Aging wine is one of those fraught subjects for both novices and seasoned wine lovers alike. Since most of us aren’t wealthy English lords circa 1822 whose fathers lovingly laid down a lifetime’s worth of claret for us to enjoy in our prime, we don’t get the chance to experience mature wine very often. In this third installment of our One Sip At A Time series, we wanted to give you a chance to taste young and mature versions of the same (or similar) wines to find out what your palate really prefers, and dispense a little information about what makes a wine ageworthy along the way.
We started with one of our favorite Southern Rhone producers, Philippe Plantevin, and his white blend in the 2010 and 2006 vintages, noting the contrast between the 2010’s brightness and the 2006’s richer, mellower aromas. We then moved on to bigger guns, comparing Albert Grivault’s 2010 Mersault with a 1999 Santenay that Doug was kind enough to pull out of his own cellar to give us an example of white Burgundy with some age. This particular bottle wasn’t the favorite of the class – perhaps because the Mersault was so delicious! Tasting the whites gave us a chance to observe color differences in young and older wines side by side, and to talk a bit about qualities like concentration and acidity that make a wine ageworthy.
Then it was on to the reds. We tasted two vintages of one of Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s most famous addresses, Vieux Telegraph. 2009 and 2004 were vintages that had similar qualities, so we thought comparing them would be interesting. What was most interesting about this pair was that the 2009, a vintage known for its ripeness and showy flavors and aromas, was in the process of ‘shutting down,’ a hiccup in the aging process where a wine kind of folds in on itself and isn’t very generous aromatically for awhile, before blossoming again. It’s the wine equivalent of being in a funk – fortunately it’s almost always temporary!
We also did a comparative tasting of Damilano’s delicious 2010 Nebbiolo d’Alba three different ways: simply opened and poured, decanted in a traditional decanter, and aerated using a Vinturi wine aerator. Despite the attention that aerating (and even hyper-aerating with a blender!) gets as a technique to make tannic and/or young wines more approachable, the group was pretty evenly split as to which sample they preferred. We feel safe in continuing to recommend tasting a bit of the wine you’re planning to drink both aerated and not before putting the whole bottle through an aerator. You might not always prefer the aerated wine!
Finally, we tasted a 20 year old red Burgundy from Pascal Maillard, from a humble village appellation, chosen for its ‘little engine that could’ quality. A wine of this humble origin and price point, like the Cotes du Rhone from earlier, shouldn’t be able to age this long and gracefully, but it does. Some loved the earthy, mossy, feral notes that older red Burgundy takes on, and others weren’t so enthusiastic – again, that’s the point of an exercise like this. It’s OK to like younger wine! Many seasoned wine experts do.
When Danny Haas of Vineyard Brands (who will be here to guide us through a thrilling lineup of Chablis very soon!) was here last year for a class on Alsace’s Dom Weinbach, he was asked about aging, since Riesling is a grape that Dom Weinbach does very, very well, and is known for its aging potential. His answer was somewhat surprising, as many expected him to wax poetic about 25 year old Schlossberg in his cellar. To our surprise, he told us that what he loves most about the wines at this estate is their impeccable, fresh fruit and how balanced it is with the rest of the elements of the wine. Since those beautiful, fresh notes are his favorite things about the wines, he prefers to drink them young, even though others prefer the wines more mature. So, there you have it – official permission to drink wine at whatever age you like!
Older wines always provide an interesting experience, and a window into history, and for this reason should never be passed up if they’re put in front of you, but for your own cellar (or, you know, closet mostly taken up by linens and craft supplies), you should drink wines when you like them, regardless of what the critics say.
Thanks to everyone who attended this installment of our One Sip At A Time series for their comments and questions – we learn just as much putting together and teaching these classes as you do taking them. Click here for more information on this series.