In praise of mature wine

It may seem absurd to write a post in praise of mature wine–indeed, it’s one of those things, like sunny days and flowers in bloom, that people aren’t exactly rushing to oppose. But sometimes we still need encouragement to take time to smell the flowers and such is the case with enjoying mature wine. It has come up a few times in (offline) discussion that I have been in recently: do people still cellar wine? Is mature wine relevant? And, most pointedly, why do young people hate mature wine?

Drinking mature wines has many inherent risks. As with a young wine, the wine could be “corked,” or unredeemably musty smelling. (But the rate may actually be higher than with young wines since the cork industry has taken some steps to reduce cork taint in recent decades.) Storage conditions are often an unknown variable with mature wine, especially if you are purchasing the wine; improper storage conditions may prematurely advance the wine, or dry out the cork, allowing oxygen in (a symptom that is sometimes visible by wine trickling out).

But once you get a good bottle, it can be so, so good. At Christmas last year, we had a superb bottle of 1992 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet. I decanted it and the aromas alone made me want to plunge in head-first. Similarly, a 1991 Dominus that I had recently that was out-of-this-world delicious. Or a 1978 Ridge Geyserville Zinfandel that seemed more akin to a gorgeous northern Rhone than a brawny, young zinfandel.

Of course, I’ve had many European wines with age in recent months that have been stunning. But I think it’s worth pausing on California wines since it gets to the question of young people and old wine. I find that people under 40 (if we are still considered young) are fascinated by older California wines because they represent something different than the current releases available from America’s most productive state. The cabernets are from a largely bygone era, one of lower alcohol, less extraction and more subtleties than power. Moreover, many of them can be found, with some digging, for equivalent to or lower prices than top wines today from California. The trouble is that they have to be sought out and treated with care and do, of course, carry more storage risks.

So, yes, mature wine is relevant–how could it not be? It is so often apogee of the wine experience. While I absolutely relish a current release wine with dinner, it’s the hunt of finding a mature wine and the anticipation of opening it on a celebratory occasion that make it such a memorable experience. And uncorking them can be a walk down memory lane, or, as it was for me tasting some spectacular Madeiras from the 18th and 19th century and German Rieslings spanning the 20th century recently, gorgeous time capsules to glimpse way back in history.

Between now and New Year’s Eve, I encourage you to try some mature wine, say, a wine with ten years age on it or more, especially if you’re not in the habit of doing so.

One way to do this is to try it a Rioja. On our anniversary last year, my wife and I enjoyed a 1981 Lopez de Heredia, Bosconia, gran reserva, a delicate, gorgeous wine that evolved with each course we ate. Given the winery’s history for extended bottle aging, the wine is available today–and under $100 at a store.

Another way is to find a reputable store that sources collections. For example, Chambers Street Wine in NYC recently offered a treasure trove of old, intriguing Italian wines and even went so far as to offer a credit for any bad bottle, something that instills tremendous confidence for consumers. Auctions can also yield some finds.

Putting together a dinner is always a great idea too. Selecting a theme that you want to explore and having several people over each bringing a mature bottle is a terrific way to try several bottles for the price of one. Similarly, many stores organize dinners of current release and library wines, often with a winemaker. In my inbox recently, I’ve seen offers to dinners in NYC ranging from $75 – $195 at fun and/or top restaurants with lineups of wines stretching back to 1978. And on Twitter, there have been some casual BYO dinners circulating. Attending any of these dinners has the upside of meeting fellow wine geeks.

Just as it is advisable to play tennis with someone better than you to sharpen your skills, it is also advisable to find a generous friend who has a better (or, at least) different cellar than yours.

While you are enjoying some mature wines now, don’t forget to stash a few things away: Fortunately, age-worthy wines don’t have to break the bank. Riesling, top Muscadet, cabernet franc from the Loire, top chenin blanc, some variations of Nebbiolo all are affordable yet age-worthy.

I hope to write up more of my mature wine experiences here going forward. Hit the comments with your thoughts and experiences.

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32 Responses to “In praise of mature wine”

  1. I am interested to hear more on why you say (or suggest) that young people hate mature wine. Is there an interesting statistic for this? And, how do you define young people?

  2. Hi Gormanmcadams,

    I have heard a couple of people claim recently in conversation that “young people” don’t like mature wine. I dispute that.

