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  • Vintages Past January 17, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Modern , trackback

    There is a beautiful scene in the junky teen fantasy Highlander (1986) where Connor (the decapitator) opens a bottle of eighteenth-century brandy in late twentieth century New York.

    ‘1783’  states our hero ‘was a very good year. Mozart wrote his Great Mass. The Montgolfier brothers went up in the first hot-air balloon. And England recognized the independence of the United States.’

    Personally Beachcombing gets excited when he drinks a 2009 bottle to think that he is taking into his body the juices of three seasons past. But imagine drinking a vintage from 1950, or 1850 or, yes, 1783! Those grapes were picked by men and women who are now dust beneath our feet…

    Such aren’t the moments when history come alive. They are the moments when history lays its long clammy hands on our shoulders and says ‘you’re next’!

    Of course, it does not fall to everyone to be able to sample two or three hundred year old bottles of wine and experience this rare transcendence. But some have been so lucky. Trimalchio’s feast has a hundred year old vintage – though part of the joke seems to be that it is not particularly good – and Beach has previously in this place celebrated a 120 year old bottle of Polish wine that was opened in 1918 to celebrate Poland’s renewed nationhood.

    But there have been older drinking experiences (outside of Hollywood films) particularly when wine has been isolated in the bulks of wrecked ships in cold seas. For example in June 2011 some 150 year old wine was found on a civil war era ship that had gone down in 1864 near Bermuda. In 2010 some champagne was discovered at the bottom of the Baltic and allegedly tasted pretty good.

    Then if you really want blood poisoning last August some 2000 year old wine was found in a ship off the Albanian coast. Actually Beach jests: the stoppers had rotted away and sea water had got in: there was no Roman wine to talk of… just an interesting coloured salt-water.

    If you can’t afford the old bottles you can at least buy recreations. Beach has been wanting for years to find some way around custom restrictions and import a bottle of Tutankhamen Ale, recreated using the molecular traces of beer found in an ancient Egyptian temple kitchen. And ditto for Stone Age beer, disgusting by all accounts.

    But what really got Beach thinking about this was an email from Larry this morning about an eccentric Englishman – hardly a rare occurrence we know – who has decided to make the world’s oldest wine from scratch.

    An Englishman working in Chile has launched what is believed to be the first wine aged with a meteorite formed during the birth of the solar system. Norwich-born Ian Hutcheon has released a Cabernet Sauvignon called Meteorito [!], aged with a 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite from the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter.

    Any other ancient vintages: preferably drinkable ones? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com


    18/01/2012: WKJ writes in ‘It’s fictional and not drinkable, but your post on vintage wine sent me back to reading “a vintage from Atlantis” by Clark Ashton Smith. (which is online, Eldritch Dark website I think). Thanks WKJ!

    21/01/12: Next up is Andy the Mad Monk ‘This is a quote from the book The Blandys of Madeira: 1811 – 2011 by Marcus Binney.  Churchill visited Madeira in 1950 and was royally entertained: Graham Blandy describes how towards the end of dinner Churchill ‘asked me what was the best Madeira on the list, to which I replied I believed that it was the 1792 Blandy Solera’. When it arrived at the table Churchill said, ‘I must do honour to this,’ and stood up, put his napkin over his elbow and poured the wine for each of his guests.  Then he sat down and talked of the year 1792, three years after the French Revolution, when Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were still alive.  The bottle came from a pipe (105 gallons) taken on board HMS Northumberland as it sailed south carrying Napoleon to exile in St. Helena.  The Emperor had not drunk the wine and, as it had never been paid for, the pipe returned to Madeira. And this might tickle your fancy on ale from Edward VIII’s coronation.  And on Sumerian beer. Adrian Sterling, meanwhile, from the Anomalist writes in with some ancient recipes or as he puts it ‘Who needs to import when you can make it at home and thumb your nose at customs? You can make a batch then have your friends over to watch Arsenal kick some Manchester butt while loudly musing ‘I can’t believe they DRANK this stuff.’ Inimitable! Thanks Adrian and Andy!

    3/Feb/2012: And here is Andy at it again with a past beer recipe. Thanks Andy!