February 28, 2006

Imagine finding a bottle of 1943 Dom Perignon in your house

The Oregonian's Margie Boule, not a wine writer, wrote a column the other day about a local woman who found a bottle of 1943 Dom Perignon Champagne in her grandfather's old house. What a mystery - the grandparents didn't drink and no one knows how the bottle ended up tucked away in an odd corner of a kitchen cupboard, undisturbed for years.

But really, what a peculiar column exemplifying the nonsense even wine "experts" will toss out to the unsuspecting.

The woman who found the bottle claims to be a restaurant industry veteran with experience running a number of wine lists. Yet she clearly doesn't seem to know much about wine, which may say something about many of the folks out there putting together restaurant wine lists. At least she knows that Dom is "relatively expensive."

First, there's her suggestion that maybe the wine was purchased in 1943, her grandparents' wedding year. After all, her grandfather worked for the Piggly Wiggly. Never mind that the grapes weren't even harvested until fall that year. Sort of like Boule writing this column prior to its publishing date, the wine was made long before it was released to public.

Boule obviously had to dig deeper to solve the mystery, so she called on wine writers Don and Petie Kladstrup for more information. Based on what they said, I can only wonder how little they know or how badly Boule misunderstood what they said.

They say its surprising to find a bottle of this wine in the US at all, given that the Germans were known to plunder many vinous treasures of the day. The French answered by hiding as much of the good stuff as possible behind hastily constructed walls in their cellars. That is true, but the '43s? Maybe while in production, but the treasures the Germans wanted were finished wines. In the article, the Kladstrups reportedly say the French gave them the lesser wines from the '30s instead, but not because the '43s were so special. The '43s nary had a sparkle before D-Day.

But the Kladstrups continue. There's surprise the bottle doesn't bear the embelem of the Wehrmarkt. Maybe that's because the bottles that came to the US bearing the emblem of the sole US importer, Schieffelin and Co. I know, I have a bottle that's left over from a stash my great uncle purchased here in the good old USA.

And the Kladstrups seem giddy at the thought of getting a taste of such historic wine. Stored in a pantry upright for decades. Sounds to me like a recipe for bad vinegar. Am I alone in not wishing such drinks on my worst enemies?

Happily, Boule professionally skates through it all with a few subtle but key hints that the experts don't seem too expert. Still, the story ends with the inital woman still wondering whether to drink it.

For god's sake, just keep it as a relic. It is history in a bottle. But put it in your glass and you'll be sorry. Go out and get a bottle of the '96 Dom instead. I haven't had it, but apparently it ain't half bad.


Anonymous said...

great column--one thing though, per matt kraner's biij "making sense of wine" there is evidence that a champagne cook will keep longer stored upright then when stored with the cork wetted. the cork is less apt to become saturated and lose its resiliency if it's not "submerged".

Marshall Mannning said...

Why not try it, though? Sure, it's probably toasted, but you'll still have the bottle as a keepsake if that's all you want it for. Is an unopened bottle any more valuable as a keepsake than an opened one?

Vincent Fritzsche said...

I hadn't heard about keeping Champagne stored upright, but if Matt Kramer says so, that's fairly good enough for me. Hard to imagine that's true though. Either way, Champagne is notoriously fragile in the cellar.

Why not try it? Well, I had two bottles, so I did try one. But it was horrible and hardly worth opening. Personally, if I have an old wine I know is no good but I want to hold on to the bottle, I'd keep it unopened just for the sake of history. You can always open it, it's not like you have to take a vow to never open it.

While the Kladstrups might want a taste of this lady's '43 Dom, I'd rather sample high quality dog food than try a 63 year old Champagne stored in a kitchen pantry for decades. Think of all those decades of warm summer days...yeech.

Marshall Mannning said...

How many times have you "known" a wine was going to be shot and actually found it interesting, or even really good? '59 Inglenook Charbono anyone?

But have some Purina One if you like, it's probably better for your coat!

Anonymous said...

I heard that Dom 96 WAS half bad: half good, half bad in fact, with considerable bottle variation.

Unknown said...

I also have a 1943 bottle and it was imported by Schieffelin and Co. of New York. I am keeping the "relic" as it was the year I was born! Maybe when we reach one hundred I will use it for cooking.