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The Last Bottle of a Great Wine

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Apr 23, 2007 9:44am ET

It was Saturday, and Nancy and I had spent the day cleaning out the vegetable garden from under a pile of dead leaves. We even took advantage of the early summer-like weather to sow a few rows of beets, beans and lettuce. By the end of the day, with the kids (finally) in bed, it was time to do some cooking. We'd marinated a pork loin overnight in a mixture of spices and stout, and then roasted it in the oven. While it was cooking, the aromas filled the house, and I knew instantly what wine I had to pull from the cellar.

It was my last bottle of 1994 Bodegas Alejandro Fernandez Ribera del Duero Pesquera Janus Reserva, which for me has always been one of Spain's greatest wines. I bought a half case of it for the then-haughty price of $60 a bottle way back in '97. It's always been an enormous wine, with powerfully rich layers of dark fruit and roasted beef. As it's aged, it's taken on bittersweet cocoa, mineral, braised chestnut and exotic, wild spice flavors—without losing an ounce of its power. Non-blind (and unofficially), it has always been 97 points for me.

Up until Saturday night, I had been forcing myself to try and forget about the last bottle off it sitting in my cellar. Every one of the first five bottles I had were so good, each one better than the last. I knew the last bottle would be the best yet, and I tried to hold off as long as I could. But when the smell of that roasted pork loin (and some truffle butter on the pasta side dish, of course) filled the kitchen, resistance became futile.

And am I glad I pulled it up. It was a blow away wine, just as I hoped it would be. As Nancy tried to guess it blind (a game we often play at dinner) she told me what it wasn't—it wasn't California, wasn't Bordeaux, wasn't Burgundy, wasn't Rhone and wasn't Italian. As usual she got close, but couldn't quite nail it. She loved it, though, which is all that mattered. It was also a perfect match with the food.

Sometimes it's tough to open that last bottle of a great wine in your cellar. But in the end, there are no regrets. The experience of drinking a great wine always outweighs the sadness of knowing there is none left.

So which last great bottle in your cellar are you holding off on drinking?

James Scoptur
WI —  April 23, 2007 4:15pm ET
Joseph Phelps Insignia 2001, Dom 1996, Vieux Telegraphe La Crau 2004 and Domaine du Caillou Les Quartz 2001
Jason Thompson
Foster City, CA —  April 23, 2007 4:25pm ET
2003 W.H. Smith Hellenthal Vineyard Pinot. I have two, but it will haunt me when I run out. Same with a number of wines (last bottle of 1996 E.J. Gallo Reserve, 1997 Lokoya Veeder, etc).
Kirk R Grant
Ellsworth, ME —  April 23, 2007 5:37pm ET
The wines that Im down to one bottle and torn when to open include 2003 Beaux Freres, 1995 Boisrenard, 2004 Caduceus Primer Paso & Nagual De La Naga (from guest blogger MJK's winery), 2002 El Bosque, and a bottle of 1996 Dom P. I recently opened my only bottle of 2001 Penfolds RWT...and it was the sort of wine that made me want to rush out and buy more. However at this point I am more interested in trying many different wines and focusing on a select few in my cellar to build verticals.
Scott Taylor
Highland Park, NJ —  April 23, 2007 7:55pm ET
Believe it or not, an Ahnfeldt 2003 Merlot (94 points). I only managed to get my hand on a few bottles of this inaugural wine, but the balance is terrific and the tannins are so silky.
Mark Antonio
Tokyo —  April 23, 2007 9:02pm ET
Cepparello '97, Quintessa '96, Figeac '05
Mark Antonio
Tokyo —  April 23, 2007 9:02pm ET
Cepparello '97, Quintessa '96, Figeac '95
Scott Mitchell
Toronto, Ontario —  April 23, 2007 11:10pm ET
'97 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Poggio all'Oro Riserva. Also have a '95 of the same that my wife and I will be having for our first anniversary in May and a '99 of the same that we're saving for our 5th anniversary.
Steven Aaron
New Jersey —  April 24, 2007 1:56am ET
James,Each year on the day we lost my father (too early at 42) , the late Sam J. Aaron, wine lover and author of the goundbreaking 1979 Guide to Vintage Wine¿ we open one of his 1976 Chateau d'Yquem, toast and and celebrate him. There are ony 2 left and his anniversary is next week...it will be sad once they are all gone, but his memory, and the memory of these special bottles that represent him so long after his passing, will always remain with us.
Ashley Potter
LA, —  April 24, 2007 6:51am ET
I only seriously got into wine a couple of years ago...and my wine cellar is new...so really, this answer is more predicated on what first bottles I'm holding off on drinking...'04 Beaucastel CdP,'04 Clos de Papes CdP,'04 Numanthia-Termes, Numanthia bottling. I cannot wait to enjoy the riches of these bottles!JAMES,WHEN ARE YOU VISITING SPAIN NEXT?
James Molesworth
April 24, 2007 9:21am ET
Ashley: You'll like those '04 CdPs in about 10 years.

