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Does great wine need to be aged?
It’s been an article of faith as long as I’ve been writing about wine that you need to age the best wines in your cellar. We sniff at consumers who buy and crack open a first growth as unsophisticated but maybe they’re the ones who know best?
The event that prompted this thought was a Chateau d’Yquem lunch at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal this week where we were served the 2011 vintages of their dry white ‘Y’ and Yquem itself. One follower on Twitter dismissed it as ‘embryonic’ but I was bowled over. The 2011 'Y' had a luxuriant taste of white peaches, far more seductive than the tricky, slightly oily 1996 we were served with the main course. And as for the 2011 Yquem (right) - it was like drinking a plate of the most perfectly ripe apricots and tropical fruit. Sheer nectar.
The sip of 2011 Le Pin I tasted from the barrel last November was equally delicious - soft, velvety and caressing. Who is to say that’s ‘too young’? Many of its purchasers will drink it the moment it comes onto the market.
Increasingly I enjoy the bright fruit flavours of exuberant young Rioja rather than the wood-dominated character of many gran reservas, and the ‘live’ character of many young organic and biodynamic reds. Age may bring complexity but not necessarily charm.
And there’s something so pure and pristine about a new release of Loire Sauvignon, Chablis or Grüner Veltliner that inevitably gets lost a couple of years down the line.
True it doesn’t always work. The leanness of a young red burgundy can take years to turn into silky sweetness, tannic young Bordeaux can be very unforgiving, and young riesling challengingly sharp and one-dimensional. But there’s a middle way between age and extreme youth. The off-dry Grosset riesling I flagged up the other day as the perfect match for Sichuan food was fantastic 3 years on.
The truth is that a lot of consumers don’t necessarily want complex flavours, a fact that ‘new world’ producers - redundant description but you know what I mean - have been quicker to latch on to than many of those from the classic wine producing regions. Fellow wine lovers will be familiar with the anxiety about bringing out a treasured old bottle for friends who are not as obsessed about wine as they are in case they find the flavours weird rather than wonderful.
The truth is there’s no right or wrong about it. You should drink your wine when you like depending on your palate, the food, the occasion and your bank balance - the ideal solution being to have a case of the same wine to dip into and enjoy at various moments over the years. Unfortunately in my case - and that of most of you, I suspect - that’s not going to be Yquem . . .
What do you think - should great wines be drunk young or should you hang on to them?
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