Tasting at home part VI - It's about time
I have often heard it said that many things (even some people!) mature with age. Meats and cheeses would be good examples. The word ‘mature’ and Stilton seem to go hand in hand. And it is not simply food stuffs which benefit over a period. Buildings settle into their foundations and their surroundings with time. Certain instruments - especially violins - open out beautifully when coaxed by expert hands. A friend of mine once introduced me to a peculiar world: where global corporates pimp out rare Guarneris and Strads to gifted musicians. The latter gaining the magical power and resonance to fill concert halls, whilst the former ensures its investment becomes ever more priceless. Did Antonio and Bartolomeo Giuseppe ever intend their creations to be coveted in such a way? I think not, but it is a sad truth that legacies intended for the many often end up in the possession of the few. I digress. The point I’m making is that time can be kind to a great many things.
But what of wine? Therein lies a truth and a misconception. Not all wines will improve with age. Some wines, especially in our modern market are intended, even designed, to be drunk in their youth. Equally, the benefits that can come with cellaring are not necessarily reserved to those exalted names that are often seen at auction houses in Hong Kong. So, what are the indicators of a wine which is designed to improve with age? Price is certainly one component as expensive wines are frequently intended to be cellared for years, sometimes decades or more. Grape is another: Light bodied Gamay generally produces wines (such as Beaujolais) which do not generally favour an extended period in the bottle. Cabernet Sauvignon, on the other hand, can be charged with robust tannins which can require some time to mellow and integrate.
Whether the wine has spent time in oak is also an important, though by no means essential factor. Though not necessarily needed to produce a wine which requires aging, oak has long been recognised to impart its own tannins which help to soften those in the wine itself. Indeed, oak does much to start the process of integrating the complex mix of pigments and flavour compounds (phenolics) which are present in a young fine wine, a process which continues in the bottle when stored in a dark cool cellar. As the years pass, these compounds continue to interact, producing larger molecules which precipitate out as sediment especially in red wine.
Other tell-tale signs of a wine which requires time to reach its full potential is the year the grapes were harvested and the reputation of the producer. Nevertheless, even the winemaker themselves can only offer a rough guestimate and a polite shrug of the soldiers as to when a given vintage is at its peak. Often, one will only truly appreciate the point when a wine was at its zenith, when it has started its decline.
I tried two white wines over the bank holiday on which time had performed its magic. As both were from the challenging 2016 vintage, which for Europe, with hail frosts and floods, was something of a struggle, the results were even more surprising.
Domaine Philippe Girard Sancerre ‘Silex’ 2016 (Loire, France)
Despite the onslaught of rain and flooding and resulting mildew, the 2016 vintage, from this highly regarded producer is coming into its own. The prized Silex soils do much to impart that characteristic minerality for which Sancerre is famed and after a few years in the bottle, the balance of sauvignon fruit and flinty texture is truly exquisite.
The 2016 Philippe Girard's Silex Sancerre opens with a sensational nose of gunsmoke, and earthy, stoney notes. The full palate whilst still lively, has now taken on a slightly softer, mouth-filling texture with gentler, yet still clearly expressive minerality. The gorgeous finish is as long as ever!
Clos de L’Église Mâcon-Charnay 2016 (Maconnais, Burgundy, France)
Unwelcome frosts made for an uncertain start to 2016 in Burgundy, but this was remedied by a promising summer. Mâcon-Charnay has become something of a mecca for those favouring quality Chardonnay without the eye-watering price tags of mainland Burgundy. This elegant, unoaked Mâcon is something of a treat and the past few years have added layers of complexity and body to an already impressive wine.
Ripe citrus notes on the nose still come through on this 2016 vintage, with even more richness developing on the palate balanced with a detectable seam of minerality.