Tuesday, 3 April 2018

What does "ageing" mean when it comes to wine?

One of the concepts that is talked a lot about when it comes to wine, is the effect of "ageing". If you ask the average person in the street they will most likely tell you that an "old" wine is better than a "young" wine. Is this true? Is this always true? What happens to a wine as it ages that makes it get better? How do different approaches to ageing wines affect the wine itself? These are the some of the questions that I was hoping to get into when I organised a wine tasting with my friends at Theatre of Wine recently.

Our tasting session was guided by Ruby who started us off with a 2017 Nerleux Saumur Blanc (Loire, France) which is a classic example of a wine that is supposed to be drunk when it is young; it had a slightly tropical, pineapple nose and a crunchy green apple bite to the taste. This was simple and pleasant and leaving it to age wouldn't improve this wine. From this wine we went on to something completely different - 2016 "Pheasant's Tears" (Georgia) made from the Tsolikauri grapes and aged in the traditional Georgian way in a Kvevri, which is a large earthenware egg-shaped pot used to age the wine. This is probably the oldest wine-making method in the world and gives a very interesting result; the wine is an orange wine, which means that it has had some skin contact as it was in the kvevri giving it more colour and more tannic bite. The result is remarkable, a rich, buttery nose with a surprisingly bright and acidic taste to it with a broad spectrum of flavours.

Our next wine was a thing of beauty, but also in true Theatre of Wine-style somewhat of a curve-ball; a 2006 Chateau La Louviere Blanc (Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux). This wine is a blend made predominantly from Sauvignon Blanc, but what makes it most interesting is that it is a screw-cap wine - something that is very rarely done in this renowned part of the wine-making world. The nose to this wine was almost enough to put you off drinking it, extremely reductive - like someone had let-off in your glass! However, once you get past this it had a really broad flavour profile with notes of Amalfi lemons (juicy and delicious) and an incredibly long and balanced finish. The concept of ageing this in a screw-capped bottle was a timely reminder that it is not as simple as "wines age better with a cork". As a contrast to this wine we went to one of my favourites, a 2006 Schloss Saarstein Riesling Sp├Ątlese (Mosel, Germany) which was a traditionally aged German Riesling, where the grapes had been left on the vines for a little longer to allow the sugar content to rise and produce a sweeter wine. The nose was full of Seville oranges, but I also noticed a touch of eucalyptus to it as well which gave the wine more complexity. On tasting it was like biting in to a sweet, juicy orange with a finish that went on for minutes. Oh my...!

After these delicious wines Ruby threw us another Theatre of Wine curve-ball, a 2016 Niepoort Nat Cool Baga (Bairrade, Portugal), which is part of a project being undertaken by Niepoort's Dirk Niepoort aiming to create low-intervention, low-alcohol content, easy-drinking wines. This particular wine was made from the Baga grape and is served from a 1L bottle. The wine is best served chilled and had a slightly funky nose, on tasting it reminded me of a young, fresh Beaujolais. A pleasant, if slightly unremarkable wine. Classic summer's afternoon, BBQ wine.

Next up we could have some fun! We were given two wines from the same vineyard (Chateau Barbe Blanche Cuvee Henri IV, Lussac St Emilion) but two different vintages. The first was a 2012, which had a nice, forward-facing fruit drive to it. The second vintage was older, but we were told to guess the vintage. It had some more tertiary notes to it, so I thought it would potentially be the 2005 due to some wines that I had tasted when I was in St Emilion a couple of years ago; it was in fact a 2006. But it was a really interesting experience to be able to taste the two wines side by side and compare and contrast to see what effect the same wine has by both vintage variation and the ageing process itself.

Now we moved on to some real blockbusters! We started with a 1999 Valpiculata (Toro, Spain) made from Tempranillo grapes which are known be a grape variety that ages particularly well. This had a really interesting nose to it, full of coffee, tarmac and beef stock notes; with tasting notes of licorice, black cherry and treacle. Amazingly, this wine only retails at £15/bottle; I bought two! After this we moved on to a wine legend, a 2004 Oikonomoy Sitia (Crete, Greece) which has developed a bit of a cult following. Made from a blend of Liatiko and Mandilari, this was their attempt to show that the wines of Greece can be made to be as classical and elegant as those of the finest wine regions in the world. The nose to this wine was heady and enticing featuring notes of red cherry, damson and a touch of rose. On the palate it was silky smooth and elegant, really classy and absolutely delicious. If you had told me this was a £100+ bottle of Burgundy, I would have easily believed you. We finished our tasting with a 1985 Moulin Touchais Coteaux du Layon (Loire, France), in the glass it sat proud and orange giving a real hint of the 30+ years that it has aged. On smelling, it had a bright nose with a little hint of something that reminded me of sherry. The mouth to this wine was beautifully rounded and deliciously balanced, sweet with juicy oranges and ripe apricots. The finish went on for minutes and minutes and when we tried this wine with a goose mousse it was basically heavenly. What a set of wines to finish this fascinating (and extremely enjoyable) tasting!

So, what did we learn over the course of this tasting? Firstly, not all wines are made with the idea that they should be aged; secondly, different ageing techniques give different results; and thirdly, ageing, when done right, can really add some interesting textural complexity to wines and develop them into something magical. 

Thank you to Ruby and the Theatre of Wine crew for a great job on a wonderful tasting. I look forward to the next one already!               

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