Saturday, May 16, 2009

The young and the old of it

Did you know that in Australia we drink our wine within 48 hours of purchasing it (courtesy of This means that most of the wine consumed is only a couple of years old. Shiraz tastes of ripe fruit; Cabernet tastes a bit furry; Chardonnay tastes of citrus and Savvy B tastes of cat pee – we know all of this.
So what happens when we are confronted with a wine that has got quite a few years in the bottle? Well it’s not going to have it youth about it that’s for sure.
When wines are young they display what is called primary flavours – its youth you may say. As the wine develops, the flavour spectrum moves to secondary and then tertiary flavours. Finally the last flavour occurs when the wine is too old – this is the knackered flavour.
Primary, secondary, tertiary and knackered. Yet sometimes wines don’t follow this order. Some wines skip secondary and tertiary and go straight to knackered, like our friend Savvy B.
For me, the wine is ultimately a flavour vessel of where the fruit is grown. I have said it before, terroir is the most important ‘finger print’ that a wine has. Terroir is aspect of the vineyard, slope of the vineyard, altitude, proximity to water, surrounding flora and fauna and a raft of other factors.
The second main reason defining a wines flavour is the growing season. This is what types of weather conditions the fruit I guess ‘lives’ through from budburst to harvest. Cool climate fruit, Chardonnay for example, the flavours to me are a balance of fruit, acidity and texture that is immediately identifiable to say shiraz grown in the Barossa where it has a very warm growing season; this translates in to a wine with high alcohol, big ripe fruit, liquorice and leather – a bit like a Christmas cake in a bottle!
So, onto what I started with, and that’s flavour evolution from youth to maturity. When wine display high degrees of acidity in the mouth, such as Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir, the general rule of thumb is that these wines will develop quite slowly with the result being rich, gamey flavours that reward with patience. Acid is the most important factor, because a wine with high acid (low pH) generally has low alcohol. This means development comes in the bottle, not the vine.
Wines with high alcohol such as Viognier, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon develop their flavours on the vine with the high sugar content of the berry translating in to high alcohol in the glass. These wine lose the primary fruit very quickly and cultivate a more savoury, animal flavour.
So the point is a 2002 Chardonnay, say Giaconda, will taste dramatically different in 2004 and then again in 2009. In 2004 this wine (and these are my tasting notes at the time) was lip smacking acid, grapefruit, lemon and then a wonderful licking of liquorice. In 2009 there was crème brulee, custard and stewed pineapple and apricot – there was a little bit of acid, but this was channelled through the stewed fruit. The colour also changes from a bright yellow to an almost orangey-oxidative colour.
Things change; all things change – governments change, hairstyles change and climate changes (and I certainly hope my son Henry’s hair colour changes from red – two ranga’s in the family is quite enough I say). So next time you open a bottle of wine with some age on it, don’t be put off by the strange flavours that are emanating from the glass, this is just the wine telling you that nothing stays the same.

No comments:

Post a Comment