How To Drink A Birth Year Magnum

First published on Tuesday, 30 December 2008 on

I thought a lot about this wine.
What a handsome fellow he is.

After the initial buzz of being given a magnum of Lanson 1982 died away, I realised the person who had given me the present had also created quite a serious problem. What do I do with 1500ml of vintage champagne? Obviously, I will drink it, but putting to one side my wife’s idea that the two of us should just crack it now, I need to work out who I should share it with. How many people? What sort of food? And most importantly, how might I console myself in the case that it has passed its best or is faulty?

I have to drink the wine soon as it is quite old, but the generally held view that champagne is ready to drink when released doesn’t always hold true. Vintage champagne can age gracefully and evolve into a very different (but equally appealing) drink. Even some non-vintage blends improve with time. It just depends on how much you love the fresh, racy, zesty flavours of youth compared to the more savoury richness and fullness of age. My magnum also has the advantage of being “recently disgorged”, which means it has been on lees for most of its 26 years and was only disgorged in the past few years. The lees — the dead yeast cells from the secondary fermentation in the bottle — have a preservative effect on the wine which slows down its evolution, but also adds more complexity and richness as those cells break down and become part of the wine.

Magnum is the best way to drink Champagne.
I have kept the bottle. It survived the great cull of 2011.

Conventional wisdom says you get five to six decent glasses out of a standard bottle (750ml), so if I limit myself to six people it means everyone gets two glasses from the magnum. Trying to choose who to share the Lanson with is proving more stressful than choosing wedding guests. I find I now spend my spare moments looking at people, thinking “I like you, but are you Lanson worthy?”
The issue of food is less stressful. Given the champagne will have big flavours and a fair bit of weight I would choose something flavoursome, rich and savoury. Crayfish, white meats or pâté are all classic choices.

I guess the simplest thing to do is to take the magnum, two back up bottles of champagne and five friends to my favourite restaurant. Out of interest, I emailed Lanson to ask what they suggested I do. They failed to comment on whether the wine would still be drinking well, which is understandable because after 26 years in the bottle there is no guarantee (especially when sealed with cork!). The winemaker did, however, have a helpful suggestion: the wine would be “the ideal choice for a romantic evening”. Maybe my wife is on to something!

Lanson is one of the oldest champagne houses, founded in 1760. They source fruit from 800 acres (approx 323.2 hectares) of vineyards in Champagne. They make a great range of wines and the vintage is always lovely and great value.

Additional information to the story. Added 24/03/2012.

I was pretty excited.
Yep, I was excited. (And hairy).

As it would turn out, the perfect way to drink my birth year magnum was on a glorious day in November ’09 at Bress Winery in Harcourt. Adam Marks and his wife Lynne put on a lovely lunch for myself, my wife Kristina and S.A. friends Matt & Tel.

The wine was in great shape, developed of course, but in no way over the hill and in fact remarkably bubbly in both senses of the word. Strong savoury, brioche, caramel and nutty notes were interwoven with floral, citrus and spice. The palate was rich and full. Still going strong but definitely developed.

The magnum was a catalyst for a very long day, thankfully Matt doesn’t drink so we could get home.

Interestingly the day ended when  Lynne, quite sensibly suggested Adam needed to go inside and we should head home. But lets never mention that again. And just remember the good times.

Overall, I would definitely say that is how you drink a birth year magnum: Friends and good food. The memory of which will stay with me forever.

Well worth the wait.
Look at that bead. It was full of life.

It has been something of a habit over the years. Here are a few other birth year wines, drunk with less consternation and more… well, Gusto. All are fondly remembered.

So many memories.
Not surviving the cull of 2011 – Birth Year Bottle of Burgundy. Bought in Burgundy.
Soooooo many memories.
Also not surviving – Mount Mary Pinot and Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet from ’82

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