  3. I’ve been cellaring wine since the mid -80’s. I’ve got mostly California Cabs, Bordeaux, and some southern Rhone wines in excess of 10 years. Last night we had a ’92 Volcanic Hill and for a friend’s birthday celebration on Sunday I’m planning on an ’88 Caymus Special Select. The fun thing for me has been seeing how these wines change in the bottle over time, and yes, I like the styling of these older wines a good deal more than much of what is being produced today. My two 30-something sons drink wine with dinner, and like most young people their storage is small and somewhere out of the way in the kitchen. We’ve served older wines to them and their friends, and my impression is that they don’t like them any less than we did, they just don’t yet have the resources to waste on a foolish habit such as mine!

  4. Twitter Comment

    An excellent post about the joys of older #wines: [link to post] (Via @Drvino) / @TotalWine

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  5. Perhaps the “young” don’t think of wine like the “old” do? Isn’t it the traditional model to buy cases of wine and store them for generations, while gradually consuming them over decades? Contemporary technology like the i-this-and-that, computers, even blogs seem much more focused on the now or even what’s coming next. If you think of a California cab like a cell phone, then it’ll start to look old… and outdated pretty fast.

  6. Young guy chiming in…
    I was spoiled by my father’s extensive cellar and adore aged wines. I recently picked up several 1980 Cali cabs from WineBid for my 30th birthday later this year, and will occasionally have Burgess cabs with 10-15 years of age for a decent price.

    That being said, it’s tough to cellar wines properly in NYC, and when most shops are only selling current releases – aged bottles are a rarity for me.

  7. I will also chime in as a young person (a barely-of-wine-drinking-age young person at that). I must admit a preference for newer wines, and for two reasons: I like strong, tannic wines that “punch me in the face” (as I like to say), and I know that mature wines are much subtler than that. Also, I simply haven’t gotten the chance to try mature wines. It’s certainly something I’m interested in exploring.

  8. There are three issues with mature wine:

    1. It takes time
    2. Age-worthy wines are generally more expensive
    3. Failure rate is an issue

    #1 keeps young people from drinking aged wine because quite simply, they don’t have any. Aged wine in the market is extremely expensive and provenance is unknown. Even if you buy ageworthy wines young (#2), they usually cost more than early drinkers. And finally, #3 means that even though you pay more upfront and pay to store the wine, you are are SOL if the wine oxidizes, dies or is in a dumb phase when you open it. With a young wine there is a fighting change at least of getting a refund if it’s corked. And it won’t be in a dumb phase, either, as its peak is youth.

    Simple economics and risk management, I’d say. If aged wines were either competitively priced or insured to perform to some standard, people would buy them. They’re not, so people either drink young or wait on their cellars. I do both.

  9. Twitter Comment

    (Via @Drvino) An excellent post about the joys of older wines: [link to post]

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  10. Here’s my two cents.

    When I started drinking wine I was 20-22…and that wasn’t long ago. I was desperate to try more mature wines, but simply didn’t have access to them.

    I was willing to spend some money, so I ordered older wines on the internet and purchased wines at auction. Unfortunately, I ended up with a lot of dead and spoiled wine. There were two reasons for this. First of all, I wasn’t ordering the right wines…I was so desperate to try something with a little age on it that I wasn’t looking carefully enough for the right producers and for wines of truly “age worthy” quality. Also, Most of the wines I purchased had to travel to me since they weren’t available locally.

    I think it’s absurd to say that young people don’t appreciate mature wine…they simply don’t have access to it (even if they have money)

    I spent a lot of money on worthless old wine, but I was fortunate to get a few gems too. I learned a lot from my experience and went on to work in the wine world for a while.

    What did I do with the wine that was bad? Some went down the drain, but I do have fond memories of dancing around the bonfire in my back yard while pouring some early 80’s clos de beze over my head… I was in college… it was all about learning and having fun!

  11. A decent sweet chenin from the Loire won’t cost too much when young, but will repay your patience. Young Hunter Valley semillon may be an even better value.

