WINELIFE tracks down vintage in wine cellars. At Jean-Paul Carrière in the French village of Vulbens in Haute-Savoie, we get to taste his oldest bottle. A sweet Bergerac from 1929: Château Monbazillac Grand 1er Cru. Even though the bottle had been opened when Jean-Paul got it not long ago, the wine still tastes good, almost a hundred years old! A little like pinot noir madly, with the acidity of a sherry, but the sweetness is still clearly present - though the alcohol will have disappeared. Jean-Paul is also delighted: "Delicious with foie gras!" In his cellar, the former engineer, who studied at the famed École Polytechnique, has for a year been holding the inherited wine collection of his aunt and uncle, who themselves owned a vineyard in Fronsac in earlier times. Or what is left of it, because unfortunately many of the wines have perished or the label has disappeared from the bottle due to moisture damage. "I drank some great millésimes from my uncle whose cork was still good, because you have to renew it every 20 years," says Jean-Paul. That the bottle from Dordogne still tastes good is because of the sweet type of wine; Sauternes and Monbazillac can be kept for a long time.

But then he emerges with a bottle with 'Selection 1945 Rotschild' on the neck label. Excited, we grab it. Alas, the bottle is empty and and the big label has disappeared. Even a fraudster could do nothing with this. Because suppose this is a Château Mouton Rothschild 1945, a full bottle in good condition could fetch as much as €20,000. The first vintage after World War II in Bordeaux was a fantastic one. And the 1945 vintage of Mouton, which was not among the highest class at the time, brought even more than the first crus at auctions for years. Thanks in part to the weinführer appointed by the Germans to guard the wine trade in Bordeaux during the war. Baron Philippe de Rotschild, incidentally, had returned from his hiding place in England in 1945 in time to coordinate the harvest himself.

Jean-Paul does have a full Saint-Julien still standing, perhaps something to have an expert look at. Or, of course, to just open and taste. Before the old family wines came to him, his cellar was not empty: "The owner of Château Labégorce Margaux, Hubert Perrodo, was a business client of mine and gave magnums as gifts every year." At least you could share those with the family, as the 75-centilitre bottle was once invented because that was enough for one person, he explains. The empty bottles of Labégorce 1984 are still on the shelf. This Bordeaux blend from the Médoc would now fetch around 50 euros per standard bottle (according to WINE-SEARCHER.COM) and a magnum proportionally more: less oxygen passes through the cork with a larger volume of wine. Asked about his best glass ever, he recalls what he drank as a student: "Burgundy, AOC Vosne-Romanée from Domaine de la Romanée. My father bought the wine even before it was harvested, so without tasting it. There was the risk of a bad year, but of course the name was familiar. From the barrel he bought, he tapped and bottled the bottles himself." As a final anecdote, he says that in the region where he lives on the northern slopes, the Noah grape was grown. People sometimes drank as much as 7 litres of the cheap wine in a day. Until it turned out that it made people go blind and the grape variety was finally banned by the government throughout France. A barrel full of stories, this Frenchman. (Text & photo: Marjolein Schuman)

Read more stories and interviews in WINELIFE #55. Buy it in shop or order it here.

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