The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

How’s the 1929 Château Capbern Drinking?

Posted on | November 25, 2009 | Written by Christy Canterbury | No Comments

Dinner at New York restaurant Daniel isn’t the hardest Friday night I’ve had to suffer through, especially when I’m spending it eating beautiful food and drinking lovely wines with friends.  Such was my fine fortune last weekend and the wine de résistance was a 1929 Château Capbern.  Château Capbern, you might ask?  Mais, oui!

I hadn’t heard of the wine, but happily two of my friends—one a founder of Gourmet Garage and one an esteemed wine writer—have long trusted their taste buds and discovered this estate’s wines back in the 1970s at the tasting of a trusted merchant.  They lovingly cellared a cache of a variety of the chateau’s vintages that they purchased at the time.  Château Capbern-Gasqueton, they informed me, is a St. Estèphe Cru Bourgeois nestled in the appellation better known for châteaux Cos d’Estournel and Montrose, as well as the more widely-recognized Crus Bourgeois like Phélan-Ségur and Haut-Marbuzet.

Delighted to be invited to partake, I still had to hide my surprise that my host was brimming with confidence about how the wine would show.  I had only tasted one other 1929 Médoc, and it looked and tasted like mud.  In actuality, the wine seemed like nasty joke on terroir, literally “involving the soil.”  So as we sat to eat an elegant meal in the honor and company of this supposed treasure, I tried to bury the memory of this prior disappointment, hoping the wine in the silver-gilded, basket-woven cradle wouldn’t produce similar heartbreak.

Then it was time to uncork the bottle. I held my breath and crossed my fingers.

Formidable! The 1929 Capbern vibrantly perfumed the glass and its seamless structure coated our palates. The wine enchanted the entire table.  My friend, John, who had co-purchased the wine, marveled, “How in the world can a plain old Médoc stun us like this…80 years on?”  And another companion replied, “It’s wine…miracles happen.”

Knowing as I do that now is a time of great worry over the provenance of the world’s best wines, I admit I couldn’t completely check my incredulity. This bottle was a “simple” wine that most of us probably wouldn’t touch ten years out of vintage today, much less eighty.   And yet I was delighted. I am someone who goes to great lengths on a daily basis to ensure the provenance of our wines and to have the luxury of simply sitting back and savoring a wine made in 1929, the end of the Roaring Twenties and the year of the great Wall Street crash that lead to the Great Depression, was an invaluable experience.

Moreover, one sip and I was blessed with not just history but a gorgeous moment rich with a reminder of why wine is such a mystical treasure.


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