  12. I am 54 years young & have been collecting wines for probably close to 30 years now and I pretty much completely agree with your post. I find it very rare to come across someone like myself – someone who has a decent stash of quality, well stored older wines that are waiting or in need of consumption. Unfortunately my English girlfriend (we live in Melbourne) does not like 95% of any old wine I server her so I guess fortunately that means more for me. But I love to share the experience as to me that is what wine is all about. Many folks & friends say I should sell some of it but I hope to drink every last bottle. Just got back from a short visit to the Barossa & McLaren Vale where I had 3 amazing old wine experiences. First I was fortunate enough to be invited to a monthly event by local Barossa wine makers called the Spice Club. 10 to 12 wine folk meet each month & bring 2 bottles of bagged (blind) wine to fit a specified theme – this was your ‘desert island wine’ or one under wax. I took a 1990 Chave Hermitage & a 1984 Dunn Vineyard Howell Moutain & they stunned all the very smart wine folk there. Then a friend of mine who used to be a sommelier for David Bouley in NYC hosted a dinner that I supplied many wines from my cellar (link to wines consumed – man was it good juice! The next day was a grenache tasting with the likes of Steve Pannell, critic Phillip White, Sameul’s Gorge winemaker Justin McNamee, etc…which we got to sample some stunning versions of aged Grenache including my donation a 1990 Chateau Rayas. All in all — 5 days that confirmed for me old wine is worth the wait.

  13. Young or Old, the true losers in the world of aged wine are whites! I’m a real “bianchista” as we say here in Italy and I have had numerous outstanding white wines with 6-12 years of bottle age that we never meant to mature! (Esp Tocai Friulano!)
    The misconception (spread even by the likes of James Suckling in his most recent report on NE Italy) that whites are best drunk young is rampant.
    Apart from the obvious great Chardonnays and Rieslings, there are a world of great whites out there that give so much pleasure after 5-10 yrs. Trust me!

  14. Dr Vino, why did you decant the 92 Montelena?

    The vast majority of my limited wine knowledge has been bestowed on me by John & Dottie. In their absence, I am now turning to other sources such as yourself.

    I remember J&D always said that decanting was not necessary, unless perhaps the bottle had a lot of sediment.

    Perhaps you could write another essay (or point me to one you have already written) about the subject of decanting older stuff?


  15. Many years ago, an aged humble Rioja was an epiphany for me. I am neither old nor young. I am both. Very interesting post, Dr.
    Puer and Senex are in tension here creating energy and light. Or is that too Jung-ish?

  16. Aged wine is too often a rare experience for most drinkers. And too many people are afraid of buying the wrong thing to age, and waiting too long. I always tell people that if they have to ask if a wine can age a long time, they probably don’t know enough about wine to take that risk. Trust a retailer to help, but even then, most of them don’t drink old wines unless they get invited to a tasting.
    And don’t forget the whites! Two of the most amazing old wines I have ever had was a early 1990’s Hanzell Chardonnay, paired with a white Burgundy from the same vintage (the Hanzell was better!), and a Cantina Terlano 1969 Terlano Classico (I think it was Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco blend, now days it looks like they do a PB, CH and SB blend) from Alto Adige that we drank in 1999. 30 years old and fresh and bright as a spring day. I still remember the revelation that was in that glass!

  17. Oh, and a Clos des Mouches from 75 ot 76, pulled many years past it’s prime from my friends’ Dad’s cellar.
    It tasted like walking through a rainy forest, with wet leaves all over the ground, on a cool fall day. The fruit had left the building years ago, but the flavors were so interesting and different that we drank the whole bottle!

  18. @Daniel: Funny you should mention Hanzell Chard. My first old white was in a vertical of Hanzell I was lucky enough to sit in on while I worked at the ‘Tator (mid ’90s)… The 1966 was Awesome!

  19. I agree with you. The current releases of Nichols wines are 2000 and 2001. Nichols Winery ages its wines several years in the barrels and give his wines at least 5 to 6 years in the bottle before they are released.
    310-305-0397 Cell 310-904-3061

  20. It is my curse or my blessing, depending on your point of view, that I have collected far too much old wine over my three decades plus of writing about wine. I guess some of it simply goes with the territory, and I accept it as such.

    Still with more wine than I will possibly ever drink up, I am blessed and cursed with this enormous list of older wines from which I am able to pull rare bottles on interesting occasions.

    Two that thrilled recently were 1975 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard tasted from magnum and drinking perfectly. The ’74 Marths’s is justifiably considered one of the finest CA wines in the last fifty years, but the ’75, while lighter, has a nice elegant quality, and this wine that was very good on its own, was simply spectacular along side a slab of medium-rare roast beef au jus. Not a hint of over age and plenty of nuance that came out with the food.

    The other wine of note recently was Beaulieu Private Res 1970. This wine was my first ever case purchase and I was lucky enough, or silly enough, to add a bit to that at the cost of $8 a bottle. I still have several left, and when I pulled one out for a dinner of West Coast blogger types, it was beginning to show a bit of a tired edge. But here is the thing. If what is required is primary fruit, then aging wine to forty years is a waste of space and electricity. But, if part of the joy is being able to know old friends across their many twists and turns, then this no longer perfect wine was still very special. It certainly had not died. It just was no longer fruity or juicy. And, by the way, very few Bordeaux ’70s, a vintage that was considered the best of the decade over there, have outlasted this wine.

