Recently, everyone seems to be saying that wine is becoming too international, too over oaked and too easy to drink while still in its youth. I hear their whines across the net, the shiny magazine pages, and the crackle of the podcasts, that wines aren’t lasting the test of time? Why, they say, can’t they stick to old traditions and make wines that will last forever? Vinography emphasized this point a few days ago in their post about Decanter’s ridiculous article on the demise of “garagiste” wines. Read Alders’ take on it, if you want, but the article instead of really saying anything important to me, sparked an idea in my head. One of the reasons that people are poo-pooing the Garagistes is their supposed lack of endurance as they try to compete with classic wines who reach 50 years before maturing. While I’m reading the post, the question I ask myself is this, “did they taste good when people bought them?” It’s a reasonable enough question, but having been – and admittedly I still am to some degree, a hoarder of Bordeaux so as to age it nice and long for my retirement (yeah right, but I need to dream), I really wonder why they need to age in order to be considered great? Why is it that we feel truly “outstanding” and 100pt wine needs to last longer than the human lifespan?
Enter the Spanish with their crazy ideas. When it comes to Spanish wine, the goal is to sell the wine in a state that allows for immediate consumption. In the old days, this meant aging the wine at the bodega in barrel and in bottle, sometimes beyond a point of drinkablity, so that when it finally lands at the consumers table, the wine would not need air, more time in bottle, or a wine degree to figure out if one liked it or not. No, the Spanish figured if the customer did not like the wine when they sipped it from their glass, purron or bota bag, than the winemaker had failed in his duty as Bacchus’s spokesperson.
Today, Spanish wineries consciously ensure there mission statement to both quality and immediate consumption by picking riper fruit, less maceration on the lees, micro-oxidization, and I’m sure a few other tricks that no one will fully admit to. Does this bother me? Nope, not at all, and nor should it bother you. You can rest assured knowing that when you reach for a Spanish wine, 9 times out of 10, the wine will be fruit forward (great considering that grapes are fruit) and pleasant to enjoy. Additionally, this information holds true for most price points too. Even some of the most expensive wines in Spain hold to this philosophy, which means that with a few exceptions, your Spanish wines are ready, right now. Yes, for those of you “geeks” out there who have tried old wines from Spain that have developed and changed any wine will – some more than others. Regardless of aging, the wines will most likely taste pretty damn good right out of the bottle.
Like anything in life, there are always exceptions, and it was one of these exceptions that actually prompted this article. On a recent trip to the Alicante, I tasted some wines that did not fall into Spanish wines being capable of immediate consumption. Upon tasting the wines of Heretat de Cesilia in the region of Alicante, I was asked by the winemaker what I thought of his wines. My first response, and most honest was, “These wines are not Spanish but French”. To which he and the other people at the tasting replied, “We know.” Their wines were gorgeous and elegant with a wound up core of rich spice fruit and minerals that made me weak in the knees, but these wines also needed time, 5-10 years for the best of them. And although, they were incredible and ethereal wines, I found them no better than their more approachable Spanish counterparts. This is not the typical Spanish style of making wine. The winemaker, being French, had created wines that were made to age and not drink upon purchase. This is an idea that most Spaniards would never be able to even consider, resulting in Heretat de Cesilia’s inability to gain much ground in the Spanish market. Spaniards are used to traditional Spanish wine – enjoyable upon opening with their next tapa of paella, botifarra or slice of jamon.
I mentioned in previous articles my disillusionment with Jay Miller and Mark Squires ratings of Iberian wines. It was Mark Squires who said that he could not give a wine a high rating if it could not go the distance. To this, I laugh! 100pt Manzanilla? 100pt Cava? 100pt Alicante Monastrell? Let’s be clear, if you don’t drink these wines soon, you might miss out on their brilliance. If those of you in the blog-o-sphere are really getting fed up with the 100pt scale, subjective ratings and super palates, then join in my laughter at the thought of age equaling brilliance.
The caveat is that I’ve had a 100yr old port, 60 year old sauternes, a 20 year old cabernet, and a 30 year old reisling, and have loved them all for very different reasons. The reisling was a little “dried out”, but it was from my birth year 1975. The Sauternes were from a friend’s father who never had the chance to taste it before he passed away, and they were absolutely divine! The 100yr old port was drunk in the living room of the original Quinta de Noval estate among descendents of the owner many generations remove. The many Cabernets I have tasted over the past 20+ years are usually accompanied by steaks, friends and scotch, which has been perfect. So I do know that old wines can be divine, but I’ve also had sherry from the barrel while standing in a cobweb laced cellar in the south of Spain that tasted more delicate and intriguing than anything I have ever known. I have had Port wine from the barrel with a winemaker over looking the Douro Valley overlooking an incredible view with the sweet taste of fermentation clinging to my lips. I have sipped Cava with my wife while watching the sunset over Montserrat, still so fresh and alive that the bubble seemed to lift us both a few inches off the ground as the sun fell behind the world.
I would not give up any of those experiences, and I wouldn’t rate one over the other. They all we’re 100pt wines. Robert Parker says this of 100pt wines:
An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines of the caliber are worth a special effort to find, purchase, and consume.
I understand he is only rating the wine, but regardless of type of wine, the moment will always be more important.
If the Garagistes are “dead” because the wines don’t last, well then I say phooey! Here in Iberia, some of our greatest wines have lasted many lifetimes. In fact, we still drink Madeiras from Thomas Jefferson’s cellar.
I need to go now, I think I hear a bottle of sherry calling my name and I wouldn’t want to let it get to old now, would I?