A Winery for the Ages
I had a chance to appreciate a wine with a bit of age on it this weekend while celebrating Independence Day. While the 20 or so different Roses I tasted were the focus of the holiday parties, I did wrap my palate around a 1999 William Selyem Russian River Valley Chardonnay.
It was really delicious with a citrus core, creamy palate and nose of burnt marshmallow and meyer lemon. Yet it make me stop and think about just how little aged wine I drink and thus how very little aged wine Americans drink. This 1999 Chard comes on the heels of a 1995 Saintsbury Chardonnay I tasted about a month ago that was really quite brilliant.
Still, it got me thinking about why less and less aged wine is drunk here in America. I’m not sure it was ever a large percentage of the wine that is consumed in America on a daily basis. But I can say for sure today’s consumption of wine older than even five years is far less than what that percentage used to be.
I think it’s the most common response to suggest that "we live in an age of instant gratification." We don’t have patience any more. We want everything now. There certainly is truth to this. Living for the instant is certainly a part of the American culture. We see it in the kind of foods we eat, in the kind of investments we make and in the savings rate of the average American.
Yet I think there was a time when the bona fide wine lover assumed that an important and sizable part of their wine lives would be spent preparing to and actually drinking aged wine. Importantly, they knew why this was: They’d regularly tasted well-aged wine that had softened, changed, become more accessible and taken on flavors and aromas that simply were not accessible in the wine while it was a youngster. This kind of experience and the assumptions that go along with it are simply not part of today’s wine lovers’ expectations and experience. And it is a fact that those things we do not know, we rarely prepare to do.
Winemakers figured this out about Americans too. While it would be hard to verify, My bet would be that nearly 95% of all wine produced in America today is DESIGNED at the winery to be drunk within 2-4 years from vintage. I don’t mean that it is made so it can be drunk in this time frame. I mean that it is made and has a character that suggests it SHOULD be drunk very very young. It appears this is what we want.
I don’t want this post to turn into a lament. I’m a sentimental fellow, and even a history buff, but not so that I idolize the past and that which has been turned away from. I do however think that well-aged wine is still such an "ideal" even among casual wine drinkers that there may be a niche for placing some older vintages in the channels of commerce.
So here is my idea. We need to find someone very very wealthy; someone for whom profit and sustainable business practices are of no concern. This person would then set out to make Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Chardonnay will not be released to the market until it is seven years past its vintage date. The Pinot is released 8 years after its vintage date. And the Cabernet waits a decade past its vintage date before release. The wines must be made in a style that allows them to age this long: Respectable alcohol, but not too high. No high pH. A good core of fruit. Ample tannins, but not really hard. Of course, the financial resources of this winery will allow it to keep up to 10 vintages of wine in its cellars at any given time. Finally, this well-endowed wine company must spend millions of dollars marketing its wines as "The Aged Ones" to the wine trade and to consumers.
What do you think? Is there room for such an product in the American mind and marketplace. I certainly thought so as I sipped the 1999 and 1995 Chardonnays.