When last chance wine is first rate

Few in this blogging business can resist an easy villain. To that end, the PLCB serves up softball-sized shortcomings on a consistent enough basis to keep hounds on the scent. On the other hand, as much as I welcome reliably substantial blog fodder, I’m certainly not above acknowledging villainous success. That said, I fully acknowledge the “other hand” can be rather backhanded in praise.

I’m a beneficiary of the occasional, laudably accessible sale item from the PLCB that outpaces competing online/interstate offers. When they get it right (the current inventory of Heitz Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, for example) I cheer the democracy of the system’s reach.

Some successes are in need of a good dusting – which is my awkward way of reminding you of the “Last Chance Wines” racks at a LCB walk-in near you. You’re familiar with the format, even if you routinely pass it by. I’m talking about the ragtag displays of lone wolf wines gathered en masse, often appended to dog-eared, staff-scrawled signage. With no recognizable form, they’re a jumble of regions, countries, varietals and hues. The collection is exactly as described: The final bottle or two in stock, the store’s final attempt to draw your attention. Some are likely backroom castaways, lost to time.

I generally give the assembly a quick once-over, in search of uncommon grapes, older vintages and the much rarer hidden treasure.

Earlier this year, on a pit stop search for a sparkler, I uncovered a gem at the Bryn Mawr outlet on Route 30. It was a brand I had history with, and the discovery sent me into a heightened state of good.

The bottle: A 2001 Cosentino CE2V Meritage, marked down to $41.49. Previously, the wine sold at a higher prices ($60 and more), and I’ll never forget my first exposure to the CE2V. It was probably 2005, with my friend Patrick at the BYO Rx in West Philly (RIP). Pat was knocked out by the wine. I remember it more for his reaction, truthfully, but it embedded in my memory.

Mitch Cosentino

Advance the calendar to New Year’s Eve, 2007/2008. Restaurant Alba in Malvern, again with Pat and his new wife (or were they still dating?). I had the 60-dollar version of the Cosentino in tow. My notes recall a knockout heavyweight wine, viscous and rich, with plenty of tannins. More interesting, we aired it for six hours, and I recall a better showing on day two – though I’m surprised we hadn’t tapped the full bottle at Alba.

For round three, this past weekend, it only made sense – in fact, it was my obligation – to invite Pat back to town for the uncorking. Standing in my kitchen, with our kids tucked in for the night (time marches on, doesn’t it?), we decided to pour with no decant. The contents of the bottle totally surprised and overwhelmed us. The CE2V had transformed into a lighter and more playful version of itself, with a quality I can only describe as total confidence. It was a stunning performance that I would stack up against any in my drinking history, dominating the night with casual ease. Any food, any competing flavor or wine, fell in line behind it. It was strong with invigorating life and acidity, and the fruit was there on a subdued tart cherry level, sure and sound. An astonishing wine with plenty of longevity (without strain, it would carry on another five years), it was a reminder that Cosentino, indisputably, was one of the most underrated Napa labels of the past 20 years.

To think it collected dust as a Last Chance Wine.

There’s a place for a last chance, especially when that place is first.

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