• Simon Reilly

A couple of wines from the 1990's and other tales of a misspent youth


“Sign of a misspent youth”, a phrase heard most often as someone pots the black to win an unlikely game of pool in the pub. I spent a large part of the 1990s in various Aberdeenshire pubs playing pool and drinking lager. It was a lot of fun, and my pool skills to this day are not too shabby, depending on how many drinks I have had.

However, at times, I do look back and wonder what might have been. I generally have no regrets in life, but when I meet people who tell me they were members of their university wine-tasting club I do wonder how I managed to miss the memo on this when I was a student. Surely I could have spared an hour or two a week from the pool playing and lager swilling to drink wine.

I began to think about my misspent youth after drinking two wines from the 1990s over the last couple of months, both of which were made when I was in my second and third years of university. I think if I had tasted them back when I was student at the Aberdeen University wine tasting club, Wineloon would have started a lot sooner – although I accept that the technology would have made a wine blog a bit challenging back then!

Anyway, here are the notes from the wines that got me thinking what could have been. Both highly recommended.

Barbacarlo, Oltrepo Pavese, Lombardia, 1996

A blend of Croatina, Uva Rara and Ughetta grapes from 100 year old vines, planted on steep slopes 300 metres above sea level. The bottle defines old school. It has a long thin neck and the vintage label is glued on slightly squint. I think it is safe to say this was labelled by hand, probably by the man who made the wine!

The wine in glass was browny red in colour, slightly cloudy with a light rim. It had a sweet, nutty, porty nose with floral aromas and a bit of herbs, maybe thyme. Initially a slight fizz on the tongue, which I love, but normally experience with a young Beaujolais, rather than a twenty year old wine. This gives the wine great energy and freshness. It feels light and balanced but is full of flavours of cherries and plums. There is glorious sweetness on the palate and firm tannins and acidity on the finish. The long finish lingers for minutes, with cinnamon and violets in evidence. I had read reviews suggesting decanting to allow the fizz to dissipate but I didn’t decant as I found the fizz gave it extra energy and vigour and added to the whole enjoyment of the wine. A stunning wine.

I paid £27 in bond, equivalent to just under £35 on the table. It may sound expensive but for a twenty year old wine that is so unique, interesting and downright delicious I think this is great value.

Kalin Cellars, Livermore Chardonnay, California, 1995

I don’t drink much Amercian wine. I find it expensive and have had too many big, jammy alcoholic monsters to get too excited about it. I met an American wine writer at a wine function recently who I asked for any tips for an American wine that I should try that wasn’t a jammy monster. He suggested I look out for an oak aged Sauvignon Blanc by Kalin Cellars. I have not been able to get hold of the SB but when I saw this Kalin Chardonnay offered by Blast Vintners I decided to pick up a few bottles.

Kalin Cellars it turns out are actually a bit of a cult wine-making institution in California with a wine club membership who buy most of the wine produced on allocation, so it is quite rare for parcels to become available to punters like you and I. They specialise in aging their wines in oak and holding the wine in bottle for many years before releasing them when they deem them to be at their peak. This 1995 was only released in 2015.

I had some corkscrew issue with this, pulling the cork except for the last half centimetre or so which broke off and stuck in the neck. I ended up forcing it down into the bottle and decanting the wine, to remove it from the cork. This ended up being a blessing as the wine really benefitted from the oxygen it got in the decanter. My wife and I enjoyed it over a period of at least 2 hours, possibly more and to the last drop it tasted devine, developing complexity with each sip.

The wine was yellowy orange in colour, with a really rich, sweet, nutty, buttery nose. On the palate it was rich and unctuous, but with an austere almost sherry-like quality underpinning, which balanced the richness perfectly. This led to a long, honey nut cornflake finish. An absolutely delicious and though provoking wine. At 22 years old, this still has a long life ahead. Get hold of it if you can.

I paid £20 in bond, or £26.50 on the table. Brilliant value, given the price of white Burgundy now.

I bought both wines from Blast Vintners, specialists in sourcing and selling parcels of mature wines and cult classics. Blast is Joe Gilmour, who not only writes a very entertaining blog on the Blast website, which is also worth checking out, but also writes with great passion and enthusiasm on the wines he sells in his regular emails to the mailing list.

Suffice to say, I recommend getting on the mailing list, details at www.blastvintners.com.


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