July 7, 2008

The Beauty of Age?

Any wine enthusiast knows that age is prized. Oenophiles build cellars and buy fridges to "lay down" their bottles. They know the greatness of past vintages. 1982? A classic year in Bordeaux. A '47 Lafitte? Trade you my sister for it. Age is beauty.

But the vast majority of wine is consumed within a year of its release. And most bottles within 24 hours of purchase. For wine that costs less than $20, these majorities are definitive, well over 90%. And the reality is that these wines were designed for exactly this kind of consumption. Winemakers aren't stupid. They know what you're going to do with their wine. They build it to drink now, not in 10 years. Only serious wines get better with time.

Most wine scientists will admit that the chemistry of aging is little understood and largely unstudied. So why this fetish for old booze? Especially amongst people who don't often (or ever) drink it.

We don't know. But we thought it would be worth some investigation at the Lab. So we bought 2 cases of wine from varietals recognized for their ability to age. One red, from Burgundy. One white, a Riesling. Each costs more than $20 a bottle (if just), and so can be considered serious. Our plan is drink a bottle every 6 months. See what happens. Learn what lessons we can about a wine's EVOLUTION through time.

Like watching paint dry. But with alcohol.

Up first: The Riesling. (coming soon.)

(* I rescued the 1970 Yquem in the photograph from my wife's childhood home in Australia. Her father bought it on release, stored it indifferently and eventually forgot about it. It was in a box with "other old plonk we're pouring out." Now it's at the Lab. Until I open it, it is a very serious wine, a symbol of good fortune and ripe with magic potential. After, it'll just be some vinegar I've been keeping in the fridge. )


David McDuff said...

You might be pleasantly surprised by the Yquem, as stickies like it have been known to withstand a little more abuse than their drier siblings. A friend shared a bottle of 1945 Yquem with me a couple of years back, one that had been much more seriously abused based on a comparative viewing. It was badly bruised but not vanquished, and still quite tasty.

Anonymous said...

Bad move hon. Dad is going to want it back now you have reminded him we have it.

Love your wife

J David Harden said...

David, I'm quietly optimistic. 70 isn't a banner year for Yquem, but I find they do well even in the little years (or this is what I tell myself because who can afford the banner years?!) Time will tell. And to my darling wife, I have every intention of making sure Big Mick is with us when we break it open. Doesn't seem right otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Can your nanny be there too? She loves Yquem

Jack said...

"One red, from Burgundy. One white, a Riesling. Each costs more than $20 a bottle (if just), and so can be considered serious."

I can't say I'm agreeing that a $22 of NZ Riesling, nor a $22 bottle of red Burg are "serious" and something to seriously age.

I don't know of anyone intentionally ageing NZ riesling in their cellars (German and Austrian are by far the two choices), and those $22 red Burgs are to be drunk young...they'd sell for more it they were meant for (or could improve with) ageing.

But for a 6 year experiment, I'm betting the Burgundy will show more interesting change over time...well, if it's half interesting to start with.

J David Harden said...

You raise fair points. But I assure you, we didn't make our choices willy-nilly. You just have to work a little harder to find serious wine at these price points (not really, but it's how I justify my time to the kids in the Lab). We found the Burgundy at auction and it's from a "minor" year, the hail-battered 2001. We're hoping the price reflects an attitude about the vintage and ignorance of the charms of this particular offering which comes from very good terroir. Time will tell. You might want to try the Pyramid Valley Vineyard Riesling. It's around (klwines.com, whwc.com) Whether it is, in fact, "serious" is something you'll have to decide for yourself, but the producer is serious as a heart attack. It's an intentionally Mosel-style Riesling that shows great promise. And I'm hardly the only one who thinks so: http://www.pyramidvalley.co.nz/press.html.
As Lyle Fass might say, but with significantly more profanity, there are plenty of "works of art" in this price range. Wine is highly imperfect market with plenty of arbitrage opportunities. If you keep an open mind.


Christy said...

shhhhh. keep quiet about the NZ Rieslings! They're hard enough to find as it is. If word gets out, they'll be even harder to track down.

-- www.franklywines.blogspot.com