All too many times I’ve had bottles of wine that were a disappointment early in its drinking life, only to find that a few years and some times even months later, the same wine had morphed into a completely different animal. Many times it was much more drinkable. I always forget that wine is a living and breathing thing and that like us, or at least the most of us, they’re always evolving.
Some bottles only need as little as a few minutes or hours to open up. Other need anywhere from several years, to a couple of months to even just a few weeks to really show themselves.
Before your eyes begin to glaze over, you should know that this post is not going to be a dissertation on the aging process of fine wine. I’m merely excited to share my experience.
One particular experience we had was with a 2004 Crozes-Hermitage, from Alain Graillot. We really had a hard time finding any virtue in this wine on two separate occasions in 2006 and 2007. If you’re not familiar with a Crozes-Hermitage, it’s 100% syrah from the northern part of the Rhone Valley in France. This one in particular was from a solid producer, which is why it was more of a disappointment. On both occasions there wasn’t any fruit or even any tannins for that matter. I as well as a few other industry people agreed that the wine was a big letdown. Then one night last month I discovered we still had one bottle left at home. I thought, why not?. We could always use it to braise that tough hunk of beef we had in the fridge if the wine still sucked. What we were greeted with however was far better than what we initially experienced with the first two bottles. The fruit finally came to life, the wine was soft and man was it just delicious. I’m glad we decided to hold off on the braised stew until a better or worse (depending on what part of the wine’s life you’re looking at) bottle of wine could be found.
On the flip side of the coin, we had a picpoul de pinet from the Languedoc region in Southern France that was righteous on release. The grape variety picpoul is all about refreshing and bracing acidity and this one was textbook example. It is without doubt, a wine meant to be consumed young. Recently we had a 2006 bottle, which was probably about six to eight months after the prime drinking window. At first sip and glance I was completely baffled. The wine hadn’t lost anything. Technically, the only thing it lost was its trademark refreshing acidity, but that loss was offset by a gain in other complex components. The wine was now a very golden color and like a fine Burgundy or California chardonnay, was already taking on a honeyed-like character. Honeyed? This is Picpoul! There’s no honeying allowed with this grape! I like to think that this positive metamorphosis was in some way attributed to the quality of the producer and the quality of the importer (Kermit Lynch, sound familiar?) who found this wine.
If you buy several bottles of a favorite wine every year, especially near release time and you find that it’s just not tasting right, try not to be in a hurry to donate that bottle, give up on the brand completely or worse yet, feed it to the Dutch oven. If you’re loving the wine, hold back a couple of bottles and see how they evolve over time. A little patience is all you need.