    Just a couple of other comments. Tasted CA and WA Merlots, 1994 to 1997, the other day. Expected the 94s to show poorly because they were so fruit forward when young. No such problem. They were layered, rich, still had some primary fruit (Duncan Wilcox’s girlfriend would have approved) yet had become fairly sophisticated. The 97s, at higher alcohols, were not as good but, at 13 years old, were still hanging in there.

    All of which leads me to this. We hear a lot of anxiety (and some moaning) about the change in CA wines and how the new breed will not age. Funny thing is that we heard the same complaint with the CA Cabs of the 1970s. The Paris tasting of 1976 was decried by the very French tasters who chose those CA wines first because “they were so much easier to taste when young, but they won’t age”. Well, they have aged perfectly well–as so many comments above confirm. The same thing is going to happen to the balanced wines of the past decade. Out of balance wines never aged well. Balanced wines, and most highly regarded Napa Valley Cabs are pretty well-balanced, are also going to age well despite having moved up a point or so in alcohol level. A little less gnashing of teeth is in order re the aging of those wines simply because we have been down this road before and have proven that balanced Cabs from a top provenance age well.

    The same will be true for CA Chards. The Rameys, DuMols, Hudsons, Marimars, Gary Farrells are going to age well. We have ten years of experience with those wines at higher alcohols. They are not falling apart.

  21. Perhaps its a societal thing why people make the assumption that we younger wine drinkers don’t like aged wines. My generation has the misfortune of being called the instant gratification generation or the now generation. Why wait to drink a wine in 10-15-20 years when I can have wine now! I don’t necessarily agree with this, though I do believe that it is true in some cases. As Rachel mentioned, todays wines are made to “punch you in the face” and while I do enjoy a good punch to the face from time to time, my problem with older wines is time and money. I started cellaring wines around 10 years ago and have some great examples of late 90s early 2000’s Brunello’s, Barollo’s and Barbaresco that have only started to come into maturity. It takes time for these great age worthy wines to reach their full potential, so a lot of younger people like myself who are cellaring their wines, just haven;t had the chance to drink them as of yet. And while I do have a couple older vintages, I don’t have a whole lot of them. This is mainly because they are expensive, and as a student I wasn’t able to afford buying a case of age-worthy wines, which cost considerably more than a drink-today wine. Perhaps we should also be pointing the finger at winemakers who create wines that are very good to drink early from varietals that were once considered to be wines made to be aged. I don’t see this as a problem as long as these wines that can be consumed early are still able to be aged, and show even more complexity in their teens and twentys than in their youth.

  22. Congrats to the young people who benefit from their family’s cellar of perfectly stored, aged, delicious wines! Lucky you! For those who are young reading this who do not fall into that category: Give champagne a try! Champagnes are great food wines! and are aged by the producers before being released onto the market. They do the proper cellar aging for us. By French law, a non-vintage must be kept on lees, before disgorgement, for a minimum of 1.5 yrs. Some outstanding and excellent tasting NVs are available for around $30 such as Louis Roederer’s Brut Premiere (actually kept on lees for 3+ yrs before release.) Fully ready to be enjoyed at time of purchase and most argue there’s not much improvement with additional aging. & Vintage champagnes are rqrd to be aged in cellars for 3 yrs, but the best champagne makers in fact keep their bottles on the lees for several additional years before disgorgement… making them also ready to be enjoyed at time of purchase… Dom Perignon for 7 to 10 yrs and Krug 6 to 20 years, just to name two. Naturally, this storage/aging time will be incorporated into the price, but at least you can have confidence you will get a properly aged wine with fabulous taste, with few exceptions. While expensive, vintage champagnes are more readily available than other aged wines and those aging risks have been greatly minimized, because they’ve been taken care of by the producers. Salut!

  23. FOR SHAME, DOC V! You posit that young drinkers dislike mature wine (or rather ask why they do, therefore accepting the proposition as fact), then cite as your source “a couple of people.” Might want to brush up on your science there doc.