As for Spain, I've actually never been - it's not my region (Tom Matthews covers it for us)...would love to go though!
James Molesworth
April 24, 2007 9:23am ET
Steve: Nice story...I like your style.
James Molesworth
April 24, 2007 9:26am ET
Kirk: No rush on that Boisrenard...the '95s are really strong...
Victor Perez
Utuado PR —  April 24, 2007 9:30am ET
Chateau St Jean Cinq Cepages 1997, Shafer Hillside Select 1997 and Sparr Pinot Gris SGN 1996.
Anacleto Ludovic
paris france  —  April 24, 2007 10:36am ET
james, ever heard of domaine de la grange des peres, languedoc roussillon aoc vin de pays? I ve tried it in 2000 and it was unbeliveble. please let me know your opinion on it.regards, ludovic
Neil Koffler
New York, NY —  April 24, 2007 10:46am ET
Still have one bottle of 1991 Heitz Martha's Vineyard from the three I bought at auction a while back. It's time to open it but I'm not sure when.Neil
James Molesworth
April 24, 2007 10:53am ET
Anacleto: The Vin de Pays de l'H¿ult is technically outside my area of expertise - Kim Marcus handles the Languedoc for us.

My 2 cents though - Domaine de la Grange des Peres produces a red that is typically a blend of Mourvedre, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Counoise, but varies depending on the vintage. I had one recently (the '02) that was underwhelming, but don't have much experience with the wine.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  April 24, 2007 2:19pm ET
Definitely the 2003 Macphail RRV Pinot Noir. Two bottles left, they're right at their peak and I know I need to drink them over the next 12 months. Sigh....
Edward Cauley
April 24, 2007 5:02pm ET
Paolo Scavino 1990 Barolo Cannubi, Paolo Scavino 1996 Barolo Rocche dell'Annunziata Riserva, Saxum 2003 Rocket Block James Berry Vineyard
A Graham Bailey
April 24, 2007 6:05pm ET
I have one 1982 Gruaud Larose (probably my first bottle bought to lay down many years ago), a '90 Cos and a 77 Taylor port. Getting itchy to try the Gruaud, so will be opening sometime this fall. Cos will be a keeper for a few more years, and the Port may be one to drink next year or the following. Any recommendations on these James?Thanks.
James Molesworth
April 24, 2007 6:11pm ET
AGB: '82s are a great drink now, that's for sure. And while the Taylor's is probably spot on these days, I'd hold off until the fall/winter, when the weather begs for a bottle of Port..
Wilson M Zildjian
April 24, 2007 9:21pm ET
Years ago I picked up about 2 1/2 cases of the 1994 and then the 1995 Beringer Knight's Valley Cabernet, one or two at a time at supermarkets, to fill in at the table while some of my more "collectible" wines aged in.... these have done so well, improving year in and year out, that I am still holding on to one or two of each. I had a '94 last October, and a '95 before Christmas, and they are still drinking wonderfully.....now I'm wondering about what I was thinking with those more pedigreed wines...
Alejandro Duclaud
Mexico City —  April 24, 2007 9:30pm ET
I have one magnum left of Pesquera Reserva JANUS 1994 ¿should I open it or wait? I also have one magnum left of Vega Sicilia UNICO 1968.
Lorenzo Erlic
victoria canada —  April 24, 2007 10:19pm ET
Alain Robert Blanc de Blanc 1982, one of the best champagnes ever.
Eric Swanson
Westlake —  April 24, 2007 10:57pm ET

First time responder here. Great blog, always interesting to see what people are waiting on in their cellar. Each bottle has a story and history.

From Europe, I have some lone bottles left --- 83 Dom Perignon (last had it a year ago and boy was it stellar), 90 Vega Sicilia Ribera del Duero "Unico" (never had, what do you think?), 97 Gaja Barbaresco and 96 Gaja Sperss (got both Gaja's in Rome). I have never drank a Gaja, is it worth the price??

