Grapevine: An Anecdotal Tale of Life Passages and Maturation

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

Fine wine has a life cycle similar to human development, starting out awkwardly, then beginning to mature and develop unique characteristics, ultimately reaching full maturity and peaking in sophistication and complexity.

A number of years ago, I set a goal to try to better understand the progression of fine wine over its life, which is typically measured in decades rather than years.

This opportunity materialized during a period of my professional life when I was negotiating financial transactions with investment bankers who enjoyed large expense accounts, primed for late night dinners at high-end New York restaurants, many with impressive wine lists.

My experiment to select a fine wine began with research. My criteria were simple: a recently released, age-worthy wine I could experiment with over several decades, at a price I could afford (the largesse of my dinner hosts might not last forever – and didn’t). After much experimenting I made my decision: a French Bordeaux.

These wines are built to last; winemakers craft them with blends of grapes that have complementary qualities. The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon for its complexity and tannins, which provide backbone and structure for long-term aging; Merlot for its fruit-forwardness; Cabernet Franc for its acidity, adding brightness to the blend; a touch of Petit Verdot and/or Malbec for finessing the qualities of the first three grapes.

With the region settled on, I now faced the next challenge: which of the more than seven thousand Bordeaux wineries to select? Of course, I had a built-in laboratory: the wine lists of high-end restaurants and the credit card of my hosts. After extensive field research I found my wine, the Second Growth 1989 Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron.

My rationale: 1) the 1989 Bordeaux had just been released (this was mid-1992) amidst high acclaim; 2) although the top wines (First Growths) were very expensive, the Second Growths were more reasonably priced; 3) previous vintages of Baron were known to be extremely age-worthy; and 4) the topper: the winery was smack in the middle of those higher priced First Growth wineries, receiving similar high ratings.

On to the experiment.

For the first eight years after its release, I enjoyed the Baron on several occasions at restaurants and took copious notes of my impressions. However, as an insurance policy I purchased a case upon release in 1992 and cellared it.

My (very) condensed tasting notes: 1992: the Baron was still sleeping; no distinctive aromas or flavors. 1994: beginning to wake up and develop a distinct personality; big tannins and high acidity, awkward; missing a balance of fruit and acid. 1995: opened a cellared bottle; at age six it was beginning to show signs of maturity – more fruit, tannins becoming more subtle; very enjoyable. 1997: slowly progressing; very drinkable with much potential to improve. 1999: for its tenth birthday I opened another cellared bottle; the Baron is still maturing; exceptional complexity with a pleasing balance of fruit, tannins and acid. Fast forward to 2004: fifteenth birthday; from the cellar; very precocious but struggling with its balance; a step backwards; reminds me of a teenager with raging hormones. What will the future hold? 2009: twentieth birthday; with much trepidation, I go to the cellar; my patience and perseverance pay off; both the teenager and the wine have matured well at this age; I don’t recognize it at first; it’s matured substantially since last tasted: full fruit up front, mid-range acidity and a velvety finish; wow.

My next tasting is slated for 2014, but I’ve decided to abandon my five year cellar forays. I’m confident the Baron is still not at its peak; I’m ready to share my pride and joy with family and friends each year. I have eight bottles left; the final bottles will be uncorked on the Baron’s thirtieth birthday. Just as I enjoyed my children as they progressed through their life passages, nurturing the Baron has also been rewarding. I’m confident it won’t disappoint.

Nick Antonaccio is a 35-year Pleasantville resident. For over 15 years he has conducted numerous wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine

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