Drinking a wine before its time may leave a bitter taste
July 4, 2001
Nuits St. George wines from the Cote De Nuits area of France are considered to be among that country's better wines. The best have beautiful color, a certain spice-like flavor with plenty of fruit. I tried one recently.
The retail price of this particular Nuits St. George was about $65, so we're not talking about every day drinking wine. The Wine Spectator magazine had rated it a 90 on the 100 point scale and numbers that high are reserved for very good, almost exceptional wines.
It had been sent to me for review and I looked forward to tasting it. But when opened, it was not at all what I had expected.
The wine was a 1998 and what was in the bottle was so young, it had virtually no nose (bouquet). The wine itself showed neither pepper nor fruit, only tannin. Tannin is the substance in wine that comes from the skins, pips and stalks. It hides the flavor of the wine and gives the consumer a dry taste like cotton that almost makes the tongue adhere to the roof of the mouth.
It is a sign of youth and over the years disappears as the wine matures. But, in this case, three years was simply not enough to display the wine's true potential. We let the open bottle sit for several hours, then poured a bit of wine in the glass, swished it around repeatedly until the air finally released a portion of the flavor.
Some day, that Nuits St. George will be an outstanding wine. But some day is not now. This is a wine that needs to be purchased in 2001, then cellared for at least five years and probably more. Ten would not be too long.
But the vast majority of you reading this column will never know. You buy wines to drink now, not to lay away for some future date and the wine industry, or at least a portion of it has noticed.
I doubt if there are 10 true collectors in Meridian with temperature controlled cellars. I can count six, including my own. Those cellars are essential if wines such as the Nuits St. George are ever going to be consumed when at the peak of their potential.
To my way of thinking, that is the secret of the success of California and Australian wines, particularly Australian. These wines are made for drinking now, not five or 10 years from now. Open a bottle of Australian shiraz, pair it with a grilled steak and you have immediate pleasure. The wine is certain to be enjoyable. There is little or no tannin to hide its flavor. It tastes like most people think wine should taste. The Nuit St. George I reviewed would taste like medicine to a confirmed shiraz drinker.
The same is true of California cabernets. There was a time when that state produced a number of low end wines, made to be drunk at the time of purchase but, in the main, they were not very good at least not by today's standards. The better, and more expensive wines, were made for laying down. Then California vintners discovered they could make wine that both tasted very, very good and could be drunk right away as well and the wine world changed.
Now your favorite wine store has many, many cabernets, merlots, shiraz and others that have been made for immediate consumption. Yes, there are lay-down wines but they are now in the minority rather than the majority as they once were. It is almost impossible to find California or Australian red wines from vintages earlier than 1997 in the average package store. They don't want to cellar them either because wine can go bad with heat and time. So they stock the latest vintages because they sell and move out of the store with regularity. You've discovered that and you buy them.
But the French wine industry has been slow to react to this consumer demand. How long since you've bought a bottle of French wine? There's still a very good market for the great French labels, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Leoville-Barton, Margaux, Haut-Brion or Petrus among others but those wines are being purchased by the rich or semi-rich as well as the Japanese and other foreign consumers. You don't see them on Meridian dinner tables, nor are you likely to do so.
And I've got a secret for you. I still have some 1982 bordeaux in my cellar and a number of other older wines. When I open one, the odds are as good that that wine is over the hill as they are that it will be superb.
You do remember the old saying that good wine just keeps getting better with age? Better than what? Better than today's fresh, fruity, rich, packed-with-flavor young wines?
Not necessarily. It can get worse, too. Drink up and enjoy.
Stan Torgerson, a longtime Meridian resident, has written a wine column for several years. You may contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org