the last bottle…

Two and a half decades ago, I had just finished a round of golf in Aptos, California and stopped by a small wine shop on my way back home to Santa Cruz.  Amongst the various wines available was a case and a few extra bottles of 1991 Chateau Montelena “Estate” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

While the lovely bride and I were only recently married at the time, and monies were tight, I had recently read a review of this particular vintage, and we knew the winery’s reputation.

From Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate back in the day…

Montelena’s incredible 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate is an exceptional wine. It may be the most promising vintage among the bevy of Montelena Cabernets produced over the last two decades, rivaling even the winery’s profound 1987… The color is a dense, opaque purple. The nose offers up Chateau Montelena’s tell-tale signature – abundant, pure aromas of cassis, minerals, and spicy oak. Full-bodied, spectacularly rich, and highly extracted, with moderate to high tannin, this is a youthful, exuberant, stunning example of blockbuster Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Its inner core of cassis fruit is something to savor! It should hit its peak around the turn of the century and last for 20 years thereafter. Don’t miss it.

I bought a bottle that day, and after trying it that night, I went back and bought all that I could.

We ended up splitting the case + with a colleague, and those bottles that remained with us (at the whopping price of 24.99 a bottle)   followed us back and forth across the country; Santa Cruz to Scottsdale, Scottsdale to Boston, Boston to Chicago, Chicago to Boston, and finally to Vinalhaven.

Most had been consumed over the years, shared with friends, and opened on various special occasions.

Two days ago, as the lovely wanted to celebrate my birthday (which was yesterday) she sent me a note saying we should open the 91 Montelena for dinner.

The last bottle of 91 Montelena from that purchase 25+ years ago.

When this wine was released, it was a blockbuster cabernet; backward and tannic, but filled with fantastic flavor.

When we brought it to a restaurant several years later, in California, to celebrate some friends’ anniversary that had been married in 1991, the tannins had barely softened, and the lush blackberry flavors had become more prominent.  At the time, we offered a glass to the owner of that restaurant, and told him about our friends’ anniversary.  He returned with yet another bottle from 91, and shared it with our table.

When we opened the last bottle, two days ago, the wine was still lovely, the tannins faint and soft, the flavors a less vibrant, but still a lovely wine that very much, as we tend to say when we have a Napa cabernet that brings us back to our California wine country roots, “tastes like home.”


We opted to open the Montelena with an 1878 Tucker patent corkscrew.  It did its job fabulously.