Thursday, December 13, 2007

Opening and anticipating Ancient wines

All right, life cannot be all about righting journalistic wrongs!

Last week, I went to another evening of the Académie des Vins Anciens. This time I had a feather in my cap: its organizer, François Audouze, invited me to come to the location - the restaurant Macéo on the rue des Petits-Champs near the Palais-Royal - early, at 4pm, and watch the bottles being opened. The fun thing is that in French, the word assister means both "watch" and, well, "assist." So guess who rolled up her sleeves?

There were forty-plus very old bottles to open, lined up on a marble bar counter, with François and two knowledgeable friends manning the corkscrews, capsule-cutters and, yes, lobster picks (long metal tools which are extremely useful for getting out minuscule bits of cork, should the treacherous bouchon ever cede and fall to pieces into the wine).

I was started on one of the youngest of the batch, a 1982 Château Clerc-Milon, and was pleased to feel the cork come out in one solid, stolid piece. A second try with a second bottle, this one from the 1970s, was just as triumphal. But a third bottle, as I dipped back into the '50s, was less fortunate; the cork broke in half, and though I didn't need to use the lobster pick, I did need to ask one of François's friends for help.

By the end of the session, there were six or seven dinner plates on a sideboard with the capsules and corks in different states of brokenness. The fruit of our work.

And I had been able to smell the bottles as they were opened - sometimes to pleasant surprise, such as with a 1947 Puligny-Montrachet that had, well, just a pure nose of minerally Puligny chardonnay; others, to uncomfortable recognition of musty odors of damp rug or rotting leaves. The miracle would come four hours later when those dubious specimens had breathed away their must and would come back to vinous purity in the glass.

And so in the evening, after a stroll around the neighborhood, I came back to Le Macéo, which was now filling with members of the Académie (a large upstairs room with finely clothed tables had been retained for our soirée). That frisson of anticipation was in my stomach as I waited for the first champagne to be popped.


Here is a link to interesting interviews about the Académie and that particular evening.


Nancy said...

Sounds very fun!

Do you know Francois from the ebob boards?

Joe said...


That's hard work, and one feels so responsible when a cork breaks, whether anyone else could have done better or not.

Where do you stand on the decanting question that so consumes us all?


Sharon said...

Indirectly. I met another Parisian via the board who knew François.

I know! I was on the edge of my (mental) seat.

As far as decanting goes, I tend not to, unless the wine is extremely young and closed. The air time (about four to six hours or so) in the full but open bottles for the old wines seemed to be what they needed.

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