Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

The particular pleasure of old wine

Over the last few weeks I’ve tasted a number of old wines.  One or two were distinctly past it. For example, Bertani 1953 Valpolicella, kindly opened during the Association of Wine Educators’ visit to Italy was a peculiar experience, at first stinkily reductive, then leathery and complex, giving way quickly to mushrooms and rotting leaves –  a fast-fading ghost of a wine. Bertani Recioto della Valpolicella 1940 (one fizzy!) was quite rich and flavoury, even a little sweet still, but maderised. Bertani Amarone 1967 was much better, even rather  impressive, with intense, spicy complexity, caramelised and beginning to dry, but an interesting drink. The most remarkable old Bertani bottle was  a 1988 Soave, which resembled  a soft, spicy version of an old Hunter Valley Semillon, with strong, limey minerality.  Something of the same limey minerality characterised a 2001 Sauvignon Blanc at Vie di Romans in Friuli Isonzo, but their 1998 and even more remarkably, their 1993 Sauvignon preserved far more varietal character, as  did also a 1997 Pinot Grigio.

The previous week, in Macon, a 1975 Macon-Viré cellared by the Auberge de la Tour, most kindly opened by chef and owner Patrick was faded and oxidised, but nutty, soft and surprisingly complex. I rather like it, but the wine lovers in my Vine Visit party that week were unimpressed. They much preferred a 1996, from a magnum, which was more recognisably a Chardonnay, though also exhibiting strong mineral characteristics – citrus fruit, honey and petrol. I Liked it a lot. And Roger Saumaize generously dug out a 1990 Pouilly Fuissé, Clos sur la Roche, to crown a superb tasting of his wines at his domaine, Saumaize-Michelin. I loved its intense green fruit flavours, great freshness and complex minerality, but again, my group were far more taken with his young wines and their tighter fruit.

I relate all this because it illustrates for me the huge change in fashion over the decade or so that has led consumers to prize primary fruit about all else. They recognise quality and complexity for sure, but the faded pleasure of old wine are a mystery and one that’s less and less appreciated. So I was surprised that our Italian hosts wanted to demonstrate how well their wines might age. It was great fun to try them, but I suspect that they would leave most of the UK customers cold.  Cellaring potential is no longer a significant selling point.

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