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January 21, 2006

The “F” Word and When Old Equalled Better


For some, they just don’t get the Freshness thing. We were thinking back to a time when FRESHNESS didn't matter. One of the most famous, but long forgotten events in wine was the Glamis Castle sale of its wine cellar by Christies in the early 1970's. (if someone can provide the exact date, I'd be grateful)

Glamis Castle, where generations of royalty were born, had a cellar full of great Bordeaux and Burgundy dating as far back as the late-1700’s. The fine wine market was beginning to flourish in the late 1960's and early 1970’s and Christies sold what would now be about $100 million worth of wine for about $5,000 (I am only slightly exaggerating).

The question is of course, why besides the fact that the family were hoarders, did they have vintages in their cellar spanning over 200 years?

Michael Broadbent was Christie's man in charge at the Castle and he told and anecdote about discovering, in Glamis Castle, "a bin in which there were 42 magnums of 1870 Lafite with original wax seals." The 13th Earl of Strathmore had bought them in 1878. "The wine was so astringent that he did not like it, and when he died . . . the wine was virtually untouched," Broadbent went on. "It took a full 50 years to become mellow enough to drink, and it was already a century old at the time of my visit." Later, he tasted it several times over the years, and concluded, "It is quite simply one of the greatest-ever clarets.

Well, that says it all: It used to be said that a man would buy claret for the next generation to enjoy. Why? Because, Young wine, especially claret, was largely UNDRINKABLE. Bordeaux when released was tannic, raw and really unpleasant. Similarly, young port was like mud and needed a good 25 years to start to blossom. Even White burgundies were lean, acidic and somewhat tannic in their youth. But alas, these were simple problems to deal with as in those days, wine was cheap and the cellars in Scotland were big and cold. Perfect for long term ageing.

Frankly in those days, older equalled better.

If you had mentioned the “F” word to people back then, they would have looked at you like you sprouted a second head.

But things have changed and done so for the better.

The 2005 vintage will yield Bordeaux that will be drinking beautifully in a very short period of time. Global warming helps get nice ripe flavours into the wine and new fangled equipment like refrigeration, stainless steel and generally better tech, makes fruitier wines with softer tannins, that benefit from earlier drinking. I believe that many of these wines will be long dead before their counterparts of 100 years ago would have been ready to drink.

When it comes to whites like Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio, now you can taste the fruit as it was grown, fermented and freshly preserved in a screw top bottle. Its all about drinking the wine at its peak. And that peak comes much quicker than lots of people think.

So, next time someone pulls out an old bottle, while you are drinking it, think about whether the experience might have been even better a few years sooner. When you are standing at the wine shelf in your local store and you see a bottle of 2005 Australian Chardonnay or 2000 California Chardonnay, you’ll know which is a better bet.... Now, if we could just get the labelling a little easier to understand.

Posted by Jason at January 21, 2006 1:32 AM

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