jamie goode's wine blog

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bottle variation spoils fine wine


One of the myriad attractions of great wines is the way that they develop over time.

Old wines can be fantastic. But they can also be appalling disappointments. Often, people put on a brave face when a 'great' wine is opened and it turns out to be mediocre, but it is more common that it should be.

The reason for these disappointments? Provenance and bottle variation, the besetting sins of fine wine.

Provenance refers to the history of an old bottle: how it has been stored. Wine is sensitive to high temperatures, and also temperature variation. Often during shipping, it exposed to both. And unless a wine is cellared well, it won't age gracefully. If you open a heat-exposed bottle just after it has been abused, you might not spot the difference. But time reveals the truth: that bottle likely won't age well after an early insult.

Wine can be heat damaged without the cork popping out, or leakage.

Bottle variation is largely the responsibility of the cork. Corks differ slightly in their oxygen transmission levels. Over five years you might not spot too much difference, but after 20, all the bottles in the same case will be slightly different. The ullage (fill level) is an indicator of this. However, there's more to the condition of wine than ullage.

It's really frustrating, and even small differences in how wines are stored or how good a seal the cork makes will be exaggerated over time. You get to the point where when people talk about a great wine, such as Palmer 61, they have to qualify their notes by whether they got to taste a good, middling or poor bottle.

And we haven't even considered the issue of authenticity...

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Monday, May 04, 2009

A St Emilion that improves dramatically overnight

Some people suggest that the way a wine changes overnight - when a portion is drunk one day, the bottle recorked, and then a portion the next day - is indicative of its ageing potential. I'm not so sure there's a direct correlation, but here's one wine that last night was hard, unyielding and tough to drink, and which tonight is really fantastic.

It's Chateau Louvie 2005 St Emilion Grand Cru. I reckon that 2005 in general is not a vintage to approach now. My experience so far of 05 Bordeaux is that the tannins can sometimes be overpowering, and will take many years to resolve properly. This is certainly the case here: a modern wine, made with quite a bit of oak, but with fierce tannic structure that only softens its grip a bit on day two, to show how this wine might evolve. Drinking it tonight, there's still quite a bit of structure evident, but it has also opened up aromatically to reveal slightly minty blackberry and raspberry fruit with spicy, gravelly overtones and well integrated oak. There's good concentration here, too, and I reckon it will be lovely in a decade. But I could be wrong! UK availability: Cadman Fine Wines (14.50)

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Monday, April 02, 2007

The benefits of age

Another glorious spring day in London, with temperatures hitting 18 centigrade (hotter than Jerez and Corfu, for example). But given the unpredictability of the weather these days, it could be snowing later in the week! Pictured is Regent's Park about an hour ago.

Forgot to mention some nice wines had over the weekend, at a lovely dinner party hosted by a rather good chef. The deal was that I should bring the wine. With goose foie gras we had Aigle Blanc Vouvray Moelleux 1990 - I was worried this wouldn't be sweet enough, but it worked very well. With asparagus and truffle cooked in butter we had Louis Jadot Meursault 2003: the fatness and richness of this wine worked well, with what is traditionally a difficult pairing. With a veal main course it was the turn of a 1989 Penfolds St Henri. This was the first vintage that St Henri was labelled 'Shiraz Cabernet' rather than 'Claret', and it was drinking perfectly. Age has turned this wine into something elegant, dark and thought-provoking.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Ageing wine...fast!

Long-time readers will probably remember the interesting interchange I had with Dr Patrick Farrell MW, after I posted on his magnetic wine ageing device (see here and for more comments here, although take less notice of some of the anonymous comments which could have come from anywhere).

It seems that the demand for wine ageing gadgets that operate outside the known laws of science has not yet been sated.

Take a look at Le Clef du Vin. One second = one year. Read for yourself! However, unlike Farrell's device, it doesn't claim to actually replicate the ageing of the wine. Instead, it reveals the ageing potential of the wine. How does it work? I don't think it can. Wine ageing is complex and poorly understood, and sticking a device in a glass for a limited period is unlikely to reveal too much information about its future trajectory.

Looking at the pictures of this gadget, and reading between the lines of the promotional blurb, I reckon this is a piece of copper mounted in a stainless steel support. The copper will address any reduction present, shifting the wine's redox potential towards the oxidation end of the spectrum. Ageing of wine is not simply oxidation.

The Advertising Standards Agency have this to say about claims made on behalf of this device.

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