The other day, while interviewing John Alban for our upcoming California Rhône Rangers report, I asked the winemaker of his namesake winery about tasting some of his older wines to see how they were aging. I was enthusiastic, as if it might be fun.
His response surprised me on several accounts.
First, he paused, as if the thought of a retrospective tasting might be a good idea. He then quickly said that he didn't have many of his older wines—he had holes in his verticals.
I countered, "That's OK, let's taste what you have," to which he seemed to relent. Sort of.
Upon further consideration, he said (or I heard) the real problem with a tasting of older vintages is that those kinds of tastings weren't all that instructive. The main reason, he said, is that he doesn't make wine today like he used to, and that older wines don't tell him all that much about the newer ones. Fair enough.
Winemakers (and viticulturists) now adjust and modify their methods more with each vintage than at any other time in history. (Though it's also refreshing to encounter traditionalists who stick to their guns and seldom change a thing, provided they make good wines.)
Old wines should offer something about their character or the vintage or the techniques used to achieve a style. But to Alban's mind they would have little bearing on new wines and what lies ahead.
We didn't get much further on the subject, and I understood his points. Yet one measure of a great wine used to be how well or poorly it aged and developed over time. Modern-style wines—those that are riper and intended for immediate enjoyment—often come under fire from traditionalists who maintain a wine has to age and improve to validate its greatness.
It's my contention that, all things considered, modern wines more or less age about as well as those of yesteryear. It's easy to cite the example of a 20- or 30-year-old wine that's glorious and still humming and just as easy to forget the many others that aren't.
That said, I'm not surprised when readers complain that they expect more ageability out of the newer wines and are still stumped by the assertion of many critics that it's best to drink the wines now and young rather than lay them down for cellaring in hope they will improve.
Just the other day I ran into a longtime friend who is very knowledgeable (and highly opinionated) about wine. She works in the wine industry and yet still finds the notion of winemakers making wines to drink now at the expense of long-term cellar dividends a difficult concept to embrace. I'd call that a blind spot.
But it reminded me that few wines, no matter the style, can please everyone.
I haven't given up on the Alban vertical yet, either.
Andrew J Walter — Sacramento, CA — January 26, 2010 8:35pm ET
Kirk R Grant — Bangor, Maine — January 26, 2010 8:55pm ET
Brian Buzzini — NorCal — January 26, 2010 9:46pm ET
Richard Lee — Napa — January 26, 2010 10:16pm ET
Kevin Harvey — Santa Cruz, CA, USA — January 26, 2010 10:24pm ET
Greg Flanagan — Bethel CT — January 27, 2010 9:26am ET
Matt Scott — Honolulu HI — January 27, 2010 12:01pm ET
David Miers — Baltimore, MD — January 28, 2010 10:19am ET
Matthew Billet — Ashburnham, MA — January 28, 2010 2:09pm ET
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