There’s something very sublimely profound and beautiful about old wines. That was obvious from the first time I tried one that was on its way to being properly aged, an early 1970s grand cru classe Bordeaux, tasted in 1989. That wasn’t even considered ‘old’, but it was the first wine meant for aging that I actually tasted with a bit of age on it. That experience changed entirely my relationship with taste. And with the juice of fermented grapes.
It defined what elegance and harmony can really mean in a wine. And in sip after luscious sip, it illustrated the magic that occurs when tannins soften, and begin to melt into a profoundly complex juice of ethereal indescribable beauty. It was a privilege to have that experience early in my wine exploration, one that still guides me when distinguishing between very good and well-made young(ish) wines and great older ones.
It also taught me patience. The patience required to allow that wine to become the sublime velvety glass that I can still picture on one of my oldest friend’s rustic dining room table deep in the woods of Athens County, Ohio. If you try really hard and know where to look, you’ll still find a few drops from that glass marking my place at the table that evening.
I’ve been lucky over the years with patience and wine. A little bit of knowledge and a little more research can go a long way in selecting and buying a wine to lay down for a while with the sole intent of helping it improve with age. The more information you can gather –about the vintage, the winemaker, the terroir and the winery’s reputation– the better armed you’ll be before buying.
After that, optimal storage is critical. I’ve moved around quite a bit since relocating to Europe, so my solutions have never been optimal –far from it– but usually okay. By ‘okay’ I mean an environment that’s stable. When ideal storage temperatures of around 12-13 degrees C (55 F) aren’t easy to secure, the next most important thing is a solution with as little temperature fluctuation as possible. With that ‘okay’ in mind, I usually adjust the conventional wisdom on when a wine should be at its best by diving in a little earlier than suggested. Most of the time.
Which brings me to this.
Chateau Laniote 2005
St. Emilion Grand Cru Classe
Most tasting notes I referred to for this Chateau Laniote, a classified Saint-Émilion Grand Cru classe property, said to drink between 2018 and 2020; my bottle was a 375ml so I decided that the time was now. That proved a somewhat frustrating decision because the hour was getting late and the wine really needed a lot of time to open up. A lot — as in more than two hours. Which left me wondering lots of things, most of then foolish. Among them:
Does a wine poured from a 375ml bottle need more time to decant than wine poured from a 750ml or larger?
Does the fact that the wine was trapped in a smaller space make it need more air when finally freed?
I know wines in smaller bottles won’t age as long as those in larger ones. So, does decanting time somehow relate to that?
Or am I simply over-analyzing while waiting for the wine to wake up?
I sought out some advice on The Wine Lovers Page forum and quickly got my answer – that this had much more to do with the wine than the decanting. 2005 Bordeaux would likely be “grumpy” at this point, one member noted. Another said that the most recent 2005 he tried, a Pomerol, was “tightly coiled”. Both describe quite well my initial experience.
Further, logic would dictate that if wines age more quickly in smaller bottles, that they’d probably wake up sooner than those that age more slowly in bigger bottles. For some reason I thought the opposite might apply here. So, yeah, over-analysis –wholly misdirected no less– wins the day. Again.
When it did finally rise from its slumber, there was some nice upfront fruit, ripe cherries and plums wanting badly to become prunes. There was a pleasant earthiness but the aromas still seemed trapped.
With the concept of time on my mind, I left a glassful in the carafe (actually, it was decanted in a traditional pint glass), tossed a small notepad on it as a cap and let it sit overnight to see how it would further evolve by brunch time.
Though slightly oxidized on the edges, the fruits and the tannins were softer than the night before. The all-nighter didn’t do much for the aromas, but overall it tasted better though still short of what I expected. The finesse, the pleasure I was expecting just wasn’t there. I waited too long.
This –and I’m referring to the 375ml bottling– should have been opened and enjoyed at least a year ago. Given my ‘okay’ storage prior to this year, probably even sooner.
Lesson learned? That I may have been pushing patience to an extreme. And, after glancing at a few cases I’m sitting one right now, that it may be time to liquidate.
Tasted November 2017
Current retail €30-40 (in Europe)