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Russ Briley Wine-ing

That $175 bottle

Posted: August 3, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Updated: August 3, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Russ Briley Russ Briley
Russ Briley

This column originally ran in the Ventura County Star on June 25, 2011.

A little more than a year ago my wife and I attended an art/wine festival. It had a silent auction that featured many items — including some pretty great wines. I came across a 1975 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, a first-growth Bordeaux from France. The minimum bid was $175.

A few years back I would have kept walking and thinking to myself “what nut would ever pay $175 for a bottle of wine?” Now I know this was a great bargain. I quickly got on my Blackberry and saw that this wine was retailing from $400 to $1,000 a bottle.

I put in the minimum bid, not expecting to get it. The next day I got a call that my bid was the highest at $175. I was very excited, knowing that this might be my first and last opportunity to possess a wine of this reputation.

I could not drink this alone, so a few weeks ago some members of our wine club met at our friend’s timeshare condo in Ventura for a night of wine and food. I pulled out the 1975 bottle and listened to the many engaging “oooohs” and “aaaahs.” I was the hero who brought the first-growth Bordeaux.

Now came the tricky part — getting the cork out without damaging it or getting it in the wine. After removing the foil I could see that the cork looked like it was welded to the bottle. Those of you who have read some of my earlier columns are probably asking, “He did have someone else open it, didn’t he?”

Well, I tried but everyone declined for fear of messing it up, or for the pleasure of watching me attempt to do it. I courageously put the corkscrew into the cork and started turning it ever so slowly. I started feeling more confident with every slow turn of the corkscrew. I felt I was at the proper point where I could start pulling the cork out. However, the cork disagreed. As I started pulling it out, I discovered that it was, indeed, welded to the bottle. The more I tried the worse it got.

I looked to my friends and got the “It’s your wine” look. I was on my own. I had a choice — butcher the cork completely or commit the wine sin and push the cork into the bottle. I chose the latter, as I knew I could get the cork out of the bottle without breaking the bottle using a certain trick.

I then tried to strain the wine through a coffee filter into a decanter. This proved to be a disaster, or comedy relief depending on if you didn’t care that much about the wine or if you were one of my wine snob friends. I watched a few ounces end up on the table and not in the decanter.

When you open a very old bottle you have very little time to drink it because, when the air hits the wine, it starts to affect it and could, in a short time, turn an outstanding wine into something resembling a very nice red vinegar dressing.

We poured the wine and while we were all drinking “around” the floating cork we all agreed it was probably one of the best wines we ever tasted. The flavors changed minute by minute and the complexity of the wine was phenomenal.

Was it worth the money? Yes! Would I do anything different? Yes, invite somebody who knows how to open an old bottle.

As well as writing a wine column for the Ventura County Star, Russ Briley, long time Santa Clarita Valley resident, recently completed the Wine Studies program at COC. Russ and his wife Nancy also own Nuggucciet Cellars, where they produce small lots of Pinot Noir wine. Visit Email Briley at



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