Wine Ink column: 2001 Cinq Cépages, the gift of summer
Wines resonate for different reasons. Of course, a wine that makes an impression must be delicious, but there are other things that make wines memorable, as well.
Such was the case with my favorite bottle of the summer of 2018, a 2001 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma County made by one of the premier winemakers of our time. Yes, it was an amazing wine to drink — more on that later — but there were a plethora of reasons why this particular wine delivered both sentiment and happiness.
I’ll start with how I got the wine. So often I drink for purpose. As I write a wine column, companies either send wines for review or I am buying wines to try for a specific reason — something that requires attention and some effort rather than just serendipitous enjoyment.
But this wine was a gift. An extraordinarily generous gift from Laura Werlin, my extraordinarily generous friend. She has a cellar filled with wonderful wines, many of which I have had the pleasure of consuming over many memorable meals. But on this occasion, at a dinner at my home, she outdid herself by bringing this bottle of Cinq Cépages. She did not know that I have a history with Chateau St. Jean, going back many years. One of my favorite wines of my youth were their chardonnays sourced from the Robert Young vineyard.
So it was serendipitous from the start.
I put the Cinq Cépages in my wine rack with the idea of enjoying it with my favorite, a grilled ribeye steak, on a summer’s eve. Alas, with this year’s drought and fires, it was not to be, as a Stage 2 fire ban put the kibosh on my charcoal grill for the entire season.
I would have saved the wine for later had I not walked past the wine rack and spied a drop off wine on the floor. Yes, in the heat of the summer one of the bottles in my rack had begun to leak through the cork and drip. As bad as that was, it became worse when I realized it was the 17-year old Cinq Cépages. Fearful that the wine had gone (or would go) bad before I could drink it, I resolved to open it that night. As there was no ribeye in my fridge, I opted for the next best thing: a homemade BLT with farmstand tomatoes and Elevation Artisan Meats bacon from Meat & Cheese. Perhaps not the most appropriate meal for a wine of this pedigree but it was what I had … and it turned out great.
Now, about the 2001 Cinq Cépages. As you may know, it is a Bordeaux-style wine made from, as the name implies, five grapes. It gained a reputation back in the mid 1990s when the ’96 vintage was named as Wine Spectator’s No. 1 wine in the 1999 Top 100 list. It was made by Margo Van Staaveren who, this year, will mark her 38th vintage at Chateau St. Jean where she is now both winemaker and general manager.
The grapes for this wine were harvested shortly after 9/11, the darkest day in our generation’s collective history. There is a poignancy, at least for me, that comes from the idea of drinking a wine born at such a distinct moment. The idea that, on that day, we did not know what the future would bring, remains with me. Drinking the wine offered me a chance to reflect.
So generosity, pedigree, serendipity and history. That is a tall order for one bottle of wine.
But oh did it deliver. When I opened it, the sediments were thick and the wine dark as night. Fruits, blackberries and dark cherries from the early moments of the century, still flourished on the nose, the wine was soft, round and silky in my mouth. Far from being gone, it felt like just the right night to drink it. It was the treat of my summer.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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