Rod Byers: When I’m 21
January 2, 2018
Some stories develop quickly, some take years to mature. This is one of the slow ones. I have been holding on to this story, and the wines involved, for 18 years.
Rico Morisi is a true wine guy, having worked in the business for over 20 years. I first met him back in the day when I was out on the street selling wine for Nevada City Winery and he was buying wine for one of the Sacramento Cost Plus stores.
He was a big supporter of Sierra Foothill wines in general and Nevada City Winery in particular. In those simpler times, I could take my bag of samples into the back room, do a tasting, get an order, deliver the wine, and build a case stack, all in the same day, with a minimum of paper work.
Morisi had no particular interest in wine when he started at Cost Plus in 1995. When his boss discovered he was knowledgeable about craft beer he brought him over to work in the store's wine department. You can guess how this next part goes, ducks to water, Rico was bitten.
When I met him he was voracious about all things wine. He spent all his time either working the wine aisle at Cost Plus or visiting wineries and going to tastings on his days off.
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Nevada City Winery is a very hands-on winery. In those days, before the building expansion, everything happened in plain view like a restaurant with an open kitchen. The Tasting Room was in the cellar. Crushing was done outside in the back and racking was done outside on Spring Street. The inner workings were outside.
Naturally, having such open access was appealing to Rico and the Winery was one of the places he liked to visit. In the fall of 1996 he arranged to come for a day during harvest to crush grapes.
It had already been an eventful summer for Morisi. That July he became a new father to a baby boy, Nicolas.
Somewhere during the next couple of years, Morisi learned of the custom of laying down wine from a child's birth year to consume later on their twenty first birthday. He remembered that 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon he had helped crush.
Now a few years later, it was developing into a beautiful wine that had just won a Double Gold medal at the California State Fair. What better wine to lay down for his young son than a wine he had helped crush?
There is a surprising interest in specifically dated wines commemorating birth years or anniversaries. The custom dates back to the eighteenth century when British aristocrats would give a pipe (about 61 cases) of Port to newborns to drink in 20 years when both the newborn and the Port were ready. Eventually the tradition expanded beyond port to red wines, typically top growth Bordeaux.
It is often easier to find wines from better vintages than lesser ones. Collectors understand that values for the best vintages will continue to rise while wines from the worst vintages are seldom saved, and over time, become difficult to find.
Take my birth year for example, where the wines of Bordeaux were said to have been bad the day they were bottled and went downhill from there. Bordeaux Wine Locators (www.bordeauxwinelocators.com) who specialize in old and rare wines don't stock any from that vintage.
Which wines are most likely to survive the 21-year trip? Wine longevity requires the right combination of superior fruit, good natural acidity, and nicely wound tannins. Port, Red Bordeaux, Red Burgundy, Barolo and Brunello all have well established track records of quality and longevity. German Rieslings and French Sauternes are also known for their ability to develop for decades.
To reach into the past, go to Fine+Rare Wines, (http://www.frw.co.uk). With over 70,000 wines in their data base they offer a remarkable selection of older vintages. When my father turns 100 in 2024 we can celebrate with a bottle of 1924 Margaux ($1,325.00) or a 1924 Taylor Port ($960.00).
Assuming, like Morisi, that you already have the plan in place, it is easiest to buy the wines when they are in the market place during their period of natural release. The further you get from that, the fewer the choices and the higher the prices.
That is where I come back into the story. Not everybody has a conveniently good place to stash wine for two decades. When Morisi announced his intentions, Nevada City Winery winemaker Mark Foster bottled up two magnums of the 1996 Director's Reserve Cabernet. I was entrusted with their safe keeping, taking them home and tucking them in the darkest, most inaccessible corner of my cellar.
Truth is I sort of forgot about them until a recent bolt of memory brought them to life. 1996, plus 21, wait, that's 2017. Suddenly it dawned on me, this is the year.
I searched for the bottles, trying to remember where I put them. The labels were a mess, looking more like they were 121 years old. The bottles, while dirty, looked great, with terrific fill levels and solid corks.
I carefully removed the labels, washed the bottles, re-glued the same labels, and had Mark Foster sign the bottles. It's 21 years later. Congratulations Nicolas. Now it's your turn.
Rod Byers, CWE, is a Certified Wine Educator and wine writer as well as a California State Certified Wine Judge. He is the host of the local television show Wine Talk On TV. You can find information about his wine classes at http://www.pinehillwineworks.com and he can be reached at 530-802-7172.
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