Dow’s Port 1994: The Most Expensive Bottle of Wine I Ever Drank

June 24, 2008

It used to be that some male work buddies and I would assemble regularly after work at the home of one of the said acquaintances for drinking and guy films. However, the habit of my good compadres of knocking up their womenfolk led to a new era in which their babies became their new entertainment. Thus, “guys’ night out” fell victim to the monster who eats time and schedules and reasonable logistics. In other words, those days were gone.

Until a few weeks ago, that is. The wives of my buds were out of the picture for at least one night, so the dudes were able to revive the ole tradition and, as it happened, we did so without missing a beat. As usual I picked the films. I had built a good reputation in the group for selecting crowd-pleasing cinematic oddities not generally seen or known by my fellow revelers.

I brought my DVDs of 1971’s Vanishing Point and the 1978’s The Driver, two semi-poetic, vaguely existentialist car-chase cult movies from the decade that defined excellence in the form. The boys picked Vanishing Point as the lead-off, with The Driver as the alternate second movie if we still had the stamina, which we did. The first film, Vanishing Point, was the hit of the evening. The second film, The Driver, was liked by two out of three. I love them both, but consider The Driver the real masterpiece of that selection (and the only film in which Ryan O’Neal is actually a cool badass; I kid you not). I’ll spare you the film reviews for now.

A major reason for our assembly, though, was to enjoy various wines. We had an old vine zinfandel and a cheap sauvignon blanc, as well as some Pacifica beer, along with various olives, cheeses and a wheat-crust pizza.

The monster wine of the evening, though, was a big-boned, ultra-complex 1994 Dow’s Port, a wine that I had put down for cellaring after I bought a half-size bottle in the mid-1990s for about $25 (a full size bottle at the time was selling for $50 or so). In the interim, the value of that wine—considered one the greatest ports from one of the greatest port vintages of the century—had doubled. So, in effect, measured by the standard full-size bottle, we were drinking a $100+ wine. I’m not one with a big wine budget, so uncorking this baby was a special occasion, indeed.

Renowned wine author/critic Robert Parker had given this wine a 96 rating, making it the highest-rated wine I would so far consume.

We were not disappointed.

The first clue was the smell of the cork and sniff of the top of the bottle. The wine, which potentially could age successfully for decades, smelled luscious.

As a wine taster, I’m a bit of a disaster. I’m not the kind who can ascertain the particular herbs or spices or fruits of earthy tones that comprise the constituent parts of a “flavor profile.” But I do know when a wine has layers and complexity, and this one had those in a big way. So in lieu of that, I found this review at a blog called the Repository of Useless Information that does a good job of delineating/identifying some of the flavors I was tasting.

Dow’s 1994 was lifted and dark toned in fruit, mulberry, tar, blue flowers, but also some savoury notes of green tea and peach kernel. Sweet but savoury, very harmonious with no edges sticking out even though it is obviously very young, persistent and the aftertaste grows in the mouth. Lovely.”

Yes, it was a powerhouse. I’m not a fan of dessert-type wines, but there was so much going on in this one, including a cognac-like aspect that made it a lot better than icky super-sweet liqueurs and the like.

This was one of the best two or three wines I’ve ever tasted, about on par with some ’90s vintages bottles of French Burgundy (Pinot Noir) that was rated 95 and French Sauterne that was rated, I think, around 93.

That leaves my amateur cellar completely bare of any expensive, highly rated vintages.

Oftentimes disappointment follows upon tasting the results of a high wine expenditure, but in this case the most expensive wine I ever bought, and tasted, was worth every bit of the outlay, especially when sharing the experience with friends.