Pinot Gris Tokayer 1948, Wädenswil agricultural station, Switzerland (The labels are gone).
On tasting wine that is older than you are. The liquid that you swirl in your glass is deeper in colour yet more muted in tone than younger wines. Sensorially, you swap flashy for depth. And the conversation that drifts around the glass necessarily shifts to a new register.
Difficult to discuss the weather in 1948, as none of us at the table remembers it. Climate change and its impact on vineyards wasn’t a current topic, or if it was you don’t find it when you Google “1948 wine vintage weather”. You learn only that 1947 and 1949 were great years in Bordeaux and ’48 was pretty good. Bordeaux and the northeast corner of Switzerland have little in common when it comes to climate, however.
Othmar Stäheli is a longtime Swiss wine professional, editor of Wine and Spirits Journal, with deep knowledge of vintages. “What do we know about that year?” I asked him. A brief pause. “The Berlin air drop began,” he suggested. “The Marshall plan was underway in Europe.” A little research offers: Babe Ruth died in his sleep, the Summer Olympics were revived in London after 12 years of pause, post-Berlin Games, Costa Rica became the first nation to abolish its army.
In a small town near Zürich, Switzerland the vineyard researchers at Wädenswil harvested their Pinot Gris. Like others across Europe, they were undoubtedly grateful to be turning their attention back to making wine and away from a world war. The rumblings of unhappy neighbours went on, with the Arab-Israeli war just 3 months away and Alger Hiss accused of being a communist in the US, the start of a purge that has left a decades-long shadow.
But today we sipped the bounty of a moment of peace.