Monday, August 23, 2010

You say it's your birthday... Gonna have a good time...

My daughter and my wine just turned 21!
 Time to celebrate - where's the corkscrew?

In 1989 I knew very little about wine ( I think I was a California "Chablis" drinker at the time), but I was a new mother and the founding member of the Baby Bunch, a group of about 15 new moms who met in the hospital where we gave birth. After being discharged, we continued to meet at a new mother exercise program sponsored by the hospital. When that ended, the Baby Bunch was born and we met weekly at different homes each Wednesday for a Baby Bunch Lunch, (Imagine that - I must have an affinity for that day of the week!) 

One of my tasks as founding member was to write the Baby Bunch News for the group, a monthly newsletter with tips and interesting new-mom type information.  As we approached the babies first birthdays I wrote an article about birthday wine, advising the moms to seek out wines made in the year of the babies birth. The purpose being to open the wines when the "babies" turned 21 and everyone would share the special bottle. I'm not certain how many of the other moms did the Birthday Wine thing, but I thought it was fun and there began my quest for birthday wine.

Of course, I was completely unaware that in 1989 I would be unable to find a wine made in 1989. I remember thinking they had all sold out! So, I kept searching the racks each time I ventured into a store that sold wine. One day (I think my daughter was about 2 - so perhaps 1991), I came across a 1989, it was a Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. I probably paid $7-8 for the bottle. The salesman told me that the wine should be kept in a cool environment if it was to be enjoyed at a later date. I'm certain he never imagined that I was buying it to store for 19 more years!

I carried the bottle home carefully and put it into the refrigerator (standing up). Every time I opened the fridge door, I would see that bottle proudly standing there and think to myself, "What a clever person I am! We'll open that bottle and it will be wonderful and special, since old wine is always better than new wine!" 

We moved six times between 1991 and 2010 and we carted that wine with us from place to place, carrying it as if it was the baby. I remember we moved from Atlanta to Minneapolis in 1991 and we drove across the country with the bottle swaddled in layer after layer of men's tube sox to protect it, always keeping in mind that day in the future when we'd open the bottle and everyone would exclaim how fantastic it was and, of course, what a great mom I was to have had the forethought to save the wine, thereby adding some grandeur to the occasion!

One day a friend, who was very much into wine, had us over for dinner and served a bottle from a case they had just purchased.  It was a Cabernet from Smother's - Remick Ridge in Sonoma. The vintage? You guessed it - 1989! I almost fell out of my seat while explaining my two-year quest for the Birthday Wine.   They graciously gave us a bottle to be saved for our special occasion. I placed it next to the Kendall Jackson, secure in the knowledge that, surely, I must be the greatest mom of all time - after all, I now had TWO birthday bottles!

In 1998 my husband and I visited Napa with friends. By now I was also into wine  - having two bottles cellared down for the long-term, I was considered somewhat of an expert :o) - and had begun to expand my knowledge base by reading such technical volumes as, Wine for Dummies.   During our visit to wine country we sat in the tasting room at Beringer and were poured samples of  the 1989 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, it was delicious and I convinced my husband to purchase a bottle ($125!) since it was for our "special occasion". (Visions of sainthood in the gallery of Best Mothers danced in my head, for I now had THREE bottles of birthday wine!)

Here are a couple of nicely aged Smother's Brothers!
Over the next couple of years I had started to haunt wine shops, trolling the aisles, reading labels and tasting notes. On one such visit I stopped dead in my tracks, staring at the bottle before me in the clearance bin - it was Oakford Vineyards, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon... 1989. Be still my heart! With a $45 price tag I grabbed that one, lone bottle (ever so gently, of course) and carried it, cradled in my arms, to the cashier who wrapped it carefully in white tissue paper and bagged it for me. All the way home I was silent, my mind racing... Surely, I am the best mother in the ENTIRE universe, for I, and only I, have found not one, not two - NO, not even three, but FOUR, count them FOUR bottles of BIRTHDAY WINE!

Fast forward to yesterday and the opening of the birthday wine... Last week (in anticipation of the big moment) I moved the bottles from their position in the lay-down rack of the temperature and humidity controlled storage area to a stand-up shelf to allow any sediment that had formed to fall to the bottom of the bottles. At the last hour, I decided to open just one of the bottles and selected the Smother's - Remick Ridge.  (In 1994 Wine Spectator awarded this wine a whopping 82 points and recommended drinking it "now"... "Light and simple with herb, currant and spice notes. Drink now. 681 cases made. –")

I used a foil cutter to remove the capsule on the top of the bottle and then examined the cork - it looked in good condition, so I gently inserted the corkscrew. Right away I could feel the cork giving way, I tugged on the corkscrew and tried to remove the cork. It came up in a jagged piece and began to turn into dust. I reinserted the corkscrew and pulled up another chunk of cork; I repeated this process several more times until the entire cork was removed.

The big moment had arrived! I carefully poured the wine through a filter (to catch any remaining pieces of cork or sediment) into the waiting glasses.
Sediment in the bottle - not a lot considering the wine was unfiltered and unfined...

I took a tentative Gary Vee sniffy-sniff.  Hmmm... I could still smell the fruit, so that was promising. (When a wine is getting tired, or old, it will most often lose its fruit first.) I didn't want to swirl the wine for fear of losing whatever aromatics it still had. (Older wines can be very delicate and should be handled gently and with care.) We distributed the glasses, made a very quick toast to the birthday girl, and then dove into the wine.

Looks of surprise were on everyone's face - the wine was still good! YAY! The rich, heavy California Cabernet Sauvignon had mellowed. It's hard tannins had softened into silky liquid strands of fruit and structure. In fact, my mother, who NEVER drinks red wine, commented that it had none of the "dry, bitterness" that she detests in red wines, and didn't smell "alcoholic or strong like most red wines" did.

As we sipped our wine, I explained about tannins and how, with oak and age, they can change from big, harsh and astringent, to smooth and supple - helping the wine to feel balanced in your mouth. We paired the wine with a peppercorn and olive, Parmesan spread and crackers; it went well and didn't overpower the, now more delicate, Smother's Brothers Remick Ridge Cabernet. 

All in all, a satisfying experience that I would recommend to every parent of a newborn...

Find it ~ Buy it ~ CELLAR it ~ Love it!
Salud! KathyD

PS ~ Did I win the coveted "Mother of the Year" award? Nah, but I wouldn't have changed a thing, the hunt for the infamous Birthday Bottles was fun, and the anticipation of opening these wines over the last 19 years was exciting!

PPS ~ I decided to save the other bottles for other momentous occasions that will come up: Graduation from college or grad school; Engagement; Wedding; Birth of a grandchild; or maybe when everything else in the cellar is gone and times are desperate!

Here are some links to reviews on the other birthday wines:

BERINGER Private Reserve 1989: In 1993 Robert Parker said it would stand up through 2007, so I think we have a good chance of another decade!

OAKFORD Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1989: Wine Spectator: Score: 88  Release Price: $25
Issue: Nov 15, 1994: "Offers spice, mint and currant flavors and finishes with firm tannins. Ready now but it should drink well over the next few years. 1,000 cases made."

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