Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher have taken the time once again to write about Keenan. See below for an excerpts from their column, “TASTINGS”.
When the Wine Is the Occasion – February 6th, 2004
“In 1980, soon after moving to New York, we walked to dinner at Manhattan’s famous Coach House to celebrate Dottie’s new job at The New York Times. The wine list was interesting, but the wine at the next table was even more interesting, and it wasn’t on the list. It was a 1978 Chardonnay from Robert Keenan Winery in California. We pointed to the bottle and told the waiter, ‘We’ll have that.’ The Keenan, which we’d never seen before, was one of the greatest wines we’d ever tasted.
“In 1993, five years before we began writing about wine, we walked to lunch at a New York restaurant called Capsouto Freres. On the list was a Cabernet Franc, also from Robert Keenan Winery. We had never seen a varietal Cabernet Franc from California – it’s usually a blending grape – so we ordered it. We enjoyed it so much that as soon as we returned to the office, John called the winery to enthuse about the wine and order some. While he was at it, he told the winery about our great experience years earlier with the Chardonnay a the CoachHouse. A couple of weeks later, our shipment arrived – along with a very sweet gift. It was a bottle of 1978 Chardonnay. ‘Here’s to the memories!’ was written on the bottle in gold ink, signed by the winemaker and by Robert Keenan.
“In 1999, John mused in this column about the possibility of opening this bottle to surprise Dottie for our 20th wedding anniversary. He didn’t. Now that wine, more that a quarter-century old, has sat in our cellar for 11years. It is showing signs of age – the fill in the neck is looking darker. We know we should drink it. Heck, we know we should have drunk it years ago. But, well, gosh… you know.
“We will be opening our Keenan. What can we expect? Robert Keenan is retired, but Michael Keenan, who runs the winery now, told us that his father considered the 1978 Chardonnay the best he ever made. ‘I have never even had it,’ Michael added. He suggested that because the wine had nice acidity, which is important to the longevity of wine, it might still be quite good, probably dark and nutty. ‘But’, he added ominously, ‘it may be past the enjoyable stage by now. You don’t hear of many Chardonnays going 20 years, not to mention more.’
“In any event, he said, ‘prepare a plate of oysters and enjoy it.’ That is exactly what we’ll do, and we’ll let you know how it goes. Be sure to let us know about your experience, too.”
To Simple Pleasures – March 19th 2004
“How was our old Chardonnay?
“As we reported earlier, we first had Robert Keenan’s 1978 Chardonnay in 1980. When we ordered some wine from Keenan a decade later and told the winery about that earlier, wonderful wine, our order arrived with a gift bottle of the 1978 Chardonnay, signed by Robert Keenan and by the winemaker. ‘Here’s to the memories!’ they wrote in gold on the bottle.
“Before we finally uncorked that 1978 Chardonnay on Open That Bottle Night (OTBN), we spoke to Michael Keenan, Robert’s son, who now runs the winery. He suggested we have the wine with oysters, so we bought four different kinds and put them on the grill just long enough to make opening them easier. Wine always brings a rush of memories, and this one was no different. The first look and smell of it reminded both of us immediately of the Wisdom & Warter sherry with which we were greeted the first time we ate at Windows on the World in the World Trade Center in the 1970s. Then its fruit reminded us of an old Condrieu, a Rhone white, that we had a few years ago from 1979, our wedding year. Within minutes, the wine got darker, almost orange. It was clearly old, but still filled with rich fruit. It then reminded us a little of Grand Marnier orange liqueur, and we don’t even want to tell you how long ago those memories go back.
“Many California Chardonnays of that era were flabby and lacking in acids, which would make them short-lived. Not this one. It still had abundant acids that kept the wine lovely through the night. With the plump and briny oysters — hold the sauces, please — the wine was sublime: intense and stately, with rich minerality and mouth-watering acidity.
“There is something very special about a wine with age on it (and we feel that more and more strongly as we age). There is an awe-inspiring, broad sense of time and history, and a kind of wisdom that draws on and celebrates tastes and memories associated with many different wines. As Dottie said when we clinked our glasses for the last time on OTBN 5: ‘I feel so privileged to have had this.’”