Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Old wine

I had half an ear on the radio this afternoon. Oz Clarke was interviewed on BBC Radio Newcastle (he has a new TV series on the box at Christmas). The final question was (roughly speaking), What’s the oldest  wine you’ve ever tasted – and what was it like?”  What is it about old wine that fascinates so many people?

The majority of wine is meant to be drunk as soon as it hits the supermarket shelf, and it won’t get any better if left under the stairs for a year or two. Most of it will only become less fruity and less attractive. But now and then an older bottle does come my way and I too can’t help but jump at the chance to try it, even though, I know, as Oz pointed out, that it may well be distinctly vinegary.

A bottle of Cinzano Rosso donated to the local church Christmas Fair this Saturday was over twenty years old – it carried a competition linked to the 1986 World Cup (!). I took it off the stall and discovered that it was, as I might have expected, way past its best. It was just good enough still to be added to the mulled wine – to give it more sherry-like ‘complexity’ – or so I pretended.

The same evening I opened a bottle of Croque Michotte 1959 given to me by Pierre Carle, who now manages this superb St Emilion estate.  It was from the private cellar store at the chateau. A deep tawny, after decanting it took at least half an hour for the bouquet to open out and to shed a faintly volatile (i.e. almost vinegary) edge,  but to my surprise and delight,   an  underlying sweet, figgy fruit gradually took over. It had a rather dry finish, but was otherwise rich, and sweetly ripe, with more than a ghost of ripe berry fruit. It was an old, fragile wine for sure, but one that was a rewarding and fascinating experience, and still quite flavoury enough to be a thoroughly enjoyable partner for braised pigeon.

I guess the real fascination of old wine is to imagine all hat has happened since it was made – and if it tastes nice too, that’s a bonus.

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