Cellar Treasure: 1978 Château Montrose

1978 Château Montrose

The purpose of this website has always been to unearth great bargains. It started on the bottom shelf of my local grocery store’s wine section, and the wine lists of a few small town restaurants. It has evolved, much like the overall market has evolved to interesting bargains I find online. Bargains. Stuff you can drink that won’t cost you more than about twenty bucks a bottle. Mind you I’m stretching that goal more towards forty bucks these days, but still really try to find the good stuff for under twenty dollars.

I’ve always been a bit of a wine aficionado, coming to it honestly as my father was a serious wine drinker before I was even born. I once heard him say that he was able to buy bottles of 1961 Château Haut-Brion for $4 each as the store was clearing them out as the 62 vintage was arriving soon. (go ahead and search what that bottle would cost you today.)

I learned a lot from him about wine, as it was a staple at our dinner table, even before I was drinking age. I’ll never forget my first few months away from home at college, watching so many fellow freshmen loose their self-control and party their way to failing grades and dropping out by Thanksgiving of their first year… right around the time of your midterm grades. Mostly because they grew up in strict households where drinking was forbidden (echos of Prohibition that still reverberate through American society.) In our house alcohol was no big deal. Wine was part of cuisine. From family feats to hamburgers on the patio. We drank all sorts of wine, from the cheap to the Grand Cru.

A man I admire once called wine “a soundtrack of your life”, meaning that when paired properly with moments, meals, and good relationships it becomes a marker of time. In that way I can recall several specific bottles that have punctuated important times, places, and people in my lifetime.

This 1978 Château Montrose was likely purchased by my father around that very time of thanksgiving of my freshman year of college, which was in the early 1980s. I imagine he bought six to twelve bottles of it back then, and as he was in the habit of doing, pulling a bottle out every few years to both enjoy, and check on its progress. My father passed away a few years ago, but before doing so apportioned out his remaining collection to me and my siblings. My eldest son helped him sort them all into various boxes to split between myself and my two sisters as they were packing up the multi-decade family residence before they sold it and moved into an assisted living facility. I haven’t perused what my sisters received (if I ever do, my luggage might clink as I leave their homes!) But what I ended up with has some real gems. For Thanksgiving Dinner, I pulled this 1978 Bordeaux from the wine cooler.

You never know what you’ll get with an old wine, so I cheated a bit and did some research on Vivino to see what people have said about this vintage. Universally the opinion was decant for at least three hours prior to serving. Thanksgiving Dinner was planned for 6pm so I pulled the cork at 3pm. The cork of course broke, even with me using an “oops” style wine opener. That cork was saturated in wine two-thirds up. Thankfully my father also left me his array of cork pulling and recovery tools. After a bit of struggle, the bottle is open and its forty-two year old contents are going into the decanter.

At both first whiff and small taste it is pretty harsh. Very sharp and funky. I texted a photo to my mother, who is still in possession of perfect memory, and her instant reply was “Let it breathe!”

On it mom!

I take a sip every hour or so and sure enough it is mellowing and improving steadily. Come dinnertime it is absolutely sublime.

The funk had settled into mild forest floor, and the finish was exquisite. The color was more like a Burgundy, very light brick red, and translucent throughout the glass. The flavor however was a classic Cabernet Franc & Merlot blend. One of those experiences that is worth the delayed gratification, and diligent storage and care efforts totaling four decades.

I could have likely sold this bottle for a modest four-figure sum. But I’d rather have, and glad I did experience this reconnection with my father. Cheers Charlie, you are missed!

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