From Napa, I have some single bottles of Pine Ridge left. 97 Pine Ridge Andrus Reserve and 96 Pine Ridge Epitome. Both have aged well, it sure will be tough to drink the last of each of those bottles. Finding the great bottle that is reasonably priced is always nice... have one bottle each left of the 97 Lewis Reserve, 97 Artesa, and 98 Invictus. I would think all three of those are at their prime, agree??

Thanks for the blog, always nice hearing your opinion.

James Molesworth
April 25, 2007 9:16am ET
Eric: Welcome aboard. The '90 Unico is a classic - maybe not the '70 or '68, but a classic for sure.

Is Gaja worth the money? If you have the money and like the wines, then yes...

I'd say those Cali wines are good to go - 10 years seem to be enough for them...
James Molesworth
April 25, 2007 9:18am ET
Alejandro: You'll have to make that decision yourself. But if you do open and need help drinking it, give me a call...

Seriously though, in magnum, and assuming proper storage, the wines could easily last another 5 to 10 years (even though it's awesome right now)...
John Williams
April 25, 2007 10:15am ET
Lone Madrone 2004 Syrah - I have 1 bottle and my Dad has 1 bottle - and mine is getting openned this weekend because my parents are coming into town. I'd love to let it age and see how it develops - but it's wayyyy too good now.
Kirk R Grant
Ellsworth, ME —  April 25, 2007 12:09pm ET
James, Is now too soon for the Boisrenard? When do you anticipate it will hit it's peak and for how long? I have very little experience with CdP. I've had an 01 Beaucastel in November 2005, a 98 Chante Cigale last week and the second day it was browner that I anticipated with heavy, almost rasiny scents; and about two months ago I had a 2001 Lan¿ P¿ & Fils Domaine de la Solitude and I just realized I only have one of those left too. My 2003's are patiently waiting in the cellar...but tonights meal is a fetta crusted chicken W/crustini mushrooms & soy ginger steak tips with pan seared broccoli...so I was thinking a CdP would offer a nice middle ground for the meat of the steak and the earthiness of the musrooms with the chicken. As an expert where would you go. My only other thought was Oregon Pinot Noir...Your thoughts would be great when you have the time...cheers, Kirk
James Molesworth
April 25, 2007 12:19pm ET
Kirk: It's not too early for the Boisrenard, but it is a big wine, so give it some air if you do serve it. Feta and soy might not be ideal for a CdP though...maybe an Italian wine would work - Sangiovese (Brunello).
Kirk R Grant
Ellsworth, ME —  April 25, 2007 1:59pm ET
Thanks...you are probably right with the italian wine idea. I appreciate the prompt response and will look forward to another day with the Boisrenard.
William Keene
North Carolina —  April 25, 2007 3:17pm ET
Hello Everyone. James - Great blog topic. I have really enjoyed reading everyone's comments.

I decided to get more serious about wine a couple of years ago, so I do not have too many wines that most would consider great. That being said, the wines I am holding off on are an '01 Lewis Cellars Reserve Cab (gift) and 2 '03 Domaine St. Prefert Charles Giraud CDPs. I love Isabel's wines and I am not too sure what to do with the St. Prefert (Drink one now and hold the other? Hold both?). Either way, I will be bummed when they are gone. As a result, I try to tell myself that there will always be great wines and that I should not worry about what bottles I won't have, but be excited about the good ones that will come.
James Molesworth
April 25, 2007 3:41pm ET
William: That's pretty much the same advice I give folks when they ask me what older vintages they should buy - I say never spend money trying to fill a hole in your cellar for an older vintage - there's always more good wine coming.
Trevor/38 On Central
April 25, 2007 4:45pm ET
Yum, it's hard to decise which of those sounds better. I'm a newer collector as well, and am thinking of pulling the cork on one of my last two Penfolds block 42 96's for my impending bachelor party, but can't decide if it's worth losing the wines potential. It's certainly a special occasion, but... Also anxious to try out the last DRC St. Vivant '96, but I'm thinking it needs time. James, is it to late or to early to open a '69 Leroy Mazis-Chambertin? My wedding seems a perfect occasion, and I've been waiting for an excuse, but I want a perfect wine. Advice?
James Molesworth
April 25, 2007 4:54pm ET
Trevor: I've had a few of the Leroy '69s and I've found them all good to go...your '96 DRC could probably use a little more time though...

