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January 27, 2010


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Great story.

I was one of the lucky few who got to taste this wine on Saturday. As I told Evan at the time, even if it had turned to vinegar, it still would have been one of the more amazing wines I'd tasted.

Of course, when the cork was removed and Evan started pouring it into our glasses, we were STUNNED at how youthful it looked. And of of course none of us could believe how it smelled or tasted either.

With the still-tart acidity, we wondered aloud how drinkable it may have been when it was released, but who cares? It was a great tasting experience. Thanks for sharing, Evan.

Great piece! This is what it's all about. Love how bottled wines leaving the winery is akin to a great diaspora...you never know where an old bottle like this one is ever going to pop up, if ever. Would love to hear other people's stories of happening upon great old bottles in the most unexpected of places.

Andy - Great point... Wineries create something but they lose control of the product when it leaves their doors. Certainly there must be some spectacular trove of similar wines, somewhere, but who knows if the current owner is even aware? It's always a pleasure to hear about when they turn up.

And yeah, it would be very cool to hear similar stories of bottles that survived implausibly.

Fantastic label on that wine bottle! I hope you saved it. Great post!

Great story! It's fascinating to see a wine's story unfold over time.

very cool!! Wish I was there for that - similar experience for me finding a 1984 Riesling from Virginia, from a winery that has since been swallowed up by a larger entity. Excellent writeup as usual Evan

Goddess - We're keeping the bottle in our cellar... the rare, special ones we hang on to! I told Fred Frank that it would be an excellent idea to use that label on special release bottles. I love it.

Spoon - Remind me again how that '84 was for you? It's the kind of wine where it's a bonus if it's great; it's cooler just to see it still have life.

The photo on the label may look like Keuka, with some stand-ins dressed in fairly ridiculous German garb, but it actually came from a post card of the Rhine, or so Willy Frank told me years ago.

Interesting to note Evan the number of Finger Lakes wineries bottling their rieslings under synthetic corks. I guess you wouldn't like to try any of those 40 years from now. Thanks for a great story about one of our best wineries early efforts.

Peter - I think that's right, as I believe Fred relayed a similar story.

Jeff - I'd agree with this, though I know there are synthetic defenders out there who would have something to say. But yeah, I prefer natural cork for laying bottles down.

Are their really synthetic defenders who think they are appropriate for aging beyond 5-10 years? If so, I'd love to hear from them.

From what I've heard, various synthetic closures start to "fail" after 3-5 years. I don't have any science behind that though.

I wonder if this wine was crafted with the intention for long-term aging. If synthetic closures were back available then, would they have been used?

Lenn - Given the extremely traditional nature of the Dr. Frank winery and Konstantin himself, I can not possibly imagine him going with synthetic. And when I talk about synthetic advocates, I'm just referencing the fact that every time I think the debate is settled, someone jumps in to say synthetic might be a better option, etc. Not that I buy it.

Evan - still had acid and nice diesel fuel aromas but all the fruit was gone on the palate - faired better tahn I thought it would

I am not casting any aspersions here by any means, but the wine's extraordinary longevity might owe something to having been bottled with a LOT of sulfites. When I started at Dr. Frank's 20 years ago, I found, in the original lab, three Cash stills (used to measure volatile acidity) and zero apparati for measuring SO2. Konstantin's method had been to dump in a scoop of potassium metabisulfite every few months and hope for the best.

Incidentally, this very phenomenon is what guided early wine writers to describe Chablis wines as having a "gun flint" aroma. All it was was a very high free SO2. Ha.

Peter - Fred Frank himself agreed that there was probably a large amount of sulfur in play with this wine. Your description of the measuring system - or lack thereof - is pretty damn funny. And no doubt that contributed to the longevity of this wine.


I suspect you are absolutely right. I definitely got a whiff of SO2, much to my disbelief. I wondered if at the time there had even been legal limits on SO2 in place. I have also seen SO2 as a possible explanation for aspects of "minerality" but that is another topic entirely.

Re: synthetics:

Cork is a natural product, so there is wide variation in its performance. That's in addition to the significant risk associated with TCA.

Synthetics are uniformly worse than the average cork for long term aging. Their oxygen transfer rates are much higher (roughly 10x above cork and 100-1000x above screwcap).

Direct comparison:

Review of oxidation in general:

Hey, that "backwoods of the wine world" Michigan wine you mention was either our 1981 Old Mission Peninsula Chardonnay or 1982 Botrytis Berry-Select Riesling. I'm glad that the Finger Lakes is feeling good about itself these days, but honestly we inhabit the same obscure "backwoods" in most people's eyes.

Sean O'Keefe
Chateau Grand Traverse
Traverse City, Michigan

Sean - I hope you'll understand that in the eyes of much of the wine world, the Finger Lakes has been the "backwoods" for years. For many people, it still is. But it's also fair to say that the Finger Lakes is finally rising in stature. Michigan is certainly considered wine world backwoods to most wine aficionados. A diner at Bern's would likely have very little experience or thought for either the Finger Lakes or Michigan.

That's all I was saying. The fact that Bern's has wines from these unheralded places is very cool. But to your point, "unheralded" is a softer term. And I don't view Michigan as wine world "backwoods," so I apologize for any misunderstanding.

Beautifully written... and a truly unique experience. Stories like these truly reflect what makes wine so special...what other product can you open 40 some years later and be transported back in time in this way?

I think the NYCR should start take a page out of Dottie and John's former WSJ column and do some form of an "Open that Bottle Night" at some point in the future. A fun way for both editors and commenters to share their experiences...

Susan - Very interactive, a cool idea. What say you, Lenn?

Evan - thanks for a very interesting post and for the comments it generated. I'm going to take a couple of my bottles of better FLX riesling and put them aside for 8 - 10 years and see what happens. I don't have the ideal cellar conditions to go for 20 - 30 years - let alone 40+.

Susan - I've been hoping someone would pick up the "Open That Bottle" Night banner for Dottie and John. An NYCR initiated event focused on NY wines would certainly be a good start.

What do I say? I say let's rally the contributors and readers and make it happen.

so this question if for tom I guess but all feel free to chime in. What is the deal with the mold growing on corks? Obviously my basement would be the best place to store wine, but there is like every mold in the world down there. Ive put wine down there, on its side, but the corks get moldy. its green dusty mold by the way. whats the deal?

Rowland: It's unfortunate, but that the same conditions that are ideal for wine storage (cool and dark with slight humidity) are also ideal for mold growth.

Mold is ubiquitous, but it thrives in moist conditions. Maybe humidity is an issue down there. Some molds are light-sensitive (even powdery mildew is sensitive to UV light), so dark places are ideal. Maybe get a dehumidifier?

My guess is that mold ends up on the cork because corks contain cellulose. Many molds have cellulases, which can turn cellulose into sugar. In fact, many mold cellulases are being studied for conversion of cellulose biomass into sugar for biofuel production.

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