The Care and Feeding of Dashed Hopes
The disappointment of imperfection and dashed hopes can be the worst kind, particularly when your expectations were set inappropriately high.
I’m not a big fan of dashed hopes and don’t often take take it well when shown this kind of disappointment can occur.
Sometimes it happens in life, sometimes in wine. Among the most recent set of dashed hopes I’ve had to cope with was the disintegration of a set of wines I expected to find great joy from, but discovered, upon opening them, that they had died. And it didn’t look like a good death they suffered.
Opening my 1976, 1977 and 1978 Stony Hill Chardonnay I had great hopes for that caramelized, apricot, nutty character I love so much in old white wine. To look at them they seemed fine. Golden colored, crystal clear. Magnificent looking 30 year old CA Chard.
They were undrinkable.
I don’t know if I killed them or not, but I’m going assume just for the sake of my own peace of mind that I didn’t (though it is a real possibility). They had been kept in a friend’s temperature controlled, bonded garage for about 8 years since they were purchased at auction. It is possible that sustained heat may have overtaken their place of rest. Maybe it was just their natural reaction to my own neglect of their care and feeding. I’d not looked at them since I purchased them and placed them in storage.
Their nose was sour, acrid and oxidized in the extreme. I did sip each one, but really only out of sympathy and because they deserved and earned it.
I had planned to spend a great deal of time with these friends. I wanted to look at them, spend time with their aromas, dissect the vintage variation, and slowly down them in moderation while thinking back on 1976, 1977 and 1978. Their condition made it nearly impossible for me to extract a single memory of those years. I think disappointment distracts the memory.
I really don’t know if I want to invest the time and energy into these kind of relationships in the future. It’s not the first time I’ve been disappointed and suffered though dashed expectations. But the more it happens the less willing I am to invest the remaining cache of hope that’s still above water. It seems easier to invest in short term frolics where no expectations is the name of the game.
I’m tempted to pull out the remaining 25 or so Stony Hills in the collection and start uncorking. I just can’t bring myself to do it right now. I want the disappointment to dissipate first.
the wines could have been ruined before you bought them. Eight years ago, they were still more than 20 years old. Did you know the provenance when you purchased the wines?
I have a ’72 Chardonnay made by Stony Hill, but the grapes were from a grower and Fred decided not to bottle it as SH and it was sold as a Corti Bros. special label at about $1.50 a bottle. I drank a few of them, but the wine had 55 free SO2. Having consumed at that time some 1945 White Burgundy that had been bottled with similar levels of SO2 I kept a bottle to see how it would age. Then about 20 years ago I put it in storage with a bunch of whites that I wanted to slow down at 35 – 40 degrees. The wine is light in color with little ullage. I think it will be spectacular. Someday, if I remember, I’ll share it with Corti.
Over my almost 30 years of wine drinking, I have gotten away from cellaring wines for a long time, and from buying wines that need long-term cellaring. The disappointment of waiting too long — even if the wine isn’t undrinkable but merely a little past its peak — is, for me personally, too acute and unpleasant. As a general rule, I’d much rather drink a wine a little too young than a little too old.
Sorry to hear that – I wonder what happened. 🙁
It is a great, truly great, wine, that can withstand time. That’s why there are premier crus and first growths, and famous German Rieslings. California has produced wines on that level, but they defy prediction. I have talked to a lot of growers, and I have been fortunate to have tasted a lot of good Napa wines of a certain age. Napa reds, the good ones, max out at ten years. Whites, if you like the caramel and candy character, can last as long. I have had some wines twenty and thirty years old, from Napa, that were still fabulous. They were the exception. I have tasted a lot of older wines from respected producers, and they are leathery, dusty, and thin, with maybe some floral aromatics. There’s a reason that the great wines of the world have the reputation and price that they do. There aren’t many of them. Be realistic. Stony Hill makes world class, balanced, nuanced, special wine that speaks of a place. Isn’t that enough? How will you taste when you’re 70, 80, 90 years old?
Well that just sounds like the disappointment of any long-term relationship. And, as is the rule when you get knocked down, quit your belly aching and get up again. There’s plenty of great wine out there.
I have to be honest with you: my heart sank just a little bit after reading this post.
This should be made into a short film and be at the Sundance Festival.
Did you know the provenance when you purchased the wines?