My advice though - let your fiancee pick the wedding!
Paul Murray
La Canada, CA —  April 25, 2007 4:59pm ET
James, I am holding off on my '01 d'Yquem until I turn 100 (in 60 years). How's that for a long-term plan?!? Actually, I could only afford one bottle so that one will be my first and last!
Trevor/38 On Central
April 25, 2007 9:52pm ET
Yum, it's hard to decise which of those sounds better. I'm a newer collector as well, and am thinking of pulling the cork on one of my last two Penfolds block 42 96's for my impending bachelor party, but can't decide if it's worth losing the wines potential. It's certainly a special occasion, but... Also anxious to try out the last DRC St. Vivant '96, but I'm thinking it needs time. James, is it to late or to early to open a '69 Leroy Mazis-Chambertin? My wedding seems a perfect occasion, and I've been waiting for an excuse, but I want a perfect wine. Advice?
Alex Bernardo
Millbrae, CA —  April 26, 2007 2:22am ET
No doubt that was a great bottle of wine, but why'd you have to rush through that entire half-case? I drank the '82 Janus a few months ago and it was just drinking perfectly, with bags of life ahead.
James Molesworth
April 26, 2007 7:05am ET
Alex: 6 bottles in 10 years is a 'rush'? I won't tell you about the other wines I've blown through then ;-)...
Anacleto Ludovic
paris france  —  April 26, 2007 10:25am ET
Yquem 83, jaboulet hermitage la chapelle 47 and from my hometown le mesnil sur oger, salon 1989.......and recently a bottle of clos apalta 03..... wow wine!Saludos , Ludovic
Cameron Stirling
April 26, 2007 11:49am ET
James, I have one 96 Pesquera Crianza left, wondering if its good to go. Also, I have been very impressed with the '01. Would you or Tom have any comments on that one and the drinking window. Finally, congrats on the 1 year blog anniversary. You are doing a great job, its the first one I read when I log on.
Tom Fiorillo
Denver, CO —  April 26, 2007 1:28pm ET
'94 Arrowood Reserve Speciale, a mini-vertical of '94-'97 BV Georges de Latour (pre-TCA, hopefully), '89 Lynch Bages and a '94 Rosemount Balmoral. Mmmm, I think it's time to grill some steaks!
James Molesworth
April 27, 2007 11:00am ET
Cameron: To be honest, I found Pesquera began to take a step back starting in '96, with some pretty angular tannins. I haven't had the wines recently, but maybe Tom will chime in with his thoughts, since he tastes them more often than I do...
David A Zajac
April 27, 2007 1:07pm ET
Great topic, love the responses, definately fun seeing what others are doing. I am holding off on my Hermitages, especially my Chave's. I find them so much more complex with about 10 years of bottle age, skipped the 02's but have all the others between 96 and 04 in cellar now, can't wait! As for Tom of Denver's comment on 89 Lynch, my suggestion is hold off. Maybe its me but I don't think so, I have had the 89 Lynch and Pichon Baron and Lalande in the past 3 months or so and found all to be wanting right now. Have had these wines numberous times in the past, not bad bottles but not really open right now - I am a little surprised but would hold off on any left bank 89's for a few years - my thoughts only! Any one else on the '89 Bordeaux (not including St. E or Pomerol, they are drinking great!)?
Lee R Barczak
Milwaukee —  April 27, 2007 3:37pm ET
James I have one bottle of Clos du Mont-Olivet Ch¿auneuf-du-Pape 2003 in my cellar. The recommended window is 07-20. Any more specific ideas? I am new to CDP and was looking for a pro opinion on when that will be at its peak? Thanks for the info, love the blog.
James Molesworth
April 27, 2007 3:48pm ET
Lee: I generally find most CdPs hit their peak 10-15 years from vintage date...
Tom Fiorillo
Denver, CO —  April 27, 2007 3:58pm ET
Thanks for the comment David, I will definitely hold on to my '89s from Pauillac a little while longer. I suppose that means I'll have to drink mid-90s Cali cabs this summer...oh the humanity.
Scott Patrick
Ontario, CAN —  April 28, 2007 8:44am ET
1989 Petrus, 1989 & 90 Beaucastel, 1993 Eileen Hardy, a bunch of 97 single vineyard Chianti's.James, I enjoy your interviewing style and the manner in which you draw out information from the various winemakers you sit down with. Keep up the great work.
Beirne Brown
FLORIDA —  April 29, 2007 11:17am ET
97 Luce, 96 Insignia, 97 Flora Springs Trilogy, 03 Schrader Fuccawee

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