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What to drink for National Day holiday

By John H. Isacs (Shanghai Daily)

08:47, September 27, 2012

(Photo/Xinhua)

A long autumn break combining two of China's most important holidays is soon upon us. This year an unusually late Mid-Autumn Festival on September 30 and National Day (October 1) holiday will offer people in Shanghai a weeklong break from the toils of work, an offer of opportunity to share good food, wine and cheer with family and friends.

Earlier this month, in a section dedicated to the Mid-Autumn Festival and mooncakes, I wrote a column on the ideal wines for moon cakes, so this week I'll focus on wines that are most appropriate for the National Day holiday.

One essential in understanding wines is realizing that good wines are not merely products; rather they are special reflections of the cultures and history of a specific place and time. On October 1, 1949, at Tian'anmen Square in Beijing, an ancient culture witnessed the birth of a new nation. At the same time in France, the chateaux of Bordeaux were finishing the harvest of a rather difficult yet promising vintage. That year a rainy spring gave way to a summer heat wave that saw temperatures rise as high as 43 degrees Celsius.

Many younger vines perished from the extreme heat while most of the older, more established vines with deeper roots survived. September storms further reduced the crop but the grapes that survived the ordeals where of superior quality, making 1949 a very low yield, but an excellence to great vintage. Most important, the best wines made that year are still quite drinkable.

Celebrate history

Budget permitting, what better way to celebrate National Day than popping open a bottle of 1949 wine? As you savor these collector wines, you may want to reflect on the trials and tribulations yet ultimate triumph of both the People's Republic of China and the 1949 vintage in Bordeaux.

Though they'll cost you a pretty penny and you must selectively pick only the most age-worthy wines of the vintage, delicious 1949 wines can still be purchased in Hong Kong, London and New York.

As long as they were properly stored, the best 1949 wines should still be drinking beautifully this National Day holiday. I can personally attest to this as I've been fortunate to taste several 1949 wines from my father's collection. As a student at Princeton from 1947-1950 and into the decade of the 1950s, he started collecting wines when a first-growth Bordeaux from the trio of great vintages in the 1940s - 1945, 1947 and 1949 - could be purchased for US$4 or US$5.

Chateau Latour may well have been the wine of the 1949 vintage. Its unique position on the riverbank undoubtedly helped mitigate the excessive heat of 1949 and the result was a hugely structured wine with ample fruit and massive tannins. As tannins act as a preservative, it's no surprise that well-kept bottles of 1949 Latour are still drinking beautifully today.

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