Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Valbuena 1985 twice: what’s the chance?

Two red wines showing some age are served side by side in a blind tasting.  As wine ages it become increasingly difficult to age it accurately. If it is genuinely old, say more than 20 years, you feel quite good if you get the right decade, unless you know your vintages extremely well.  The first of these two wines showed marked coffee and walnut notes on the nose, with a palate of leather over dark berried fruit, and so definitely falls into the fully mature wine category. The second wine seemed both more intense and older, with fine, developed fruit and layer of tar and smoke over the dried fruit and classic old wine notes.  Both wines shared a good fruit-acidity balance and still powerful tannic structure. The general consensus was that the second was older, perhaps by half a decade.  

So what are the wines and what is the relationship between them – we have been told there is one.  The wider scenario is that eleven seasoned tasters have brought one wine each to a blind tasting, all under the theme of ‘Spain’, a very large country indeed.  Given this is a pretty serious tasting group you can rule out them  bringing a basic, supermarket wine.  But what are the chances of them bringing bottles of exactly the same wine?  Well the odds are shortened considerably (from the astronomical) when the people in the group have known each other for a decade, have bought wine together and have developed group love for Vega Sicilia, the historic premier winery of Ribera del Deuro. 

So there is a real chance that two people will bring a wine from the same, top estate.  The odds shorten as four of this group have bought wine together at auction – but the they lengthen if by ‘the same wine’ we mean the same label from the same vintage. After all, they have, let’s say, up to half a century of vintages to chose from.  We need a statistician to begin to work out the odds.  In later discussion we ruled out the possibility that the two bottles were were bought at the same time.  On the contrary, one was bought at auction 2-3 years ago, while the other came from a big London merchant 4-5 years ago. Where the bottles have been for the preceding quarter of a century is anybody’s guess.   Wouldn’t it be great to know!

Double delight

Here are the wines: Tinto Valbuena 5º, Vega Sicilia, Ribera del Deuro,1985. After we begin to taste and discuss them, someone notices that the bottles are individually numbered.  Here are the back labels where you can see the numbers. We assume that the noticeable difference between the wines is due to how they have been stored over their three decades. 

Valbuena back labels

Our two bottles were numbers 150,043 and 150,054. So they are just 11 bottles apart. Given there are 300 bottles of wine in a standard barrel, it is much more likely than not that our two bottles came from the same barrel.  Our tame statistician will now be going into overdrive: what are the chances that two bottles of wine from the same barrel from virtually 30 years ago will end up side by side in the same blind tasting having been brought to the tasting by different people who in turn bought the wine from different sources?  

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