Being born in 1979, I do not have many options for a birth year wine. Outside of Napa, Champagne and Northern Rhone, it was not an overall good wine year. Of those three, the Rhone and Napa wines are likely over-the-hill and the age-worthy Champagnes are largely priced out of my range. So what is a wine lover to do to experience a good bottle of wine from his birth year, on his birthday?
The answer, try a bunch of wines that are over the hill, just like me. I’m just kidding, about me being over the hill that is (maybe, as I did wake up with a sore hip). There is a lot you can learn about a wine by enjoying it past its peak. It is fun to contemplate: how it was stored, what it was like in its prime, the vintage it grew up in and so on.
This year, I isolated a few wines I would like to try using a few different resources, I decided on a bottle of 1979 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande from the Pauillac appellation of Bordeaux, France. I picked this wine for a one main reason: I really like their wines young. Over the years, our paths have crossed a couple times and both times, I thought that the wines exhibited the berry, cedar/pencil shaving and tannin that is characteristic of what I have come to expect from good Pauillac. So I though, why not give it a go as my birth-year wine experience. A couple months back, I procured a bottle of the ’79 through WineBid.com and it is hanging out in my cellar as we speak.
Now that I have covered my wine, I would like to get back to the secondary point of writing this. First, let me say that it is not important to go out and buy an expensive Bordeaux or Champagne to get to know aged wines. With that being said why it is important to try aged or even over-the-hill wines?
Experiencing aged wine is crucial in developing an appreciation for fine wine. I am not saying this to be a snob. Rather, if you have never had a wine past its peak or with a good amount of age on it, then you may be taken aback when trying wines that have some age on them.
While working in the restaurant industry as a sommelier, there were many times that I observed a diner’s “first time” with an aged wine. The experience for most was an initial shock and in some cases they didn’t like the wine. Most of the time they came around; however what if they were with a group splitting a bottle of Cheval Blanc or Joseph Phelps Insignia? A couple sips may be all they get. What a shame it would be if they left that experience without enjoying the juice, just because they did not understand what to expect with aged wine?
This lack of understanding stems from the fact that most consumers enjoy wines when wines are young and expect wines to taste and smell a certain way. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, if you find that young wines are what you prefer. At these adolescent stages of their development wines are typically fruit driven. What I mean by this is that you smell and taste more citrus, tree fruit (i.e. - apples, pears, etc) and stone fruit (i.e. – apricots, peaches, etc) in whites and red, blue and black fruit (berries) in reds.
With aged wines, oxygen has gotten to the wine (through the porous cork) and has changed the chemical composition of the wine. The result of this slow oxidation is more restrained fruit and the enhancing of the secondary earth and nature driven tones. Also, some alcohol has evaporated and the tannin structure has mellowed out (primarily is reds).
With this in mind I encourage you to try aged wine as often as possible, or at least once a year, even if it is only on your birthday. It is a fun opportunity and gives you a good amount or perspective. By making yourself aware of the differences, you will be able to better appreciate something truly remarkable if it comes around, especially if it has some age on it!