I was visiting Olivier Bonville of Champagne Franck Bonville in Avize this morning, and he generously pulled out an old bottle for us to taste. It was a wine his grandfather had made (his grandfather began bottling wine in 1959) — there was lots of skank on the cork, and the wire cage was rusty and corroded, breaking apart as soon as it was touched. It was the sort of bottle that makes you wonder whether or not your tetanus shots are up to date.
So the wine turned out to be a 1963. Now, 1963 isn’t exactly the sort of vintage that you read about in wine books. It’s not the sort of vintage that people like to remember. The French, being French, will never say that a vintage is downright bad, but 1963 is the sort of vintage that they might call “très moyenne”.
The wine was beautiful, with a bright color that was still more in the straw spectrum than golden, and a vibrant, lively nose of mocha, fresh caramel, orange peel, brown butter and lightly roasted coffee beans. The aromatic presence intensified on the palate, with smoky notes of chalk and a surprising depth of fruit character, showing flavors of dried apricot and citrus peel. I drank my glass with great pleasure. Olivier, however, called it “a bit short.” He thought it was good on the nose, but wasn’t so impressed with the palate. “Next time you come,” he said, “we’ll open something better.”