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THURSDAY THORNS
02/26/2015
Wine Too Old To Drink? Too Young To Drink?

By Stephen Eliot

It is the very rare wine that lives for thirty or forty years, and even rarer is the one that is genuinely improved by it. And, the storied few that do, at least in great part, have sadly become so ridiculously expensive that they have become untouchable to most wine lovers and are more often than not trophies collected by those for whom price is no object.

Lately there have been, among a good many who engage in vinous punditry, woebegone lamentations that modern wine has lost its way in a mad dash to placate consumers and critics who seek nothing more than immediate gratification. Those folks, it is said with a sneer, have no appreciation for the depth and involving complexity that fine wine can deliver if only the wine would last for decades.

High-ticket Cabernets from Napa Valley and Bordeaux made in new, riper styles are most often cited as the prime offenders in this “loss of soul”. They are loudly and obnoxiously damned in some quarters with the unreasoned hate of a scorned lover, and, much of the time, the vitriol spills over to include latter-day wine critics, retailers and sommeliers whose advice and recommendations have hoodwinked unwitting consumers into buying bottles that violate all that is holy and true about fine wine.

As one who has a fair share of older wines hidden away in the cellar, I would argue that the notion of greatness only being achieved by a generation or more aging is as outmoded as typewriters and rotary-dial phones. Wines that have lasted for decades are different, yes, but are they a priori better? And, just how long must a wine age to be deemed worthy of bended-knee soliloquies?

The knock on modern Cabernets and Clarets, in particular, is that they fall apart after only a few years, but that is a phenomenon that is not in the least all-encompassing. There are certainly high-alcohol behemoths that have not withstood the test of time, but they are not nor have ever been the norm, and, in the case of much-maligned Napa Cabernets, I have recently been tasting my way through a host of ten- to fifteen-year-old wines that have grown in stature and beauty. Maybe they will have died in some ten or twenty years hence, but many will not. They are involving, thought-provoking wines of enormous interest right now, and that some might possibly faded in advance of their thirtieth birthday hardly seems an unforgiveable sin. Indeed, since when has thirty years of successful aging become the standard by which grandeur is measured? Some wines will last that long. Most will not.

Fine wine is a continuum, not some static model lost in some past and irretrievable golden age. The pendulum of style and technique is constantly moving, and today’s wines are, by definition, a dialectic synthesis of the past. There may never be another 1929 Latour, 1947 Cheval Blanc, 1961 Romanee Conti or 1974 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard, but there are contemporary wines that are just as compelling, and the number of them has never been greater. The enormous improvement in viticulture and viniculture in the last twenty years cannot be dismissed, and, if genuine complexity can come in a single decade rather than many, I simply do not understand the complaints.

All of the nay saying, especially the most vehement, has the sound of a reactionary last stand of vinous conservatism, and those that would have us believe that modern Claret and serious Napa Valley Cabernet are indistinguishable from a batch of lesser, high-octane red wines at a small fraction of the price have either lost their ability to taste or are simply not paying attention.


 

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Comments

Our wine blog
by Carl W. Hennige
Posted on:3/2/2015 2:44:48 PM

Amen.  The attached wine blog represents the group tasting of approximately 130 older wines, from early 70’s to late 80’s.  Many, many of them were outstanding examples of well made wines that had aged gracefully and still provided great enjoyment. 

 http://folsomwinegroup.blogspot.com/

 

 

No Subject
by Russell T. Turner
Posted on:3/3/2015 8:54:16 PM

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