222 Years of Wine

You know it’s a good day, my friend Anthony Maffei said as we were getting up from the table, when the wine you drink at lunch is worth more than your car. And while our bottles at lunch this past Friday, celebrating the 35th anniversary of Scot “Zippy” Ziskind’s ZipCo Environmental Services and My Cellar wine storage company, may not have been worth more than my car, they certainly would have taken care of several payments, at least through the spring.
This is how things go when you’re fortunate enough to have a meal with Ziskind: His everyday wines would be very-special-occasion bottles for most wine-lovers. Knowing this beforehand, I spent that morning eating and drinking as blandly as I could--no coffee, no OJ, no Sriracha on my eggs at breakfast. Good thing I was careful: The wines he brought to lunch were remarkable. My tasting notes are below.
Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon “Martha’s Vineyard” 1976 (Magnum)
Fully evolved--what would best be described as a mature claret style: Aromas of leather, dried black fruits, and well-aged cigar tobacco lead to a palate that, with air, opens up to reveal dried currants, minerals, cocoa, porcini powder, and cedar. Drink now, or forever hold your peace.
Chateau Gruaud Larose 1982
The vivid color of this 30-year-old St.-Julien would lead you to believe it’s much younger than that. On the nose and palate, however, its age--and the character of that legendary vintage--sing through with beguiling clarity: Red fruits and mushrooms are perfumed and virtually dance above the glass. They’re joined by softly plummy spice cake, sandalwood, charred spearmint, scorched earth, and cinnamon. It’s all very complex and subtle--a wine heading toward the end of its peak years, and utterly beautiful right now. If you have a bottle, drink it now.
Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 1994
If I were to taste this blind, I’d never guess it was 18 years old: Cherry compote and thyme mingle with creamed leeks notes, these lending freshness and lift to the otherwise sappy, concentrated red fruits here. This is a great food wine for a chilly night. Drink now - 2023.
Chateau d’Issan 1996
A tale of two wines, one masculine and the other feminine. There’s a bacon-like heft to the nose that somehow, and seamlessly, turns to feminine, beautifully filigreed red fruits on the palate. Oak spice ties it all together, and a line of fresh oregano lends the Cabernet here that inimitable Bordeaux character. It was fascinating to taste this alongside the Cakebread: The two of these wines really embody the different stylistic expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon on both sides of the Atlantic.
D’Oliveiras Reserva Verdelho Madeira 1890
In 1890, Cy Young pitched (and won) his first baseball game. Yosemite National Park was founded. Ellis Island opened. So to have the opportunity to enjoy a sip of this wine--much less an entire glass--was humbling, to grossly understate it. And as fans of great old Madeira know to expect, it was remarkable, a wine with more layers than an onion. Aromatically, it found its footing in the toffee - honey - nutty end of the spectrum. (It reminded one guest of a Bit-O-Honey candy, which was a dead-on comparison.) Once I took a sip, however, it really unfolded, revealing cherry-flavored honey, candied fennel seeds, Indian and North African spices, Marcona almonds, brown butter, and spiced pralines, all of it carried on a texture like slippery silk. A wine this good more than justifies the 122-year wait.