Simply saying that some wines are meant to be consumed young is just as easy as saying that some wines improve with a few years—or decades—of cellar aging.
Words are easy; the depth of their meaning and the profundity of their significance can only be truly understood in the flesh—or as it is known to enologists, the outer, inner and septal.
Learning to know when a wine is over the top and when it is under the bottom is something that takes a lot of years of tasting notes. That’s why I tend to trust the palates of the wine world’s elders, whether they are internationally respected wine journalists like Andrew Jefford or middle-aged hacks from Detroit like yours truly; we tend to corral our experiences, and the best among us can explain in comprehensible language why we all taste the same things and why we all taste different things.
Like to Andy and me, the changes that happen to wine as it ages occur on a molecular level, and the chemistry is overwhelmingly complex. Like all malleable things, animate and otherwise, stuff evolves—sometimes for the better, sometimes not.
Here, if I had absolutely no class, I’d bring up Vaynerchuk, but I won’t.
A well-made white wine from a top estate, regardless of whether that winery is in the new world or the old one, is meant to be consumed when the acids and sugars are suspended in an ideal balance. Those released when the acids are too aggressive may seem unpleasantly sharp on the tongue and should probably hang around in a cool, dark basement until the tartaric and malic acids mellow, but before they turn into acetic—i.e. vinegar. Of course, those wineries with reputations to uphold frequently wait until a certain amount of bottle aging has happened before releasing them; that’s why you might find a ‘new’ bottle of 2011 Château d’Yquem on today’s wine shop shelf.
They are, in fact, like the producers of most Bordeaux, covering their assess in case you open their wines too young and dislike them. Trust me, it is more financially expedient for them to release the wines earlier, because inventory costs may be translated into financial losses. But losing your faith in their brand is a loss that is frequently unrecoverable, and thus, for them the wait is worth it.
Tannins in a wine, generally red, play an equal role in preserving fluids long enough for the requisite interactions to occur; it is a natural preservative which acts much as added sulfites do to prevent rogue bacteria from spoiling even the finest of crafted wines; most good red wines that have the potential to become great red wines have ample tannins and sufficient fruit flavors to back them up. That’s why when the tannins settle down and assimilate within the wine, adding structure and texture, there needs to be sufficient depth of fruit flavor initially to outlive this critical period of evolution. Consumed too early, tannic red wines come across as harsh, bitter and not particularly enjoyable. This is pricey old-school Bordeaux or Châteauneuf-du-Pape as opposed to cheap new-school shelf-stackers from Australia.
I mention this because I know a fantastic restaurant that is closing in a week, and they are selling off their equally phenomenal wine cellar.
I was helping with that chore and I came upon a bottle they had forgotten about—a Ca’ Montini ‘Terre di Valfredda’ Pinot Grigio from Trentino, vintage 2010. They were going to toss it out due to age, but since I know it has been stored in an ideal cellar setting, horizontally, alongside some of the classic d’Yquem mentioned earlier, I figured that any deterioration of the wine itself could be blamed on the wine itself.
Pinot Grigio from a decent house like Ca’ Montini is a wine that critics tend to love. Winemaker Riccardo Cotarella’s single vineyard ‘Terre di Valfredda’ is among the top 10 most highly rated Trentino wines by a whole slew of critics. I never tried this one within the allotted time when such wines are usually optimal; a year or two from the date of release. But at the time, various wine writers described it as showing ‘minerality, oyster shells, almond skins and perhaps some subliminal Nashi pear’.
Considering I have no idea what a Nashi pear is, I have to assume an extreme level of subliminality; I can assure you, no pear of any stripe remains today.
And none of this ‘can I use it for cooking wine’ balderdash, please. Next time that thought occurs to you, suppose your significant other just said, “This loaf of bread is moldy. Should we use it for toast instead of sandwiches?”
Therein will lie your answer.
Riccardo Cotarella never intended his wine to be tasted like this, and on my grandmother’s side, Montini is my family name. We do not want to be represented by this bottle any more than smoke-alicious Jennifer Love Hewitt wants to be seen like the photo to the left. But, it is what it is. Jenny dropped the tonnage, but I am afraid that this bottle of Cotarella-Ade is beyond recovery, and not from lack of proper storage. It just overstayed its welcome in the wonderful world of wine, sadly, undrunk.
The nose is lemony, but like the lemon you find in a baggie in the rear of the fridge a month after you put it there. The wine gives off an aroma of slightly spoiled fruit, which, in essence it is. There is no vinegar smells, not much obvious oxidation in the nose although the wine itself has gone from pale gold to a sort of goldenrod orange in color. The palate is flat and slightly viscous, without particular flavor or bite. All of which is to be expected.
In a restaurant, I wouldn’t necessarily send this back as spoiled, but I wouldn’t drink it either. I’d chalk it up to experience and mention to the waiter that the wine is clearly past its sell-by date, and although it may be in some sense ‘fit for human consumption’, it isn’t fit for customer consumption.
Then, like the good, oldish, father figure I am, I would suggest that the staff drink it themselves after work—after all, as good, oldish fathers everywhere are fond of saying:
“Don’t waste wine, damn it! There are little children going to bed sober in China.”