Max just called and told me the terrible news. It is with heavy heart that I report the person for whom I wrote this entry back in April, Nancy Kranz, has passed away today, November 21st 2010, after suffering a sudden, massive stroke. It is sad news, but she is a lucky woman. She did things her way until the end with little compromise. She lived in the house she loved, she drank her husband's wine, and no one had to take care of her in an undignified way or tell her what to do or where to go, and she went peacefully and with little pain. My heart goes out to her family who will miss her very much. And I hope her house, belongings and remaining treasure of wine is appreciated to the fullest extent by those she left behind.
Here is the original post from April:
I've known Max and Shawn for a few years now. Ever since that first great Alfama Rectangular Table dinner (see blog post Summer 2009: The Season That Killed) that sparked our friendship, I'd heard tell of Max's step-grandmother Nancy's insane wine stash. Her husband, Peter, was an avid Burgundy collector, with a special penchant for Joseph Drouhin wines, and he also enjoyed good Bordeaux and German Rieslings. They lived in a crazy house he designed himself, in Darien, CT, with their own cellar. He died a few years ago before he could drink them all, so the wines, some dating back to the 1930s, were now in the process of being enjoyed by his widow and whoever wanted to come by and help her drink them. Would I like to come to CT some time and try some?
Well, what has two thumbs and likes old wine, especially Burgundy?
It took nearly three years for us to put this together. And in this time, Max's brother, Ry, has helped himself to a significant amount to store on his own, not to mention Nancy is drinking somewhere around a bottle a day. But there are still good things to be had. Thus, on a rainy April Monday, myself, my good friend John, our friend Liza (pronounced Leeza) and Max set out for Darien, greeted there by Shawn, Max's mother, Charlotte, and Nancy herself.
Below is what the cellar used to look like:
This is what is was like Monday (a little dark, but you can sense depletion):
That's Shawn on the left, and Max and me. Peter had devised a map system to relocate the wines. The wines were listed alphabetically with a code to their "coordinates" in the cellar, with a corresponding, hand drawn map for reference. The shelves were marked with these codes. Unfortunately, much had been depleted, but not crossed out, so hard to tell what would still be there. But we found some gems and took them back upstairs, up the spiral staircase, which oddly was built slightly under an unusable "bridge" from the living room to bedroom. We knew there was a good chance some of the bottles would be corked or past their prime (the conditions are not ideal, dark, yes, cool and damp, yes, but still fairly open to the elements, making the bottles un-auctionable, which is fine, as they were all intended for nothing but private consumption anyway). Nancy assured us we could always make other selections if we hit a bad bottle. They had gotten in the habit of lining up the corked bottles on a shelf down there.
Here is the beautiful view we enjoyed while drinking. The whole house is a big, open window. Gorgeous, but, sadly, impossible to heat. Still, the view in springtime, even in the rain, is spectacular. Peter had this idea of digging a pit, and through the house's history, it just kept getting bigger and bigger. On this day, it was filled with water, looking like quite the picturesque pond scene.
The first wine we tried was a 1964 Rheingau Spatlese. Hard to tell exactly who the producer is from this deteriorated label. And dig the creepy Hitleriffic logo! Shawn's joke, "Well, if this is wrong, I don't wanna be Reich!" The first bottle was badly corked, but we found another. It seemed a little past its prime, but once it hung out in the glass, oxidized dried fruit flavors with good acid balance came to life. Our glassware was not ideal, but it did the trick.
The next bottle was a 1969 Drouhin white Burgundy. The label was way too deteriorated to know appellation and producer. But it was full of flavor. Deep, rich apple, citrus peel and burnt sugar with good acidity. The back of the bottle had this helpful label on it. No, those are not floaties IN the wine. The bottles have a lot of crud on them. We cleaned them off best we could before drinking.
Here's some pictures of us enjoying the spread. And yes, that's an old surf board made into a dining room table! That's John and Liza below.
Liza and Charlotte.
Nancy and John.
The next bottle was a 1976 Drouhin Chambertin. Quite full of flavor, despite being a tad past its best consumption time. Wouldn't kick it out of bed though, as they say.
Next up, a 1970 Jaffelin Clos du Vougeot. We couldn't tell much from the label, as you can see, but luckily the cork held a lot of answers. The wine came out cloudy, and didn't have much on the nose, but what an amazing concentration of flavor! Great fresh cherry, lots of herbs dried and fresh, including basil. This kept getting a lot better in the glass, and the aromas began to emerge.
Charlotte: "Shall we open the Musigny?" Shawn: "Only if there's also a Squirreligny..."
1971 Joseph Drouhin Musigny. The first time I'd ever tried a wine from my birth year! Lots going on here. Very warm cherry and plum flavors, juicy, luscious, with some pine cone and cedar notes. Very much alive and in prime. A real thrill for me to have the opportunity to drink! Sadly, I don't have a photo of this bottle, the label was pretty far gone.
Aside from mapping his wines in the cellar, we also found out that Peter had meticulously kept much of his Playboy collection in a three-ring binders, which we easily found in a nearby cabinet. Max and Shawn happened to pull one from the early to mid seventies, with one spread, if you will, of a very young, stunning, pre-Superman Margot Kidder! Nancy sat by amused as we looked through it, at the old liquor adds, at the unabashed shots of real, untrimmed bush, at the unenhanced breastage and soft lighting. Those were the days... Glad she still wanted those around. Well, there was lots that was in essence Peter's personality around that house. As I wandered about, looking at pictures and objects, I became very moved, imagining those two around the time the wines were originally purchased, living their lives, laughing, loving, drinking, traveling. They must have been a great couple to be around.
By now it had gotten dark, and we were quite happy.
Liza on the porch having sips and a smoke.
Bageera the cat.
This is his litter box, no joke.
Next up, a 1970 Corton. The label was way too far gone to read any more about it. No idea of producer. But let's just say this bottle was quite devoid of suckage. Really delicious and well within drinking dates.
We ended with a 1964 Grand Pontet Rousan-Segla, St. Emillon, Bordeaux. It was way mossy, musty and earthy on the nose and I was worried it would be awful. But in the glass, lots of concentrated black fruits, spice, chocolate, prune, moss (in a good way) and dirt. This was excellent right out of the bottle (note that none of the wines were decanted, but we still enjoyed them!), and kept getting better, as long as we could stand to let it sit in the glass. John said this was his favorite of the bunch.
By now several hours had passed, Nancy was getting tired, and John, Liza and I needed to get back into the city. We said our goodbyes and thanked Nancy again and again. So good of her to share these precious bottles and sit and drink them with us (none the worse for wear, rumor had it, Nancy would soon be enjoying a Manhattan while watching the Daily Show). It's a day I was beyond lucky to experience, and I hope I live as full a life as Nancy to continue to enjoy this great memory. Thanks so much to Max and Shawn for finally making it happen! Cheers to you, Charlotte and Nancy!