Friday, 6 January 2012

Old Red Wine

My last post touched on a lunch with some special classic wines brought along by a group of disparate wine lovers. I remarked that only 2 of the 14 wines were of this century, including the Mas de L'Écriture 2001 I brought to the party. The other was a Ruchottes Chambertin F Esmonin (Burgundy of course) and was the wine I’d most like to imbibe again. The oldest was 1966 Chateau Palmer (Bordeaux) along with Graham’s port of the same year.
The event prompted me to ponder some fairly deep personal matters – vinous of course. It distils down to this - ‘has my taste changed to favour younger red wine’?

I discovered wine in the early 1980s. In hindsight this could be considered the golden age of wine given that, with the exception of the so called Bordeaux great growths and a few equivalents, icon wines were affordable. A 10 year old Palmer from a modest vintage back then cost me a similar amount after inflation to the L'Écriture. These days Palmer is ×5 and up that of L'Écriture. Of course much has changed in 30 years. Fine wine has become a serious investment and therefore distorts values of course, but most crucial has been the revolution in wine making know-how and equipment. Poor vintages are enjoyable rather than near undrinkable or even a write-off. Often overlooked is that wines back then were usually made to go with food, or more pertinently simply needed food, and traditionally rich food at that. They also possessed less alcohol generally and the fruit seemed to be in a lower key.

Most fine reds needed to be aged. In their youth they seemed tannic monsters, or at least somewhat hard, and most soon withdrew into a comparatively dumb period for several years. With luck, a palatable complex wine would eventually emerge, usually after several disappointing bottles had been broached along the way. Perhaps I exaggerate a to make a point, but this did apply to plenty of well reputed clarets I owned or tasted.

Some wines are still built to age of course, but most have riper tannins and fruit making them more attractive throughout their life. There are also new styles. So called fruit bombs mainly from the new world are one that don’t appeal. Vibrant, expressive, supple and perfectly balanced wines do.

Going back to my analysis of ‘has my taste changed’ then perhaps the answer is not so much ‘yes’, but more ‘my taste has grown to appreciate, and often prefer, certain modern styles’. There are several Languedoc domains making reds (from Mediterranean varieties) that I’m familiar with and with a proven track record of ageing well for 10 years or more. Along with L'Écriture, aged cuvees from Alain Chabanon, Virgile Joly, Mas Jullien, Marfée and Ollier Taillefer have all given great pleasure and, in the future as a treat, will continue to do so. Golden age the 1980s may have been, but with the choice and diversity available today certainly not missed by me.

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