Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Convoluted Thoughts on Cellaring Wine

You know what I realized the other day? I have never purchased a bottle of wine, cellared it for long enough so that one would consider it "ready" to drink, and then drunk the wine. I simply haven't been collecting wine long enough. The mature wine I drink is purchased way after release, or comes to me via generous friends, over meals we share.

I recently drank a glorious bottle of 1995 Chandon de Briailles Corton-Clos du Roi, a bottle I purchased in December of 2008 while in Beaune. Let's see, by the summer of 1995 I had been out of college for two years. I spent the first year waiting tables at a French restaurant in Manhattan, and the second year as a middle school science teacher at a South Bronx public school. I wasn't buying Grand Cru Burgundy on my pathetic teacher's salary. I never tasted this wine young, and then decided that I would age it about 14 years before drinking the next bottle. I bought it and hoped for the best, and this time, that's exactly what I got.

In the first half of 2009, I drank a bunch of Muscadet and decided to age Marc Ollivier's 2007 Clos des Briords and Jo Landron's 2007 Fief du Breil, and the 2002 Luneau Papin Clos des Noelles Excelsior. I'm hoping to wait 10 years before trying the next bottles. I made the decision to cellar those bottles because I drank them, and other Muscadets, and given my constraints regarding space and money, I felt that these would be the most rewarding to cellar. With wines that cost $16-$22, I can afford to drink them young and figure out for myself what I want to do.

The other day I purchased a bottle of 2006 Chandon de Briailles Corton-Maréchaudes on sale for $66. That's well into splurge territory for me, something that happens infrequently. And I have never tasted this wine, nor have I tasted any wine from Maréchaudes, not that I can remember. But I bought it with complete confidence based on the producer, and on the larger place - Corton. I assumed when buying it that I would cellar it for about 12 years.

Is that weird, to invest 12 years in a wine that I've never before tasted? Maybe not. I've had several mature Corton wines, and they develop beautiful complexity with time. Why would this wine from this fantastic and old-school producer be any different? After all, I just drank the 1995 a few weeks ago and it was utterly gorgeous, with fresh ripe fruit that crackled with minerals, and a pungently animale undercurrent. I want my 2006 to become like that wine, the 1995. If I wait 12 years that will surely be the case, no? I wish I could afford to drink this young, to get a better sense of its potential.

I tend to jump on the "cellar-your-wine" bandwagon, blindly assuming that my splurge wines must improve if I cellar them. And hopefully they will, but who knows what will happen when the cork is eventually pulled - not every wine that is supposed to age well actually does. Some people say that we fetish-ize the aging of wine, and that the point is lost somewhere - we do it just for the sake of doing it, without any real sense of what we're trying to achieve.

At a recent industry tasting I had the chance to taste the 2006 Chandon de Briailles Corton-Bressandes. It was unmistakably and immutably delicious, even at this crowded and loud event where it is not possible to really understand a wine. It is all about fruit at this stage, but it is elegant and deeply pitched, with a dense and concentrated feeling yet not at all heavy. Surprisingly, the harsh young tannic structure that I expected was not present. I would quite happily drink this wine now, and some people would say I'd be committing a crime in doing so. Perhaps they're right - perhaps the full character of this great wine needs a decade plus in a cold cellar in order to express itself.

But isn't a bird in hand worth two in the bush? In this particular case, I know what I'm trying to achieve by cellaring my 2006 Maréchaudes. But since I never drank the 1995 young (or any of the other Corton I've been lucky enough to drink), I don't have a sense of what the beginning should be like. In other words, I know what the end should be like, but I'm not sure about the beginning. And now that I am ready to create my own beginnings, I'm not on entirely steady ground.


Susan said...

Cellaring certain wines seems like the way to go when I hear how some wines will be better in 10 years, like you say in your post. However, I feel that in 10 years so many things could happen, to the world, healthwise to me, that I would rather have wine to drink now.

Sheila said...

Ideally you have more than one bottle so you open them every six
months or so because they do go through the dumb phase. Having said
that I started tasting and buying wines in the seventies. So the philosophy was cellar the wines.
Tasting them young unless you can
tell how they will age does not do
the wine justice. They used to refer to it as the rape of the wine. However the world has changed. So you build a cellar so there are wines to drink now. Oh yes Zinfandel's do age.

Asher said...

"Is that weird, to invest 12 years in a wine that I've never before tasted?"

For most Barolo and Barbaresco (putting aside the spoofy wines that are deliberately made for early consumption), 12 years aging is a no-brainer.

Personally, I buy in threes and fours as a minimum, so that I can try one bottle now, a second in two or three years, and another bottle or two more long term, and thus experience the evolution. I recognize that that may not be possible with "splurge" wines, but that's the ideal.

Sheila said...

They are called futures. Yes you can taste the wines however when
very young what is it telling you.
Drank many Bordeaux and Chateauneuf du pape young told me nothing. So read the reviews of people you trust.
Or know the wine will develop like my Chateau Fortia 2004. Did I taste it yes at a wine tasting was it drinkable no. Will it develop yes cellar tracks is a good place to see how it is developing. So yes
invest in a wine cellar however never think how a young wine is
tasting now is all it potential.

Mad Doc said...

Brook--Your writings are great, and I share many of your wine interests. I used to worry about this, I have been buying wine since the 80's. Then you could get at auction 10-15yr bottles, good provenance, known vintages and producers, cheaper than current releases. Imagine that. So i did things backwards as well.

So now for going forward I bough cases, 1 bottle, and the usual 3-4 bottle lots, kept them usually a min of 10 yrs before opening. I have learned a lot. Yes there is a dumb stage, is it the wine or my particular dumb state of mind the day I drink? I think both but I am very convinced that extrinsic factors heavily influence. The one thing that has been most rewarding is having a before and after on a wine that transforms. But for sure, you never have enough of the best, you hold 3 or 4 bottles that probably were cooked when you acquired them, and there is always a great bottle ready to be acquired somewhere, and usually for a good price.

Last point--Burgundy has always been the most hit or miss for me. Bad bottles, greatest vintage variation, wrong timing on pulling the cork on those precious few that i have bought, and always so expensive. So I have basically given up on the region. For perspective the best memories were my JAcky Truchot 85s, and my Pousse Volnays from 90. Most of my burgundy acquisitions were from great vintages, and even then its been a mixed bag. I have been jazzed most with my 83 Amarones, Ancient JJ Prums, and all Loire from 88-96.