fine and Rare’ Specialist Merchant of the Year 1992/1993.”

Winter 1992/1993, Reid Wines Ltd, Cover

In an earlier post I described our trip to buy wine from Bill Baker of Reid Wines.  It was the fall of 1992.  Apparently we bought three bottles of Claret together.  The Claret would be served at some dinner parties we had planned.  The 1970 La Lagune was drunk during April 1993 separate from the La Gaffeliere.

  • 1961 Chateau La Gaffeliere Naude for 38.50 Pounds Sterling. “Outstanding vintage.  “La Gaffeliere is somewhat of a bargain.”
  • 1970 Chateau La Lagune for 26.50 Pounds Sterling. “We are still managing to find parcels of wine from this great drinking vintage.”
  • 1971 Chateau La Gaffeliere Naude for 16.50 Pounds Sterling.  “Best in Saint Emilion and Pomerol.”

For my Thanksgiving dinner during November 1992 I bought:

  • 1985 Ampeau, Pommard for 18.50 Pounds Sterling. “Unquestionably the vintage of the 1980’s.”

And just to get something to try Andrew bought something interesting.  Here is the description from the catalog, “MARCHES: RED No-one seems very interested in this strange wine from the Vernaccia Rosso grape.  Give it a go!”:

  • 1990 Villa Ligi, Vernaculum for 5.95 Pounds Sterling.

I remember trying this wine, it smelled great but there was absolutely no taste in the mouth.  Strange indeed!

Winter 1992/1993, Reid Wines Ltd, Inside,

From the Introduction, “It is always pleasant to write an introduction when there is good news to related, especially at a time when the Government, the French and the weather seem to have conspired to deepen the gloom engendered by the longest recession since the second World War.  Firstly, we can report that Kate and Bill have produced the first Baker offspring.  Polly was born on 29 September.  She is following the family tradition of gaining weight every day and shows every intention of being as noisy as her father.”

The 8th Premiere National Auction of Rare Wines

The Eighth Premiere National Auction of Rare Wines
Thursday, May 27, 1976
Grand Ballroom, Royal Sonesta Hotel
New Orleans, Louisiana
Presented by The Wine Companies of Heublein Inc.

Heublein Inc. has a long history.  It was founded as a restaurant and hotel business in 1862.  In 1895 they started making A1 Steak Sauce.  Throughout the 20th century there is a long history of acquiring and distributing wine and spirits.  In 1962 Alexander C. McNally joined the company where he organized their first wine auction held in 1969.  Michael Broadbent was the wine auctioneer until 1982 when the demands of travel and possible conflicts of interest between Christie’s and Heublein’s arose.

This auction has a range of 19th century Bordeaux, Madeira, and Port.  Most of the vintages are more contemporary such as 27 lots of 1971 Chateau Elysee du Pape, Puisseguin Saint-Emilion totalling almost 900 cases worth.  The only Rhone offering listed is 1970 Cuvee du Vatican, Chateauneuf-du-Pape again totalling almost 900 cases worth.  The handful of German wines are all from 1971 and 1973 vintages. 

A series of older wines came from a “spectacular and extensive” collection in Paris.  For the eldest wine, 1806 Ch. Lafite-Rothschild, it is noted “is believed to have been appreciated by Thomas Jefferson.” 

From the Bouchard Pere & Fils family cellar comes 1864 Beaune Clos de la Mousse.  One bottle was sampled in Beaune.  Here is the tasting note, “The precious potion is poured, tawny red like the blood of a long-sleeping giant awakened as a Brigadoon to breathe an instant in another age.  The pulse quickens and nostrils flare as the fragrant bouquet of a hundred years ago, captured as Lincoln lived, returns to life.”

Wines that were originally sold at a Heublein auction still make appearances today.  For example, this bottle of 1800’s Madeira found off of Savannah, Georgia coast by professional diver Bill Kinsey in the late 1970s.  It was originally sold at the 7th Auction and was just resold at the Spectrum Wine Auction in September 2010 for $4200.

In the back of the catalog is a per-case pricing list from previous auctions.  Particularly expensive wines are:

  • 1887 Inglenook Vineyards, Caberent Sauvignon, Napa Valley – $5000
  • 1866 New Jersey Currant Wine – $700
  • 1846 Cheateau Lafite, Paullac – $5000
  • 1929 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild – $12,000
  • 1893 Chateau d’Yquem – $2880
  • 1864 Beaune Clos de la Mousse – $6240
  • 1885 Chambertin, Cotes de Nuits. Tete de Cuvee – $2500
  • 1865 Clos Vougeot – $6240
  • 1921 Rauenthaler Huhnerberg, Riesling Auslese, Rheinegau: Estate Bottled – $1300
  • 1921 Steinberger, Riesling Spatlese – $1000
  • 1922 Tokaji Eszencia – $1400
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“American Wines” by Frank Schoonmaker and Tom Marvel

I first read an article about Frank Schoonmaker in the Wall Street Journal sometime during May 2010.  He is quite an interesting man so I went to the Gourmet archives and downloaded all of his articles for free.  Of particular interest is “QMC Francais” published in November 1945.

Interested in reading more I browsed through Abebooks.  After publishing “The Complete Wine Book” in 1934 he and Tom Marvel went on to publish “American Wines.”  I purchased a wonderful copy of this first edition, published in 1941, for $6.  In the introductory chapter the authors note:

“Wine consumption in the United States has grown steadily since Repeal; it attained in 1940 some 110,000,000 gallons.  Of this quantity, about three-fourths were sweet, fortified wine containing from 18-21 percent alcohol.”  The authors feel this ratio is “abominable” and go on to primarily promote the lighter table wines.

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