Controversy: Could the quality of storage conditions outweigh the importance of the quality of the wine? Musings from a St-Emilion Grand Cru Classé owner, whose family experience in wine-making goes back to the XVIIth century.
Guy Meslin, owner of Château Laroze – Grand Cru Classé Saint Emilion, recently shared with us during a visit to Australia some very interesting observations and conclusions he’s drawn – based on his 25 years experience managing a renown Bordeaux château – about the fundamental importance of cellaring conditions on our enjoyment of wine.
Château Laroze is a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé located at the foot of the hill to the north-west of the Saint-Emilion medieval town, with its vines grown around the Château. The estate of Laroze has been in Guy Meslin’s family since 1882 but his wine-making heritage goes back as far as 1610, with his ancestors the Gurchy family who were winegrowers in Saint-Emilion.
Note: Guy Meslin’s words have been translated from French
These are some personal thoughts which I have developed over the years about the importance and impact of cellaring conditions on our enjoyment of wine. These observations are not based on scientific data though, only on pragmatic experience working in my family’s winery.
When stored within inadequate conditions, it is a fact that wines evolve and mature at a much faster pace, and the general notion is that they need to be consumed earlier. This idea tends to be quite palatable to those who don’t want to invest in adequate wine cellaring equipment – as they would claim that correct cellaring simply delays the wine’s optimal drinking window.
The rationale is flawed however: wine evolves differently at high temperatures and when impacted by regular temperature variations. Tannins in particular, instead of mellowing and gaining roundness, tend to prematurely lose weight; the wine loses structure and appears lean. What happens is that the wine “ages” in an unbalanced way, instead of evolving harmoniously.
This phenomenon is quite negligible right at the beginning but speeds up with years. When this occurs, most individuals understandably tend to jump to the conclusion that the quality of the wine must be average, when in fact it is the result of bad cellaring conditions. Indeed, as consumers generally aren’t aware of the conditions in which the wine has been stored since it left the winery, they are often-times misled… leading to their perception of the wine and the image of the château being tarnished.
This is why I tend to say that, after a few years, a wine’s profile depends as much on the conditions in which it’s been stored as the quality of the wine itself.
Obviously, the better the quality and structure of the original wine, the better it will resist to poor cellaring conditions, but there is no doubt that it will still lose a few feathers along the way and will always “lose the battle” in the end – after many years of ageing.
At Laroze, temperature happens to be one of the rare parameters we monitor carefully as early on as the harvested grapes being brought to the winery: we attempt to control it with the utmost precision and relentlessly until the bottled wine leaves our cellars many years later. It is an essential part of the wine-making process and should not stop once the wine is dispatched.
Wine freight and the storage solutions used by importers and distributors should also be very carefully monitored – always maintaining wine in a temperature-controlled environment. This should be perpetuated in the retailer’s store and the customer’s home: one could refer to this as the “cold chain”, stringently followed for fresh and frozen foods. This is a determining factor because wine is a “living” product in the sense that it has a limited lifespan, and as per human beings, this lifespan can be largely determined by the environment we live in.
The takeaway I would like to offer is that, when it comes to your enjoyment of wine, the way you procure it and the way you store it as a customer is just as determining as the quality of the wine – and at times even more important than any other factor, for instance if you enjoy aged wines. To this I would add service temperature (see some personal tips below) and choice of glassware.
I do not advise leaving any of these factors up to good fortune!
BONUS TIPS FROM GUY MESLIN
Intriguing Personal Findings On Service Temperature!
An optimum temperature exists for each type of wine, and just a few degrees difference can really make a difference to how much you enjoy the wine.
For classified Bordeaux reds, most châteaux and experts agree that 16° to 18° is the ideal bracket. In my case I chose precisely 18°.
There are two ways to obtain this recommended temperature – which based on my experience can present surprisingly different results. Assuming in both cases the bottle is coming from a climate-controlled cellar at 12°-14°:
Having had many opportunities to try both options, I can say without a doubt that I prefer the second option which presents a more pleasurable result on the palate. Indeed tannins seem to be better integrated and have a smoother, more velvety feel. The difference is considerable and truly deserves to be experienced if you want to enjoy your wines at their very best
It’s sincerely worth a try!
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