Thursday, June 21, 2012

why we need to let wine age


Two simple, otherwise unassuming bottles of right bank Bordeaux wines taught me an important lesson on why we need to put wine away, even if it's only for 3 or 4 years.

As part of this year's cellar move, I pulled out two bottles of 2006 St-Émilion to taste. Both were from the En Primeur order I placed in 2008, and completely head-scratching in that why/how did I decide to buy THESE wines??!! kind of way. But they're there now; surely no harm in having a taste. And while they weren't spectacular or exceptional, they were very good wines that more importantly, taught me a great lesson on why we need to age wines.

Both wines are primarily merlot, with a good amount of cabernet franc. And while North Americans think of Merlot as insipid, overly fruity wines with no structure, the wines from the merlot homeland of Bordeaux are anything but. The wines of St-Émilion and Pomerol have that degree of ripeness, but also a backbone, and more importantly balance that allow them to age for decades. And that achieve shockingly high prices. The alcohol levels in these wines seem to be steadily increasing annually, but at their best, these wines have a perfume that is unmatched.

And so we have a first look at a pair of 2006's. The wines were still youthful, but had shed that youthful exuberance, that out of control fruit and oak. Everything had started to settle down, and while one bottle was decidedly rustic after just pulling the cork, it had developed a great complexity by the next day. What struck me most was how aging had softened the tannins and created this wonderful velvety texture on the palate, like the wine was floating. Also striking was how pure the wines had become, how the fruit had become so sweet. Very satisfied to see how the wines were coming along, at 6 years of age. For one of them at least, I'm comfortable with putting away for another 10 years.

A great misconception about aging is that it somehow will make the wine better. And that's one of the harder things for a wino to have to explain. Because a wine is not, and can never be described as better than another wine, in the same way that a person cannot be described as better than another. Aging simply changes the wine, and helps it reach its potential. All the parts need time and patience to integrate, to fully become one with itself, as cheeseball as that sounds. And I'm now thoroughly convinced that the only way to understand and appreciate a wine is to allow it some time to grow up.


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