I posted a couple of days ago about hyperselection, and whether or not this was a good thing in red winemaking.
At lunch yesterday I had a discussion with Elizabeth Vianna, winemaker at Chimney Rock in California’s Napa Valley. This vintage, for the first time, they hired the latest-generation optical sorter for a trial. This proved very effective at removing stem jacks (small pieces of green stem), and the trial wine had a very pure fruit character to it.
But Elizabeth felt that the wine with the stem jacks had a bit more complexity. She suggested that some winery owners might be more impressed by the wine made by hyperselection, but this might be a simpler wine that doesn’t age as well.
This led me to think about whether or not there needs to be any compromise in early drinkability if you are making a wine for ageing. Is it possible to make a wine that tastes great young and ages brilliantly? Or is a wine with amazing ageing potential a little less generous, and a bit more structured and tighter in its youth?
Francois Mitjavile, I suspect, would argue that his wines, with the smooth, soft tannins and higher than normal pH, taste great young and have the potential to age very well, too. His view is that overly tannic wines don’t age well. This is interesting: I would have thought that tannin modifications take place on the vine, and picking late develops tannins to the point where their astringency is diminished. The process of elevage and bottle ageing also develops tannins. And the perception of tannins will be altered with pH. One of my theories is that low pH causes increased salivary flow, which means more salivary proteins precipitate tannins and therefore increase the sense of astringency and structure in a red wine.
I’m not so sure. For example, I love red wines made with stems (whole cluster ferments), which I guess is the opposite of hyperselection. They are sometimes difficult young, but age really nicely. And I’ve recently drunk a lot of old Rioja: one producer, commenting on the ‘improvements’ they have recently made to their wine (making it much fruitier and soft at a young age), suggested that the very old wines he was showing would have been difficult to drink on release.
I think this is such an important question for the fine wine world. People are buying delicious young Bordeaux wines for serious money, and they are being traded and not drunk, stuck in large warehouses, with the expectation that these top wines will age for 50 years. What would happen if it turned out that modern Bordeaux is a 15 year wine, not a 50 year wine?