Some say that mature wine is an acquired taste – I don’t believe so.
Yes, some wines are best drunk in their youth but even the simplest sauvignon blanc benefits from a year or so in bottle.
As I write this, a tsunami of 2012 whites is pouring into my tasting room – just weeks after the 2012 harvest. I twist the screwcap, splash some in the glass and sniff through the sulphur used to help preserve our wines – yes, its sauvignon blanc and identifiably from Marlborough but that’s about all.
When I open a 2011, from the quality producer such as Forrest Estate, there’s patently more character and complexity on the nose, which is echoed on the palate. John Forrest doesn’t rush his Sauvignon into bottle nor onto the market and the benefits his care are pleasingly apparent.
The joys of cellaring are even more apparent with riesling with Eden Valley wines from the cool 2011 vintage a long way from revealling their full potential. Based on past experience (riesling has thrived in the Eden Valley for 150 years) the 2011’s should follow the trajectory of the equally cool 2002 rieslings, which are only now hitting their straps. The trick is knowing just when to pop the cork (or increasing screw the cap) or perhaps, even more importantly, on what occasion.
A young riesling (such as the 2011 Pewsey Vale) is the perfect aperitif or partner to freshly sucked oysters with a squeeze of lemon. Or, forget the lemon, and tip a splash of the riesling into the shell and slurp it down – heaven. The citrusy acidity of the riesling becomes the perfect substitute for a wedge of lemon. Open a bottle of 2002 The Contours (the Reserve Riesling from Pewsey Vale) and you’ll find the flavours are richer and the acid seems calmer – yet there’s been no change in the wines chemistry.
It’s simply that over time the flavours of riesling build into rich, dry toast and lime marmalade-like characters, which make the perfect partner to a spicy Moroccan chicken dish with preserved lemon and served on a bed of couscous – yummo.
Reds offer an even clearer example of the joys of cellaring. 2010 was an excellent (post-drought) vintage across much of the eastern Australia and, while many are now on the market, the top drops are yet to come. Youthful reds shout of bold fruit flavours and equally bolshie tannins – necessitating a lump of short-cooked red meat, like roast beef or barbequed lamb.
The overt (red and black) fruit flavours of a young red, such as the 2010 AMON-Ra by Ben Glaetzer, match the density of the meat leaving the muscly tannins to mop up the meat’s protein punch and (flavour enhancing) fat. Meanwhile, a decade on the 2002 AMON-Ra (Ben’s first) is altogether a calmer wine and more suited to a slow-cook dish such as a steak and kidney pie. Slow-braised meat with its additives of onions, garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes and /or vegetables plus liquid – be it water, stock or even better wine, is much calmer than short-cooked protein.
Time brings all the dish’s ingredients together, in a similar way as time brings all the components of a good wine into vinous harmony.
And harmony is the goal – harmony between the food and wine, harmony between your guests, harmony with the setting, with the music and the cosmos. Ethereal stuff perhaps, but in the end, it’s the occasion that brings a bottle of wine to life. A youthful bottle laying in your wine cabinet is in its infancy – time will bring depth, character and personality – its pleasures only revealed at the table with good friends and good food. Wine is about an occasion, about sharing and conversing, about time and place. Every bottle has its own story – only shared when, like a genie, it’s released from its bottle.
I’ve been lucky to taste some great wines over the last 35 of my (professional drinking) life. Yes, there have been some highlights – a sip of exquisite 1921 Chateau d’Yquem at a Yalumba Museum tasting almost 30 years ago, still lingers in my mind. A glass of ethereal 1937 Dr Barolet Charmes Chambertin with its perfumes of old lace and faded rose petals and fragile yet deeply exotic flavours, a heavenly highpoint.
My best wine memories are of occasions – a long lunch with a parade of magnums to celebrate my 60th birthday with a table of 20 close friends. A fantastic bouillabaisse on a sunny terrace with the Mediterranean Sea lapping with a bottle of Ch Riotor Rosé, an everyday wine bought to life by the food, the setting – and my wife.
Cellaring is the key to a deep love and understanding of wine – be sure it’s kept safe and sound in a climate-controlled wine cellar.
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