Wish List

By Sean Carroll | February 16, 2008 11:43 am

In case anyone is wondering what to get me for Presidents’ Day, I’d be interested in a nice bottle of 1947 Cheval Blanc. Not necessarily a whole case, or even a magnum; an ordinary bottle would be fine. In Slate, Mike Steinberger explains:

Cheval Blanc 1947 [T]he ’47 Cheval I drank that night now ranks as the greatest wine of my life, a title I doubt it will relinquish. The moment I lifted the glass to my nose and took in that sweet, spicy, arresting perfume, my notion of excellence in wine, and my understanding of what wine was capable of, was instantly transformed—I could almost hear the scales recalibrating in my head. The ’47 was the warmest, richest, most decadent wine I’d ever encountered. Even more striking than its opulence was its freshness. The flavors were redolent of stewed fruits and dead flowers, yet the wine tasted alive; it bristled with energy and purpose. The ’47s signature flaws—the residual sugar and volatile acidity—were readily apparent, but it was just as Lurton had said: In this wine, the flaws inexplicably became virtues….

I realized that it was silly even to try to place the ’47 in the context of other wines; it defied comparison, a point underscored when I tasted another legend, the 1945 Château Latour, later that night (yeah, it was a nice evening). The Latour was stunning—probably the second-best wine I’ve ever had—but it at least fell within my frame of reference: It was a classically proportioned Bordeaux that just happened to be achingly good. The ’47 Cheval, by contrast, was an otherworldly wine—a claret from another planet. And it was amazing.

What is the sound of scales recalibrating? I’d like to find out.

  • Ian B Gibson

    Anyone else think that the wine’s reputation had anything to do with his assessment as to it’s superior quality? Anyone else doubt he could pick it out in a blind taste test?

  • Rudy

    I’m sure someone else does think that. Crochety old farts will always be with us.

  • Haelfix

    You definitely can taste the difference with an ancient wine. Its unmistakable.
    There are very few wines that can survive that long (and it usually requires recorking every 10 years or so).

  • http://gatsby.het.brown.edu/~peter catchpeter

    in fact research suggests that the reputation and even price absolutely bears on one’s enjoyment (cf. http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10530119). That, combined with the stewed fruits, is something you should envy of the crotchety old farts (and everyone else with refined taste buds who is not on an academic salary)… anything less would be sour grapes :p

  • http://vacuumenergy.blogspot.com/ Joseph

    The wine being from another planet explains the residual acidity. Surely the aliens from this other planet have a different ph balance than earth life.

  • Mickey

    All of a sudden, I feel I ripped myself off with a $5.99 bottle of [yellowtail] shiraz… No scales recalibrated here.

    Now I’m thirsty.

  • http://blog.domenicdenicola.com/ Domenic

    Yeah, blind taste test for the win…

  • BlackGriffen

    Recalibrating scales sounds like a cash register – if you happen to already own a stock of said wine, that is. :)

  • John Ramsden

    Apparently DNA testing has proved that all the best vintages today are made from grapes descended from a variety considered so unsatisfactory in its day that it was banned in most areas from being cultivated. Talk about “the stone which the builders refused, the same is become the head” (Matthew ch 21 v 42)

    When you’re sipping a fine wine, spare a thought for poor old King John and his court in the 1200s – The wine they imported at vast expense reeked of tar from the poorly made barrels, and had strange bits floating in it. Generally it helped to hold your breath while taking a gulp, until one was fairly sozzled.

  • Brian Mingus

    “Anyone else think that the wine’s reputation had anything to do with his assessment as to it’s superior quality?”

    That does nothing to change ones subjective experience and enjoyment. Ignorance is bliss.

  • Dany

    Sean:”What is the sound of scales recalibrating? I’d like to find out.”

    Very simple. Take 1947 Cheval Blanc and Carroll’s Alice (locally).

    Regards, Dany.

  • Elliot

    Oh no.

    The last time I got involved in wine discussion here


    it was a less than satisfying experience.

    I’ll pass this time.


  • Kevin Runnels

    Beer me.

  • http://www.website.com Yahoo

    Come on, you all know you would really prefer a really good chocolate milkshake to *any* wine. Come on, admit it. You know it’s true.

  • Ross Presser

    I read the Feb 18 blog post before reading this one, and one of the comments in that post mentioned Littlewood’s definition of miracles.

    Probability would seem to predict that given a long enough lifespan, you’d eventually drink some good wine. REGARDLESS OF WHAT YOU BUY.

    So why spend money?

  • Ray

    I envy you Sean. In the mid 1960s, I had a couple of bottles of 1888 Madeira that were amazingly good. Probably 10 years past their peak, but very few wines last that long and remain drinkable. Some 1947 ports were also spectacular, but 1947 was a good year all over the European wine country.


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


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