    In any case it seems that everyone here has hit on the high points, but here are the reasons that I could see such an idea existing: a) young drinkers have no access to aged wines, b) since this generation is producing far more wine drinkers than ever before they mostly come from non-wine families, thus no cellar to inherit and no time yet to have built one’s own, c) attempts and experiments with sourcing aged wines can be inherently frustrating, expensive, and prone to extremely high rates of failure due to both storage issues and production issues, d) pure cost concerns

    I am sure that I could think of more, but these seem to be the most relevant, with simple lack of exposure the biggest of those problems. You may occasionally get the opinion asserted by Rachel above, of preferring very potent wines to those whose tannins have softened by age. However, this seems far more of an issue of nascent wine drinkers than younger wine drinkers (with the two quite logically often going hand-in-hand), and so to the list we can add…

    f) Robert Parker and his ilk have created a generation of tannin-crazed, residual sugar addicted, vino-bots who will require extensive deprogramming in the years to come. Luckily I think the actual younger wine drinkers will be exposed to the inevitable (and quite visible) return swing of the density and manipulation pendulum and will cut teeth on wines that speak a bit more at least of place and finesse. Or so I hope.

  24. To ‘A Champagne Girl’

    I couldn’t agree more. Champagne represents some of the most complex wines in the market. The marginal climate means that ageing wines whether they are base wines (NV) or on lees is paramount to achieving complexity.

    To put things into perspective we can purchase Grand and Premier Cru wines from champagne at a fraction of the price of top Bordeaux/Burgundy and they have age on them too.

  25. Another great article from Dr. Vee! Its great to see you hit on a topic that inspires so much discussion. Keep up the good work.

  26. I guess the flavor of matured wine does not have the guts to catch the taste buds of the young ones.

  27. I hosted a “Wine 101” class last night with 19 wine “newbies” who wanted to know more about what they were drinking. All attended bringing a bottle of wine and we proceeded to taste and discuss. A good number of the attendees were under 40. At the end of the session, I brought out a decanted 1999 Optimus X from the Barossa and even after tasting through 18 other wines, you could see their faces light up — the light bulb had come on.

    I agree that most of the folks along the wine trail that haven’t had the experience of properly aged wines simply haven’t had the opportunity to experience a “light bulb” wine and when they do, they GET IT!

    Seeking out a retail establishment with a good track record and working with them for properly aged specimens is probably the best way to obtain them. Once they experience one of these “experience wines,” it shows them what wine *can* be, rather than the immediate gratification drink of the week.

  28. Being one of these young folks, I completely agree with the point brought up of lack of access to mature wines. Although my parents were the ones to initially educate me about wine, they never were one to keep a cellar. Outside of the industry job I’ve been so fortunate to have for just over a year now, I’ve been able to taste some beautiful 8-15+ year old Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and Rieslings, and some that were tainted or falling off.
    I don’t know if it’s a local phenomena, most of the young wine folks I interact with fall under what I like to call “causal wine nerds”. They’re some of the best educated folks I talk to, and are always wanting to learn more, but are easily turned off by things they(we) deem as pretentious.
    I’ve had it recouonted many times that younger folks have gotten bad service at various establishments just because of their age, and generally feel like 2nd rate wine-citizens. Older wine enthusists who are always talking about their 20 year old some-or-another might play into this idea of pretentious wine culture, and help to turn them off from mature wines.
    Then again I might just be adding 2+3 and getting 6, but next time you’re opening an cellared bottle, see if you can’t find a younger wine drinker you can help with their ongoing wine education.

  29. […] […]

  30. Why don’t young people like mature wines? The answer is obvious, although it applies to older people as well as young people: as wines age they lose their fruit and their more voluptuous qualities, and as 99% of all wines made are meant to be consumed within their first few years, and as few of us have cellars, people young and old are used to the youthful voluptuousness of young wines. I think it’s about how we’ve taught ourselves to drink. This is not a criticism, by the way: I myself love wines when they’ve aged to the point of developing more complexity and evoke autumnal flavors and dried leaf / fruit qualities — e.g. ageworthy reds that are 10 to 15 years old — but find it hard to appreciate those wines that have almost no fruit left whatsoever.

    Also, as was mentioned above, aged bottles, which are that much more likely to be expensive, are also that much more susceptible to flaws: TCA and particularly heat damage. On the extraordinarily rare occasion that I shell out more than $40 for a bottle, I wince, as I fear what happened recently when I bought a bottle of Paolo Bea Montefalco Sagrantino 2001: it was rancid with TCA. A heartbreaker, that.

  31. Twitter Comment

    Bravo! Age is everything.. •RT• In praise of mature wine [link to post] @drvino *btw, 40 is still young.. 🙂

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  32. Twitter Comment

    RT @drvino: In praise of mature wine [link to post]

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