Opening old bottles with good friends which I had proudly purchased at auctions was always an incredible experience. When I started organizing tastings of old bottles, I was always very emotionally impressed. With the years passing by and after tasting many old bottles, I gradually understood that the emotion to the wine was more due the fact of the age of the bottle and less because of the intrinsic quality of the wine.
Is longevity a quality factor or merely a quantity value?
My family tradition in drinking aged wines as well as my passion for old Burgundy and especially old Barolo has obviously marked my palate. From starting collecting and drinking the great wines of the world with my father in the early 70’s until today, there has been an evolution in my taste and approach to wines to today.
The old Chenin blancs, old Trockenbeerenauslese Rieslings, old Barolo’s and Burgundy I tasted over the years, all suffered an overdose of sulfur. To the point that my mother never finished her glass of great wine (having a sensitivity to sulfur) and me and my father gladly offering our “help” to finish it (ending up with a bit of a head-ache).
The first time I drank a completely non sulfured wine, was Gramenon’s Ceps Centenaires “Mémé”. It was a bit funky when opened but 10 minutes afterwards it opened up in a beautifully rich, linear and elegant wine. In less than 30 minutes the bottle was finished and we opened the cru of Marcel Lapierre. Another mind boggling experience at the time for what I thought was going to be a simple “Beaujolais” These wines were icons as well as heavily criticized at times but remain for me benchmark wines as they demonstrated ageability, even though produced without sulfur added.
I believe the question is wether a producer wants to focus on keeping the wine artificially “perfect” for a century or more, putting an overdose of sulfur in the wine, sterile filtering, etc., or wether one wants to produce a wine which has a natural life expectancy, based on the vintage, the vinification, the quality and concentration of the grapes. The last is what I search for and so I am not afraid of cellaring my wines for more than 10 years. And neither am I afraid my wines will die at some point. It is the natural and inevitable, logical process of life and also of wine.
If I look back at the first 3 vintages I produced, these wines were the my expression of provocation versus the modern, fruity style wines of the new world and so my goal was to bypass completely the fruit in the wine, in search for “liquid rock”. Tasting these evolved-style wines today, 10 or more years after, I feel that my first vintage Magma® shows perfect now, at the maximum of it’s development. Last week-end I tasted with a client from Paris our Rosso del Mongibello 1 which was showing beautifully evolved, at it’s peak.
Comparing the first 3 vintages with highly evolved wines to the wines I produce today, bottling earlier and vinified with better oxygen management during fermentation, I feel comfortable stating that as of the vintage 2009, my Magma® and the different MunJebel® Rosso’s will have at least a 15+ years of evolution, Contadino some 7+, my MunJebel® Bianco 5+ and my Susucaru® rosato 3+ years of evolution. This obviously depends on the quality of the cellar where the wines are stored.
In the end, I don’t see the point in artificially extending the life of a wine, just to show how long it can be kept alive, although unfortunately in a state of coma. And this is also one of the simple reasons why a “natural wine” by definition cannot contain added sulfur as the latter is artificial and not natural at all.
May 5th. 2012