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Is the Cellar Our Friend?

A lemon sourced from the orangery at Alfieri in Asti back in January. The utterly extraordinary Barbera from this estate will appear in a forthcoming offer


Cellaring wine; what's that about then? It's an activity in which collectors have engaged for centuries; so long, indeed, that most of us probably never stop to wonder why we do it.

That may sound like a ridiculous statement. Some wines need ageing, right? So that's what we give them.

But my question relates to the difference between a wine's requirement for age - a period during which it will slough off the austerity of youth and soften to the extent that it is palatable - and our desire for aged characteristics in the wine we drink.

I must say that, the older I get, the younger I like my wine. I remember hearing the older folk voicing such thoughts in my younger days and, at least internally, I was shaking my head in something not unrelated to pity. Like my father switching to Aussie reds because he could no longer taste the lighter European examples, surely these people preferred young wine due to some deficiency of sense?

I have discussed elsewhere my love of cool vintages and the fact that ripeness often has the side-effect of occluding terroir. And the truth of the matter is that bottle age has a similar result. The tertiary characteristics are, I believe (although feel free to tell me that I am wrong), derived from the fruit and not the soil of the vineyard. As these tertiary characteristics come to the fore, becoming increasingly complex, the voce of the vineyard fades to sotto, then silence.

Might it be the case that we feel we gain cachet for ourselves and apply it to others with the opening and drinking of cellar-aged wines simply because they imply something archaic about status i.e. that cellar-aged wines suggest one has a cellar and are therefore well-heeled? I realise that this seems pretty tenuous, but cultural baggage is often hard to shed.

And here I am going to bring in a subject that's very "of the moment" (or, rather, isn't, since everyone is busying themselves being tight-lipped on the topic): Bordeaux.

We are told that we are faced with a Bordeaux vintage that no one is going to buy...and I suspect that these prognostications are correct. We are told that the vintage is a worthless one and here my suspicions start to make me rather look forward to tasting the primeurs in the region.

The thing is, most vintages heralded as "great" will only ever get to be consumed at a time when they are displaying some sort of tertiary development. Perhaps not the uber-ripe '09 harvest so much, but 2005 and 2010 certainly.

I am not for one moment suggesting that I will fight to resist the temptation of the corkscrew when faced with mature bottles of these wines in the years to come, merely, I am pointing out that we should welcome vintages that offer us the chance to drink bottles in their relative youth. I, for one, find them...well...youthful i.e. energetic; lithe; vibrant. They also offer the clearest pane of glass onto the terroir of the vineyard from which they come.

And I think we should celebrate them for that reason. 



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