“Me love you longtime” – Vintages and the challenge of keeping wine.
I can still remember putting together my first wine rack (in Beijing) and then strategically placing the bottles I owned at the time in order of origin, vintage and my perceived levels of quality. As my wine collection grew, so correspondingly did the size of my wine racks until eventually I had a rather ungainly miniature construction site in my kitchen. Looking back, I now realize that I had broken so many cardinal rules of wine storage and vintage management that I could theoretically have been charged with an abstract interpretation of substance abuse.
I have always liked the term “vintage”, it sounds so much better than “crops”, the moniker we would give to the different growing years in tobacco. Without having to add an adjective, the word vintage conjures up images of heritage, quality and finesse. Just by throwing “vintage” into a wine conversation you almost automatically sound as though you know what your talking about (ah, the power of words).
The term vintage also encapsulates everything that happened to the wine during its year of growth, primarily driven by the weather. For the simple fact is that vintage or the year in which the wine was grown, counts. It is one of the many “tells” on a wine bottle label and in the wine glass, that will notify the drinker of the quality of and within the wine. It will also have a strong bearing on the longevity of the wine. In order for wine to age well in the bottle it must have the correct balance of alcohol, acidity and tannin. Ideal weather conditions will ensure this perfect balance. (Note; pH of the soil also has a role to play in the longevity of wine, but this is now getting very technical and considering I failed A Level Chemistry, will leave this logarithmic scale for a much later post!).
Using Bordeaux as an example of quality red wine vintages, it is widely recognized that the truly great modern era vintages are 1961, 1982, 2009 and 2010. These vintages from the same vineyards will command eye watering prices (for example a case of 12 bottles of 1982 Château Lafite Rothschild sells for over €50,000 while the 1983 sells for €10,000). And rightly so, because the elixir in these bottles from these years are worthy of offering to any deity of your choosing. For the stars aligned, global warming took a break and all the machinations of Mother Nature worked together with the vines in the vineyard to perform their magic and produce an exceptional fruit.
Buying tip; next time you are in your favorite wine shop and happen to stumble across a 2009 Bordeaux (especially from Pomerol or St.Emilion) priced between €30 to €60, buy it! Simply because it will be fabulous and also because it is ready to drink when you get home, along with a beautiful steak!
It is therefore important to always bear in mind which vintages you choose to buy and in turn store correctly.
There are many buildings around Château Méaume and one of the more intriguing ones is the “Barrique” or “Barrel Room”. For while it is now used primarily as our wine cellar for our private collection, many guises ago it used to be the original chai, with underground vats where the wine was fermented.
When we first moved in, the Barrique was full of wine bottles. In fact wine bottles were everywhere with some hidden in the underground vats. The first order of business was to find and catalog all the bottles (which was made all the more easier by our first, very efficient intern!). Exploring the many hidden old vats and dark spaces, it felt like a small treasure hunt, with excitement building every time we stumbled upon a case or bottle.
It is a strange feeling unearthing a old bottle of wine. During our searches we came across a case of 1979 Château Le Bon Pasteur from Pomerol. Upon close inspection, I realized that the wine inside had laid undisturbed for over 40 years. There is something majestic in holding an old bottle of wine. Galileo was quoted as saying that “wine is sunlight, held together by water”. Perhaps, while the wine holds sunlight, these old bottles hold a small measure of time. Of course that evening I could not resist and decided to open (and decant) a bottle. It did not disappoint. It’s garnet colour oozed nostalgia with aromas of dried fruit and flavours of cooked blackberry and cedar on the palette. It had helped that while the case had been hidden away, it was stored in ideal conditions. So what are those ideal conditions ?
The fundamentals of keeping and storing wine are well documented and while there are some variations (more based on personal preferences), for the sake of this post I will stick to the basics which if followed, will allow you to enjoy your wine for decades to come.
1/. Store your wine in a cool, dark place with no sunlight and little to no temperature variations.
2/. Do not keep your wine in your kitchen. Too much temperature variation.
There. That was simple enough. Now it’s time to move your wine collection out of your kitchen!
Lastly a couple of paragraphs on “drinking windows”.
Now that you have bought the correct vintages, are storing them correctly (and are perhaps even using the wine logbook that you got as a gift 😉), now comes the last and final burden, when to drink it!
When to drink wine depends on the type, grape, country and vintage and a review of the label, chat with the expert at your wine shop, a rummage through old decanter magazines or a Google search will give you all the information you need and more. As an interesting home experiment that can be shared with family and friends over many years, the next time you buy a bottle of your favorite wine from a recognized good vintage, buy a case. Store it correctly and then experience the evolution of your wine by drinking a bottle each year. You will be surprised and even be impressed at how your wine has aged and evolved, under the auspices of your good care.