At first they smelled slightly moldy, but then the miracle of great old wine began to work, and the scent of the wines themselves came through. The 1784 had a gentle, distinctly feminine fragrance of roses, with a great persistence of flavor that reached a peak about 15 minutes after the wines were poured. The more assertive, longer-lasting 1787 had chunkier, richer, distinctly autumnal aromas of burnt sugar and undergrowth.
The most obvious star of these, the greatest white wine any of us are ever likely to taste, was the 1811--appropriately enough, the famous Year of the Comet. It was almost incredible that this spicily rich, vibrant, multilayered wine, just starting to display its charms 40 minutes after it was poured, was 187 years old. Toward the end of its very powerful, long flavor, it hinted at rum toffee; it was a blockbuster.