Have we become the most impatient wine drinkers in the world?
I ask this in view of the fact that more fine wine gets drunk earlier than ever before.
That’s no big surprise, since more fine wine gets released earlier than ever before. I have friends who buy new vintages, say 2005 Cabernets or 2006 Syrahs or 2006 Merlots, and they’ve complained to me that the wines aren’t showing well. What gives?
Probably because the wines are too young. Sure, decanting helps. But our wine culture has evolved. Wineries release their wines earlier; they typically need both revenue and can’t afford to lose a restaurant wine list placement or retail shelf space. And once the wines are sold we’re anxious to assess our purchases. I’m among those who always opens new wines I’ve bought the day they arrive, or soon thereafter.
But I noticed that "older" wine drinkers, those with what I’d call the collector mindset, have a hands-off approach to new releases. They perhaps better understand and appreciate what a little time in the bottle will do for a wine. They too grew up in a time when wineries held their wines for four to five years after the vintage. An old-school Cabernet might have been aged in oak for two-plus years and then held in bottle for another two-plus years. No more. Young Cabernets are bottled and sold, often within months of being bottled and corked.
What’s interesting about this scenario is this: Winemakers typically know their wines the best. They taste them frequently, particularly when they’re young, looking for development or defects or potential problems. And they know that wines undergo bottle shock when bottled and that it typically takes months for the wines to recover from that. Winemakers also know that once a young wine, a 2006 Chardonnay or 2005 Cabernet for example, has three years in bottle, it will show more predictably than in the first few months after its been bottled. But many of us can’t wait that long and the wines will be long gone before they’re at their most stable and predictable state.
I noticed this the other night after opening a 2004 Chasseur Sylvia’s Pinot Noir from Russian River (95 points, $52). It remains a remarkably elegant, delicate wine, but it has even more finesse and polish than it did when I bought a half-dozen bottles two years ago. I loved the wine when I bought it (and of course I tried a bottle the moment it arrived, that impatient thing). But the past two times I’ve opened it, it has been more elegant and refined, having shed a little of the baby fat fruitiness of its infancy. It’s still young, but has offered wonderful complexity and delicacy on all occasions. At this age I know more of what to expect than I did earlier on. So on this wine color me two ways: anxious to try it young, and patient enough to let a few bottles age (the benefit of having a few more bottles to try over time).
It’s much more frustrating when you only have one bottle and have to fight the temptation to find out what it tastes like the minute it arrives. I'm not sure I'll change my ways. But many of these youngsters need six months to a year from the day you buy them. That's worth considering, at least for the long weekend.
Mark Owens — Cincinnati, Oh. — August 29, 2008 12:15pm ET
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