“Oh wow.” Schramsberg Cremant, 1980

The first wine at the tasting is typically a sparkling, at least in my house, and if there is one to be had. I pair sparkling wines with everything, from bacon and black coffee at breakfast and brunch to rich cheeses as an aperitif. And anyone who reads this blog knows that Schramsberg, the second oldest winery in the Napa Valley, which my wife and I visited last year, is one of my very favorite sparkling wine producers.

I was nervous, I’ll admit it. We’d ordered vintage wines and I knew that a 37-year-old demi-sec was a gamble, no matter the pedigree. But then, I am often one to gamble, and I was playing with house money anyway. I wanted this wine to be good. I wanted that so badly. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long, because as usual, the sparkling was the first wine of the night.

Zach worked the cork out like he was defusing a bomb. The cage was beautiful, ornate, and perfectly preserved. I had intended to save it, but it disappeared after the party. No matter. With a towel over the top, he wiggled back and forth, first his fist around the cork, and then eventually his entire body, dancing to a motion that eventually seduced the cork from its 37-year holster with a crisp and familiar “pop”. Then it was my turn. Carefully, I poured the wine equally into seven glasses, working to ensure that every investor got their fair share of whatever was in each bottle. When I had finished, we raised our glasses together, smiled, and began to sip.

The smiles danced around the room, flashing from one person to another, as relief set in, then ecstasy. We were at first simply glad to discover that the wine was no spoiled in any way, and then we were all the more so enthused to find that it was actually quite good. “Oh wow,” someone finally said. Musty pears, the familiar if unintended scent of botrytis, hints of spice, caramel, hints of bread, and lots of what Ryan and I ultimately decided to call “rotten crab apple” — you know, the apples that sit untended at the base of the tree each fall, a pleasant scent that summons the autumn. The wine was unmistakably old; the bubbles had faded, but were not entirely gone. It was lighter in color than I expected for such age, and remained surprisingly light upon the palate. Most old white wines taste either of honey or vinegar in my experience. This one tasted like vintage Champagne.

If you read yesterday’s post, then you know that not all of my gambles are so rewarding, the ’79 Mondavi proving to be a dud for having been poorly stored. But sometimes, and in fact I would say often, gambles can pay off. There’s more of this wine available on K&L if you’re looking for it (www.klwines.com), and for the forty dollars or so, I say this one is certainly worth a try.




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