After getting engaged a few weeks ago, @curiousmike gave me the choice of a bottle from his cellar. Well, I wouldn’t really call it a cellar. More like a stash. But he does possess a number of very interesting wines. My pick was the Woodstock Five Feet 1998 (pictured) – today’s equivalent might be the Shiraz-Cabernet blend. It was the last bottle of a case that he bought shortly after release. A relatively inexpensive wine, it was by no means a fine wine, but it got me thinking of the value in ageing wines.
If you have ever thought about laying a few wines down long term, then make sure you get some of the basics right. The vast majority of wines are made to be consumed anytime time between two weeks and two years after bottling. Although this is somewhat of a generalisation, let’s not kid ourselves, you won’t see an improvement in bottle from table wines, commercially branded wines, regional wines, cheap wines, bag-in-a-box, Vin de Pays or IGTs. Drink ’em up quickly and enjoy.
If you want to get serious, you might as well play serious. Storage is an important one to get right. Then you have to be patient, and remember all of this is not worth getting right if you don’t have the right wine in the first place. Get some guidance from a reliable source. I’ve said it before, do your homework if necessary.
Bare in mind also that fine wines don’t necessarily follow an upward trend before hitting a plateau and declining. There is often a lull during maturity. Young, fine wine can taste very fruity and lively, but simple. Then, sometime within the first few years after bottling, they can become very closed and offer very little in the way of appealing characteristics. Before long, the wine should be on the rise again, with the bouquet really opening up, the secondary flavours starting to show and a rounded mellowness coming to the fore as any harsh acidity begins to receed.
So you’ve invested in the right bottle, found the right storage and now you’re happy to wait. But when do you know when the time is right? Is it still too young or does it longer to sit? Some people like to buy en primeur at reduced prices in that short period after release. The benefit of buying by the case, like what Mike did with the Woodstock, means that after a few years you can try a bottle every year, or as frequently as you see fit, until you start to get a feel for optimum drinking, and then enjoy the remainder of the case within that optimium period.
New World producers in particular, the likes of Ben Glaetzer and Langmeil, are managing to make fine wines which can be enjoyed young and somehow seem to largely avoid the aforementioned lull in their life cycle. Despite this they will still develop the complexities and mellow characteristics we look for in aged wines.
At last weeks tasting, Emma Shaw told us what Langmeil are doing to help consumers know exactly when to enjoy their wines. Every year, winemaker Paul Lindner will open all his previous vintages and will taste and assess each wine to advise how well each one is currently drinking. I’ll include some details on their Cellaring Reference Sheet in a blog post next week, but more premium wineries should certainly take a leaf out of Langmeil’s book to provide their followers with the best possible guidance.
Without buying by the case or getting advice from someone who has recently opened a bottle of the same wine, it really can be a bit of a guessing game. That can be fun in itself as well, but not so fun if you were to miscalculate. If you don’t have the money to splash on top Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon based Bordeaux can age particularly well), you should do what Mike did, even over 5-6 years, as you’ll get from a case the enjoyment of tasting it over time in its youth, prime and decline.