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The Joy of Drinking Aged Wines

Before I boarded the bus to Orange, I enjoyed some terrific aged wines over lunch at the Wine and Food Society of NSW. One of my favourites was the Leasingham Classic Clare Cabernet Sauvignon 1992.

What struck me most about this wine was that you couldn’t mistake it for anything but a superbly aged cabernet sauvignon. The bouquet was alluring – blackcurrant fruit subtly enhanced with tobacco, dark chocolate and cedar aromas. The dark stone fruit flavours were still fresh and full, delivering complexity and great length. And while the tannins were now soft and silky, the wine still had excellent body and structure.

In his reviews of first growth Bordeaux wines, the Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker will often remark that the wines need a decade or more of cellaring. Not only does bottle age help to soften the tannins and make the wine more accessible, but cellaring gives the wine time to evolve and, if it’s really good, to transform into something quite extraordinary or even transcendent.

Today, of course, most wines are made for immediate appeal, and well north of 90% are consumed within the first year of their release. Interestingly, Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator argues that, “We must age wines today not merely to tease the genie out of the bottle, but rather, to see if it’s in there at all.” Kramer asks, “Will the modern Argentine Malbecs that are so delicious today, become with 20 years of bottle age as profound as they teasingly suggest? No-one knows.” (Why We Age Wines. And Why it Matters by Matt Kramer, Wine Spectator, 30 April 2010)

In my post, Cellaring Australian Pinot. How long do they last?, I mentioned that the longevity of many great pinot noirs were defying critics’ expectations. Wines expected to peak after five to ten years of cellaring were still drinking beautifully 15 years later.

These wines have passed what Kramer would call the test of “character” or “substantiality.” In his view, the “test of the character of a wine – as opposed to its style – is revealed only with time.” I think of character as that intrinsic quality imparted to the wine by its terroir and the consummate skill of a gifted wine winemaker. It ensures that the wine doesn’t fall apart with age, but rather becomes a better version of its earlier self.

Fortunately many of our best winemakers are continuing to make great wines with long cellaring windows. According to James Halliday, the wine that I liked so much at lunch, the Leasingham Classic Care Cabernet, is still being made in a style that benefits from long-term cellaring. Here’s his review of the stunning 2006 vintage:

Still dense purple-crimson; the intense bouquet ranges through blackberry, blackcurrant, plum and earth; the full-bodied palate following suit, the oak certainly adding to the equation, but integrated; the tannins are ripe, but like the oak, are fused with the fruit. This could easily be a 50-year wine, 40 conservative. (Australian Wine Companion, 1 March 2011)

You probably won’t be too disappointed if you drink most wines when they’re young, but, if you can, try to keep a few of the same bottles in the cellar. With the right storage conditions and a bit of luck, your patience will  be rewarded with wonderfully aged wines that surprise and delight.

Photo Credit: 90 Plus Wines

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