“This wine is very good but will it age?” seems to be one of the most asked questions I’ve heard over the years when tasting young wines with professionals, educated wine aficionados and even those new to wine. It is the question that goes beyond “do I like it?” or “what is this I’m tasting?”
But is ageability really as important in today’s market as it was in the past?
For most wine drinkers, the question of ageability is not critical, as about 90 percent of all wine purchased in the U.S. is consumed within a couple of days. For those who like to hold a few dozen bottles for special occasions the question is of marginal significance, but for collectors who relish the treat of a well-aged wine, it is of optimum importance when deciding what to purchase and how much to pay.
Many traditionalists agree that the newer and critically acclaimed winemaking style of extreme ripeness, forward fruit, low acid, high alcohol and soft tannic structure does not bode well for aging. But others argue that the current wave of 95-point plus wines will do just fine with time. The jury remains out on the answer.
At our son’s recent 40th birthday celebration, his wine-savvy friends began a conversation contrasting younger wines made in the more current fashion against the older wines on the table that spoke of heritage and history. The opinions expressed leaned heavily toward the older wines with their classic structure, finesse and intricate balance as opposed to the younger ones that spoke more to immediate enjoyment and hedonistic style.
Now, of course, the older wines we tasted have had years to arrive at their current levels of pleasure while the younger ones are still developing. Yet the overall consensus seemed to doubt they will achieve the same level of greatness as their historic counterparts.
During Randy’s birthday dinner, we enjoyed three highly respected and sought-after wines from France, Australia and Napa Valley. The 1982 Château Léoville Las Cases (12.5 percent alcohol) from Bordeaux’s St. Julien was absolutely stunning with a feminine bouquet dried roses, layers of cassis and spice on the palate supported by firm and integrated tannins and acidity. The 1990 Henschke Hill of Grace (13.5 percent alcohol) from Australia’s Barossa Valley was pale in color but expressive of masculine character accented by notes of spice and dried black fruits with hints of red. The 1992 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon (13.5 percent alcohol) from Napa Valley’s Oakville region was the boldest of the group and reminiscent of an underappreciated vintage in a golden era of Napa Valley cabernets that were opulent yet extremely well balanced and structured for the long haul.
A few days later at lunch with a friend, longtime vintner and collector, we enjoyed another “oldie but goodie” that tantalized my senses with its greatness. The 1991 M. Châpoutier Côte-Rotie La Mordorée (13 percent alcohol) from France’s Northern Rhone displayed grace and charm one rarely finds with a syrah based wine from elsewhere in the world. It showed beautifully at a peak of enjoyment with many years ahead.
Given changing tastes and an evolving marketplace more geared to current enjoyment, it is possible the current style is more in synch with today’s wine drinker and the argument may render itself moot over time. On the one hand, I find this unfortunate as there are many classics to enjoy. Yet on the other hand, a new generation of wine enthusiasts may be carving a different model for their future enjoyment.
My Nov. 1 column — “Vintage 2013 in the Napa Valley” — drew comments not only on the 2013 vintage but also on why vintage is so important.
Winenovice: I’m just learning about wine and find the differences in vintages to be very confusing. Just what are the best vintages to look for?
That’s an impossible question to answer directly as vintage differences are the “spice” of the wine world and each appeals to the drinker in different ways. This is especially true when combined with the way different varietals show themselves from year to year.
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