One of the pleasures of having a partly disorganised cellar is that of finding a forgotten bottle, well aged and of unpredictable quality. I usually open these with other bottles available, as a failsafe and – in general – the successes outnumber the failures about 3 to 1. Usually the success is beguiling and unsuspected depths that age confers, sometimes on the most unpromising bottles.

However I was surprised when I found a cache of mid-1990s White Burgundies squirrelled away where I wasn’t expecting them. They weren’t major appellations: St Amour, Santenay… and were either village or generic 1er Cru wines. I would have certainly drunk them when 5 years old at most if I had been paying attention, certainly with the problems with oxidation during the 90s and early 2000s affecting so many bottles.

I opened all four on two different occasions and found mixed results…

The first was so oxidised and astringent it went straight down the sink. The third, which was actually the oldest, had some oxidation and sherry/apple notes, but most importantly had lost all fruit, I used it like a cooking sherry to deglaze a pan for a sauce base. Two losses!

The second, a Santenay, also had sherry and apple notes, but the acidity was still contained, although the citrus had become a little bitter. However in compensation it had developed a slightly salty toffee nose and a nutty palate with still some vaguely over-ripe peach fruit. It was interesting and much longer on the palate than you’d have expected of the wine when still young, but a little dull – a draw!

The last was the win. It was a Saint-Aubin 1er Cru (Verget) 1997, and showed only a little more golden than straw colour. It had initial bottle stink (no doubt the sulphur being the trade off against oxidation) and only the slightest apply hint, also there was citrus, caramel and a melon fruit elements. The palate had lemon and lemon zest, a vaguely quince fruit and caramel and nutty flavours, balanced, long lasting and with a slightly chalky finish, it was lovely and accompanied a monkfish dish with a herby bitter/sweet vermouth sauce perfectly… A big win!

So… is the gamble of keeping medium value white Burgundy for 17 years worth it? The answer has to be no, and I would never have done it on purpose. The standard for these sorts of wines is probably 3 – 5 years, but a gamble on 8 – 10 might be worth it. With only half the age I expect the Verget wine would have been just as good, perhaps also the Santenay would still have had the secondary flavours and still some fruit and brightness left, and the other two might have been at least drinkable.

However we never really know, the more oxidised wines might have been oxidised at 5 years old and the Santanay always a bit dull…

Perhaps the moral is – keep better track in the cellar!

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